I think it’s fair to say that rogue-lites are a hard balancing act. When done right, they can keep a game feeling fresh with every run, while still allowing players to build up their skills with every new attempt. Regardless of whether or not the random nature is in their favor.
Unsurprisingly for both an Early Access game, and a genre that typically does not have roguelike elements, Atlas Rogue is still finding its feet with this. It is certainly a lot closer to pulling off the balance than it is to falling on its face—and has a whole lot of good going for it—but developers Gamigo need to address an issue of replay value to make a rogue-lite really work. Thankfully for them, the solution is right in front of them: multiplayer.
Atlas Rogues is the successor to 2016's Atlas Reactor, but with a very different aim. While that was PvP, here it’s PvE. In this turn-based tactics game you play as a team of four “freelancers”; characters with roles typically found in tactical games: tank, support, and assassin. The premise is that a gang of freelancers, Zuki, Lockwood, Helio, and Garrison, are trying to stop the bad guys from blowing up a reactor. This is just your tutorial mission, so inevitably, you fail, but not before Helio figures out a way to send you all back in time by 30 days. It's explained that when those 30 days are up, you'll have to take it on again, so use your time wisely.
In those 30 days, you have free reign to take part in the tactical missions, as well as interact with the world at large in non-combat scenarios. For both missions and scenarios, the objective is to level up your freelancers, win loot, and gather “intel” on the antagonist factions. The first two are fairly self explanatory, but intel is the unique aspect to the rogue-lite. If you gather enough intel on a certain group before the 30 days is up, that faction will become easier to take down when you go after them again.
The story is basic, but a great springboard for the 30-day mechanic. It’s also vague enough to allow for a diverse set of characters to be added later on, much in the same vein of Overwatch. As it stands, the current cast have a decent amount of irreverent banter, with each of them getting a laugh out of me. The conversations do get very repetitive in after a few runs, so hopefully more characters are coming soon.
So, you and the freelancers set off on your run. You're greeted by a map of the city, with a choice of randomly generated missions and scenarios to select, all of which of varying difficulty and passing a different amount of days each (typically from one to four). These task can be missions, in which you deploy your freelancers in tactical combat. So far, these missions just involve defeating the other enemies on the map, but given the fact they the computer bothers to give you a mission briefing, it’s likely more variety will be added down the line.
When you’re not doing the missions, you can also choose to play out randomly generated scenarios. These are essentially very short conversations with various characters and are asked to make a quick decision. For example, your robo-dog wants to play fetch. Do you oblige, and hope the pup finds something useful? Or do you keep studying and gain an extra few days to the clock? Elsewhere, a character pops up and demands you worship her. Do you go along and see what happens? These can genuinely make for some good tactical decisions in some instances, so the more of this in the final game, the better.
Also out of battle, you can upgrade the freelancers in a system almost reminiscent of perks in Fallout. For each tier, you get a choice of two random upgrades to the character. These can be basic, such as increasing range on a certain attack, but can also change how you use characters completely, such as completely buffing defense, or having an attack do more damage depending how exactly you use it. But these can also come with caveats, such as having a move do more damage, but also taking up the whole turn to use. The impact of these decisions were absolutely felt in missions, and every playthrough I found myself using each character different from the last.
Aside from that, the combat is largely basic. If you’ve ever played a Fire Emblem game you’ll breeze through it since it’s so familiar, albeit with seemingly less emphasis on attack matchups and weaknesses, and no ability to have characters team up to attack. Lockwood was by far my favorite to play as, since his signature attack is a ricocheting bullet, able to attack enemies all over the map if you’re smart enough with your positioning. Helio’s moveset also allows for good use of the map, as he lays down traps, meaning you have to try and predict the enemies next move. In comparison, Zuki and Garrison were far more same-y. The lack of any map variety also hurts the ability to experiment, so new areas can’t come soon enough.
All of what I just mentioned is from my experience of the single player, which was certainly enjoyable enough. But as I’ve mentioned, the main appeal here is (or at least should be) the multiplayer. I love turn-based tactics games, and the more basic approach to it here would lend itself well to online, as would the roguelike aspects, since losing a run would just feel like losing an Overwarch match and jumping into another. Unfortunately, the only way to do multiplayer at the time of writing is to send a code to someone else, and without a friend to play with, I didn’t get around to trying it out. There’s no reason why Atlas Rogues shouldn’t have in-game match-up. Tactics could be discussed in an in-game chat, you wouldn’t have to be in a Discord call with your mates. If this were to be added, I can easily see myself losing hours into runs of Atlas Rogues.
That’s not the only way the multiplayer could shine. There’s no reason PvP couldn’t work in the game, either as a small single match mode, or even integrate it into the rogue-lite main story runs. Players would go against each other to progress through the 30 days, while still retaining the random perks of the single-player mode to keep the runs fresh. Honestly, this “easy to play, hard to master” gameplay would thrive in an active online community. I just hope the devs foster that properly going forward.
There’s a few other nit-picky points—how the game could benefit from voice acting, the camera zooming out further—but so far, Atlas Rogues is a game that mostly values your time, and how it feels to be the player. Based on what’s available so far, it’s apparent that the devs are thinking of the user experience.
So, the big question, do you pick this up right now? If you’re a fan of roguelikes and tactical games, and want to be part of shaping the final product, then absolutely. If not, it’s still worth the price of admission if you can convince a few buddies to get it too. Otherwise, this is one to keep half and eye on, following the progress. There’s enough promise to suggest it will be worth the wait, and with any luck, the team will invest into a vibrant online player-base. Until then, I think my run ends here. For now.
TechRaptor previewed Atlas Rogues on PC using a copy provided by the developers. The game is currently available in Early Access.