As someone who covers games in 2015, I’m really glad that I enjoy rougelikes. Not just because of how ubiquitous they are, but because of how modern technology is allowing the genre to flourish and evolve before our eyes. A roguelike having five hundred distinct items each with unique traits and combinations with other items is not a far off goal anymore, it’s expected. The genre’s popularity speaks to a collective yearning for arcade experiences where each playthrough counts, and PAX East showed that the genre isn’t going anywhere for at least another year.
Speaking of arcades, Subaeria is a roguelike that has you clearing rooms by controlling the artificial intelligence of various robots, my favorite of which is best described as a pinball bumper attached to a circular saw. You play as one of several playable characters who sneak through rooms to get into position, and then hacks robots and turrets and forces them to destroy each other. Or you could play the role of matador and lure them into charging an energy field.
Either way, the gameplay is a change from the typical Binding of Issac-type experience even though the claustrophobic rooms bring that game to mind. There is plenty of stupid fun to be had in fumbling with your abilities, like disabling a robot accidentally after you take control of it, or inadvertently ramming a drill into your own body. The game seems very early with a learning curve to boot, but it’s a great start, and will have some staying power once a multitude of powers and characters have been added in. For those who played the original FORCED, FORCED 2: The Rush might be a bit of a shocker. Instead of a top-down cooperative puzzle game, FORCED 2 is a single player focused roguelike. It has arenas, permadeath, everything else you’d expect, but its unique twist is that your item drops are treated as trading cards. Outside of runs, you can build a deck of buffs and abilities to bring in, and you then draw from that deck at certain times during play. Beating levels grants you better cards to use, and the boss of each stage has a deck full of traps to set against you.
The system gives players a bit more control over their runs than most rougelikes, although not enough to break the string of deaths that makes these games work. I’ve always dug the look of the elemental warriors in the FORCED games, and that carries on here. Some of the boss enemies, such as a cartoonish pirate rat, are a bit bizarre both in look and voice acting, but their models in game are crisp and there is a great variety of foes to overcome. It’s an interesting place for the series to go, especially with so many rougelikes to compete against, but it has enough unique elements to attract a crowd when it goes into Early Access later this year.
Necropolis, as previously mentioned, is a third person action roguelike made by the developers of Shadowrun Returns. The core gameplay of this title is highly influenced by Dark Souls, which means a lot of rolling out of the way of attacks and hiding behind your shield. There are several different weapons in the game, each with unique attacks and animations, and some of the fancier moves were very satisfying. So slicing through your foes works pretty well, but the real fun is getting enemies to attack each other DOOM-style. Luring a predatory lizard into a room with a bunch of zombies and watching them fight it out while you plan your next move is quite fun. It’s also fun to stare at the crazy vistas and environments in this game. The whole art style is weird and angular and filled with neon infused light sources. It’s an ancient dungeon infused with just enough modern technology to keep the lights on, including a floating AI construct to guide you to your inevitable failure. Necropolis is also a game that is super early in development (the demo consisted of a set tutorial instead of a random world), but one with plenty of potential to be an entry point into Dark Souls for people who are more into procedural death labyrinths.
These are the most unique of PAX East’s roguelikes, but they were far from alone on the show floor. I’ve already covered Enter the Gungeon and Downwell, and those were joined by Deathstate, Oblitus, Party Hard, and seemingly dozens of others all hidden in various corners of the Indie Megabooth. Which might be alarming to some, but for those who still keep quarters handy in the hope that the next 7-11 you visit will still have a Galaga machine, it’s an exciting prospect. Roguelikes are the new arcade games, promising endless variety in exchange for enough skill to climb a steep difficulty curve. They offer secrets that go unexplained and make each run memorable. They’re neo-nostalgia in a market friendly wrapping, and they’re not overplayed just yet. Enjoy that while you can.
What roguelikes are you looking forward too the most? Or are you sick of the whole genre? Sound off in the comments and check back soon for EVEN MORE PAX East 2015 coverage!