Dying happens a lot in video games. It tends to be the main threat to the player, being the ultimate fail state in a game. Most of the time death sets you back to a previous checkpoint or save (I hope you’ve been saving often!) and doesn’t really cause a great deal of lost progress. In fact some games even demand you die to progress. Death has been rather devalued in games over the years. It doesn’t really mean much.
Which is where Rogue and its likes and lites come in. Death here matters. You die, and that’s it. All your progress, items, levels, lost forever. Potions don’t do the same thing each time you play, dungeons have different layouts, enemies change. Whilst I’m uncertain if Rogue was the first game to do this, I know that there are a lot of games that have taken on its ideas to the extent that it now has its own genre. Games that match its core mechanics almost exactly are referred to as Roguelikes, whilst those that do away with certain ideas or include some element of permanence after death are often called Roguelites. Both are excellent game types. Both are hard as hell most of the time.
Here we have a list of my favourite Roguelikes/lites (because I don’t want to fuss about the differences between them too much). To be included, I have to have played and enjoyed it, and it has to have permadeath and procedurally generated content in some way. To keep it modern, I’ve gone for games released in 2010 or later. There are loads so it was hard to narrow this one down. Anyway, enjoy!
The Binding of Isaac
Obviously! There’s no way I couldn’t include one version or another of this. Rebirth is probably the definitive version right now, but any version is excellent. Playing as Isaac, you are forced to hide in the basement of your murderous mother’s house, only to find it is full of horrific creatures who also seem to have your demise at the forefront of their minds. Playing somewhat like a twin-stick shooter crossed with the top down Zelda games, you have to find items to strengthen your character, defeat bosses, and possibly even make deals with the Devil himself.
Death is permanent, but will unlock new items to be found in the randomly generated dungeons on future playthroughs as well as characters to play as. It plays very, very well and feels incredibly polished, which makes sense considering how much development its had over the years. There’s so much content here too, with hordes of bosses, items, endings (if you can make it that far), and has even had real world treasure hunts. If you haven’t tried it before, then go take a look now!
Sunless Sea is great. It’s funny, creepy, and has a variety of interesting stories to take part in. You take on the role of a captain, sailing the Unterzee, in a fictional world in which London has sunk below the Earth’s surface. You set your own goal at the beginning of the game (become legendary, earn a ton of money, etc.) and set sail to discover the lands underground. You’ll find lands ruled by rodents, spiteful gods, and possibly the end of the world itself. That’s assuming the stress of the journey doesn’t drive you and your crew mad…
The stories don’t change upon death, but the layout of the world and your captain (and maybe your goals) do change. Whilst repeating some of the stories can become a little tedious, there are enough different ones to play through to keep things interesting. The world is twisted and sinister, with dark twists on stories you may already know (Santa is a complete **** in this place). There’s a follow up called Sunless Skies that I’m pretty keen to have a look at too.
This is an odd one, as it’s from a genre that not only doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a Roguelite, but also because it’s a genre that gets very little attention these days. Everspace is a space sim/shooter that’s two parts Elite and one part FTL. You pilot a ship through environments filled with asteroids, abandoned space stations, and other ships, some neutral, some much less neutral. You select nodes to travel to and explore (much like FTL) as you journey towards a specific destination (no spoilers). Along the way you pick up new weapons and resources to build in power to survive the threats that await you.
Each death allows you to spend money on improving your ship for future runs, and each node is randomly generated each time. Some times you’ll discover ancient alien relics, other times you’ll come across characters from your past. I like this approach to building the world. The game controls more like Descent than most space sims, with you able to strafe as well as fly as you might in most games in the genre. It’s also utterly gorgeous and runs very well. If you’re looking for a game that stands out as something a bit different, you could do a lot worse than this.
Or any of the Diablo games with Hardcore mode in really. A contentious one this, as the main game wouldn’t really fit into the who Roguelike/lite genre. However, when you make use of Hardcore mode I feel it fits in. And it’s MY LIST DAMMIT! Sorry. I’m better now. If you don’t know Diablo, where have you been? It’s a action RPG in which you murder ALL the demons. Then get new weapons to murder all of them again. You select your class and go adventuring alone or with buddies. Then there’s Hardcore mode.
In Hardcore, your character will be deleted upon death. Pairing this with the randomly generated areas and loot means that I feel it fits the genre well enough. Fighting your way through hordes of demons only to be felled due to a careless mistake can be infuriating, especially since you could have poured hours upon hours into the character beforehand. Add all the extra content that Blizzard keep releasing and you’ve got a hell of a Hardcore package here.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit
First off, I have never played Sword of the Stars, a fairly popular 4X/strategy game. The Pit is a spin off set in the same universe, in which you need to delve into a series of underground labs for reasons. As in many others, you select a class and venture into randomly generated dungeons with items that change their function each playthrough. This one is somewhat different however, as it ties into Rogue a lot more than others in this list.
This is turn based. When you move, everything else also moves. Combat happens all at once, with you selecting your target and then everyone resolving at once. This means getting into a confrontation with multiple enemies can be brutally hard. Even on the easiest setting this game is incredibly tough (I’ve never made it to the end). There are plenty of wikis to help with recipes the can give you buffs, which is nice if you’re really stuck. You can save thankfully, as the game is rather long, but death will delete the file. It’s quite moreish, but be prepared to never win.
Some honourable mentions! I touched on FTL earlier which is a very hard node based space exploration game with plenty of content and ways to play. Spelunky is a very popular platformer that fits into the genre rather well. I didn’t enjoy it much as the controls felt to slippery for my liking. A different one is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG if you like). I feel this fits as every game is different based on weapon placement and when you land and includes permadeath. It’s not a game I’m particularly interested in, but feel it’s worthy of a mention.
And that’s the list! Are any of these games that you particularly like? Are you interested in the genre at all? Are there games that I should have included or should try out sometime? Let me know!