The roguelike genre is gaining steam on the backs of titles such as Hades and Slay the Spire. While these titles represent the best on the field, there are many more which fall short. After all, the basis of roguelikes is adding a layer of hard and unfair conditions which mask a game that has only skin-deep depth.
Thankfully, Rogue Lords seems to have been taking notes. Developers Leikir Studio and Cyanide have delivered a fun and engaging title which has players controlling famous denizens of the night to execute the commands of the Devil himself.
Having been defeated by Van Helsing, the Devil is looking to regain his powers by collecting artifacts in order to return to supremacy. Thus, players will be sent across a variety of chapters and in the process of succeeding or failing, you’d be unlocking new powers, characters, and relics to help make each subsequent run slightly more varied.
Starting off with the likes of Dracula, the Headless Horseman, and Bloody Mary, players will gain access to unique skills and archetypes with each character (or disciples as the game officially terms them). With 6 more in the bag to unlock, it’s really down to the player to mix and match to their heart’s content in order to find overpowered combos and insane team synergies.
Instead of cards, which is a common format seen in other roguelikes, Rogue Lords has players drafting abilities for their selected characters. There’s a huge pool of abilities to gain access to and players will need to carefully select how their team works together and if they can grow sufficiently powerful enough to tackle the forces of the light.
Throughout the game, players will work hard to gain new skills and enhance existing ones. Often this means giving up some choices for another. This is both boon and bane considering that each run of Rogue Lords has players choosing three disciples in total. However, given the limited amount of options, there will definitely be times where some disciples will become really underpowered to face the opponents. This means that for most runs, you’d likely be picking two characters to go all-in while the last disciple is relegated to being a support class or tank.
Each turn, players are giving limited action points to cast their abilities. Starting off with a main pool of 5 points, each action, and ability initiated by a disciple costs from between 1 to 3 points to attack and defend their position. Along the way, players will be able to earn more special relics and abilities which modify the number of action points they have and even reduce the cost of their skills making combat even more efficient. While it seems that it might be a walk in the park, that’s where the difficulty curve of the game comes in.
In Rogue Lords, success is not immediately guaranteed even if you’ve drafted your disciple’s abilities well because the game actually presents a relatively fair (and at times really hard) challenge. Thankfully, that’s where the devil steps in to turn the odds in your favour. From the overworld map, to in combat, there is a myriad of ways where players can tip the odds in their favour. Don’t like the next upcoming random story event, why not change it to a battle event instead to earn more rewards. Found your disciples on the ropes and need to give them a second wind? Players can reset their life bars and give them a fighting chance. All these decisions can be made by the devil on the fly but they come at a cost. The more times you tip the scales in your favor, the more damage it hits your life total overall, or as the game terms it, demonic essence. Once all the demonic essence is drained, it’s game over and back to hell for the devil once again.
There are quite a few systems in play here which might make it rather overwhelming to the first-time player. However, veterans of the genre will find it a joy to delve into. While the game is not unfairly hard, players do get the experience a fair bit of the entire game only to lose miserably to the chapter’s final boss.
Taking a leaf from a fellow roguelike, Rogue Lords allows players to defeat enemies either by depleting their health or spirit bar. This is a similar battle mechanic which we saw with Klei’s Griftlands Klei. In addition, non-combat events in the overworld are far more critical as compared to other games in the genre. Choose wisely, and players will be able to boost their disciples base stats and health bars to make combat far easier. In fact, while some games encourage you to keep getting into combat to garner better rewards, Rogue Lords is pretty fair in laying out as many options for a player to accomplish their mission. However, if you’re particularly skilled, battle events give the best form of rewards in the form of increased bonuses, skills, and currency.
Over time, and with each repeated run, Rogue Lords really boils down to which disciples you’d want to bring on your journey. As far as each character’s specific abilities go, they are split up into tanks, damage, and spellcasters in general. What has worked out in each playthrough is to simply kill the bosses before they are able to take you out through overwhelming damage.
The only real bugbear with the game is properly understanding how all the tooltips work and the myriad of abilities that interact with each other. While it’s not something that is uncommon, the UI in Rogue Lords makes it hard to decipher if some abilities are made for buffs or debuffs. It’s something that would need some time investment before players will be able to get a deeper understanding of the game.
One thing that really makes Rogue Lords stand out from the rest of the pack is its art style. While indie games might not always place emphasis on visuals, this game is both beautiful to watch and play. It feels especially awesome in combat as your combo starts to take shape as players rain down the fury of hell on the forces of good. In addition, while most games in this genre opt for a more basic overworld, Rogue Lords has players actually physically moving their character moving around the map. While the path is mostly on rails, it’s cooler this way when facing a branching path for them to slowly deliberate on.
With each run of the game taking about 90 minutes per run, there’s plenty of value to be derived from Rogue Lords in the long run. However, given the number of characters in the game and abilities, one might see themselves skewing towards similar builds if you’re looking to grind out the initial chapters to see more successful runs.
All things considered, Rogue Lords fares well when it comes to introducing and blending all the great mechanics we’ve seen in other roguelikes. Added with the theme of the game, we’re seeing a much richer experience with an actual story unfolding. With actual stakes and characters for players to endear themselves to, the game is a must-buy for fans of the genre.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
If you’re looking for a new roguelike to scratch that itch, Rogue Lords is definitely to one up grab and feel devilishly good at the same time.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 8/10
Gerald currently straddles between his love of video games and board gaming. There’s nothing that interests him more than trying out the newest and fanciest gadget in town as well. He dreams of publishing a board game sometime in the future!