The Selfish Gene
Rogue Legacy is as ideal an entry point into roguelikes as there’s ever been—and an exemplary specimen of the genre, to boot.
That’s not to say that Rogue Legacy “is for babies” or some similar hand-holding notion. While developer Cellar Door Games lovingly refers to their creation as a “rogue-lite,” it’s no less demanding than any of its ilk. Supposing you aren’t the player who carried Spelunky’s eggplant from start to finish without a scratch, Rogue Legacy will put you in the ground in upwards of triple digits. The familiar’s simply been given a new twist here—the same, but different.
The core experience to Rogue Legacy constitutes the “same.” Brave a randomly generated castle and its three adjacent areas, dodge and deftly defeat enemies on your way to each boss, and try not to get obliterated along the way—though you will. This is a roguelike. But what follows death is the first of Rogue Legacy’s genre formula shakeups.
Unlike the traditional roguelike, shuffling off your mortal coil isn’t effectively like pressing the reset button and starting the whole game from the start. Instead, each new “life” takes the form of the previous hero or heroine’s next of kin. Upon death, players choose between one of three offspring, each one differing slightly in stats, class, and traits.
Traits, in this case, refer to various genetic advantages, disadvantages, and quirks. These include afflictions as harmless (in-game) as, say, dyslexia, where you have trouble reading things; hypogonadism, leaving you with weak limbs and unable to knock enemies back; ADHD, which grants your character faster movement; and a whole slew of other conditions. Sorting through these traits becomes a matter of player preference when options are favorable to choosing between the lesser of two evils when they aren’t so ideal. But not unlike a child’s excitement for the unknown prize buried in a box of Cracker Jack, there’s some fun to not knowing whether the next generation will leave you with one hand tied behind your back, unexpectedly empowered, or—as is often the case with Cracker Jack—disappointed.
This twist is the only aspect of the game’s genre-bending that players are required to work with. What makes Rogue Legacy “lite” is the very un-roguelike character progression system. As you comb through the depths of the hub-dungeon castle and beyond, you collect gold by defeating enemies or discovering treasure chests both hidden and in plain view. You’ll likewise happen upon chests with blueprints for new armor and swords and, in others, power-endowing runes. Gold functions as Rogue Legacy’s experience points. Following the character-selection screen is the progression tree that allows you to funnel your finances into various stat and class upgrades, toughening up by increasing armor, hit points, strength, critical-hit percentage, and so on. You can also enhance character classes or unlock new ones.
Gold is also used to purchase new weapons, armor, and runes discovered in dungeons. Weapons and armor, of course, provide perks to strength and defense—and, in some cases, a more alluring tradeoff like more gold per kill or vampirically regaining HP from kills. Runes, meanwhile, imbue additional abilities, such as double-jumps or horizontal dashes. None of these are game-breaking by any means, and only one can be equipped at a time, so there’s no way to achieve full-blown Superman status. Mostly, having the right rune at the right time (for which there’s no way to predict) might be the key to procuring a seemingly impossible-to-reach chest in a Challenge room—the dash, which works mid-air, is the only way to reach a chest on the other side of a stretch of spikes in a Challenge room that demands you take no damage.
Then again, if you really hate yourself, you could choose to disregard all of this and keep repeated attempts at conquering the castle limited to base gear and whatever minor differences emerge between whichever of the new generation’s base stats you choose. It’s a built-in challenge for those who want it, but for less patient players or newcomers perhaps put off by talk of roguelikes being punishing, the slow-building progression helps level the playing field if needed.
These RPG elements also give a sense of purpose to the grinding and the inherent repetitive nature of roguelikes. It’s easier to accept the inevitability of death prior to, or even when reaching, a boss when the dungeon crawl along the way results in four- or five-digit accumulation of cheddar to help pack on muscle for the next go-around, all the while giving you practice at mastering the fast-on-your-feet reaction time and judgment calls required for navigating an enemy-laden, projectile-ridden roguelike screen. For a roguelike, it’s downright therapeutic when soldiering through mental anguish of a Groundhog Day–like hell before finally breaking the cycle.
It seems admittedly clichéd to say, but I honestly believe Rogue Legacy offers something for everyone. That is, everyone who would want to play a roguelike. For neophytes, gold and progression act as both guide rail and guard rail. For Eggplant Wizards, the optionality of these systems leaves challenge bested only by pure skill. For both, Rogue Legacy punishes arrogance and sloppiness and haste with all the bumps and bruises you’d expect, and the resulting utterance of expletives directed at the game will always lack conviction—you’ll always know death was your own damn fault.
|Developer: Cellar Door Games/Abstraction Games • Publisher: Cellar Door Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 07.29.14|
Despite its designation as a “rogue-lite,” Rogue Legacy delivers just as much addictive live-die-repeat challenge as any “full-fledged” members of the genre. Short of maxing out on every possible trait (an undertaking that would prove rather expensive in-game) the optional, RPG-style progression system never robs this roguelike’s random dungeons of their punishing nature and need for patience, a thoughtful approach, and the occasional bout of luck.
|The Good||The flexibility granted by the E.D.S. trait, which bypasses a sometimes-frustrating animation delay when changing directions while attacking.|
|The Bad||Having to hand over all your unused gold to gain entrance to the castle.|
|The Ugly||Vertigo—being upside down is amusing at first but will quickly rattle your nerves.|
|Rogue Legacy is available on PS4, PS3, PS Vita, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.|