Take one part roguelike, another part hack n’ slash dungeon crawler, add a heaping helping of loot and you’ve got the beginnings of a very fun indie RPG from Spellbind Studios called Rogue Wizards. The game started life on Kickstarter and got its final release after a successful campaign on September 27, 2016. So often video game projects on Kickstarter deliver subpar results, but this new indie gem blends classic gameplay with loving attention to detail for a great gaming experience.
In Rogue Wizards choose to play as a male or female Banlit, eking out a life as a thief in a fictional world in which the non-magical race of Banlits is oppressed by the magic wielding Elam. You quickly discover that you have magical abilities in spite of being a lowly Banlit and are recruited by a woman working to unite Banlit and Elam, woman and man, against the oppressive Elam wizards guild and their evil leader Hosperak. On your quest to overthrow the bad guys, you’ll meet fellow warriors and wizards, learn magic spells, and delve numerous dungeons filled with various types of enemies with an isometric viewpoint.
At first, the campaign's plot threatens to be too political for the colorful and cartoonish looking game. With the “haves” subjugating the “have nots” and men preventing women from using magic, the game could have quickly gotten preachy. It doesn’t shy away from its message, but it isn’t uncomfortably shoved down the player's throat either. And while the story may not be the game’s greatest strength, the mystery of how magic works and how the guild council became corrupted is rather interesting to follow.
Heavily inspired by the original Rogue, progressing through procedurally generated dungeons, collecting items and engaging in turn-based combat make up the crux of Rogue Wizards’ gameplay. Playing through story mode on normal difficulty may feel more like modern dungeon crawlers like Torchlight or Diablo than old school Rogue; hacking and slashing your way through enemies without much difficulty and amassing more loot than you know what to do with. However, there is a large element of strategy to the game that elevates it from just another roguelike, to an engaging and challenging experience.
Strategy particularly comes into play during combat. Positioning and movement are extremely important to the game’s mechanics. Each turn consists of one action, whether that’s moving a space, switching weapons or attacking. This incentivizes players to carefully plan out their turns ahead of time.
Each enemy type has their own resistances and weaknesses when it comes to the elemental based magic system as well as their own loose movement and attack patterns. Being able to make educated guesses about an enemy's next move allows players to plan out their next actions in a chess-like display of strategy. The best course of action will sometimes be to skip a turn so that the enemy will move into melee range. In other situations, it’s worth spending a turn switching from a weapon to a spell and taking an extra turn of damage to make use of an enemy's elemental weakness.
Players will also have to choose between clearing an entire level or speeding through the dungeon. Defeating all enemies and opening all treasure chests will give valuable experience bonuses, but if you’re low on health potions or other resources it may be a big risk to take.
In addition to using movement and positioning to make the most efficient attacks, different weapons and spells are better suited to different situations. Instead of equipping the highest damage weapon and spell player’s will be well served to keep a variety of weapons with different skills to better deal with the variety of enemies.
As you progress through the game your equipment will gain experience and every time it ranks up it will acquire a random attribute, making your gear better as you go. This concept is a very nice touch but, eventually, it will reach its max and become underleveled, making players weigh the pros and cons of keeping the old gear they’ve grown attached too versus new equipment with the potential to become even more powerful. Luckily, items with more increased attributes and additional effects enhancing them will be worth more to a shopkeeper when emptying your pack. Between quests, players will return to a central hub (a town called Antarit), where various shops can be accessed and upgraded. Another nice touch in the game is that selling items to a shopkeep will count towards the price to upgrade the shop, decreasing the amount of gold needed to reach the next level and get to higher tier goods more quickly.
In addition to a story mode, Rogue Wizards has a more traditional gauntlet mode, complete with permadeath and never-ending depths to delve. With thirty hours of gameplay and a good introduction to the mechanics, the story mode is worth playing, but the most replayability comes from the much more challenging and addicting gauntlet mode. Starting out in this mode is tough, as you’ll be strapped for resources and carrying little to no good gear. Yet, as soon as you’ve cleared a level or two things will lighten up-that is until you run into some tough enemies. Since everything is randomly generated, there’s no telling when that’ll be, making each death met with the desire to try again because you could have been better prepared or gotten a better selection of loot and/or enemies.
Although the game is incredibly fun to play, it’s not without its faults. Perhaps the biggest grievance is the limitations of the isometric viewpoint. As you travel through a dungeon the tiles in your range of vision will appear and disappear as they are seen This effect is aesthetically pleasing and keeps the screen from getting too cluttered. However, this effect will often make enemies you’re fighting become untargetable when you lose vision of where they are standing. This is all the more aggravating because you’ve probably started planning how best to move and attack those enemies that are now out of combat, making the ranged weapon you just spent a turn switching too useless in the current situation. The isometric view adds further complications to the game, as it’s difficult to select enemies positioned behind other objects and mis-clicking won’t be uncommon.
The enemy AI is often predictable, but sometimes it behaves randomly in its own disinterest, making battles far easier than they need to be. Another complaint is that some enemy attacks obscure your vision. While it’s done thematically and seemed cute at first, that particular effect got old fast and was more of an annoyance than a challenge to overcome. There are a few bugs in the recently released game. Things like certain items not being enchantable. None of these bugs are game breaking, but things that should, and likely will, be fixed soon.
Lastly, when it comes to faults, the ending of story mode is a bit disappointing. The final boss fight was surprisingly simple to complete, even though it was a back to back fight against two of the supposedly most powerful wizards in the game. It didn’t feel very satisfying considering that it was a breeze to take on foes that had been built up throughout the entire game.
Now all of these complaints don’t get in the way of enjoying Rogue Wizards, but they do keep it from being a perfect game. There are also some loving touches added to the game that raise it above some of its competition. For example, the sound design is great. The sound effects weapons make when being used or enemies make when they fall to the ground defeated are very satisfying and really add to the experience. Similarly the minimalistic animations given to characters and enemies do a great job of conveying emotion and are amusing to watch.
Overall, Rogue Wizards is a fantastic roguelike dungeon crawler that delivers fun and challenging gameplay with a mildly interesting story. The gauntlet mode provides a lot of replay value and although the game has some issues, the attention to detail enhances the simple yet strategic gameplay to a real gem of an indie game.
Rogue Wizards was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy that was procured by the reviewer via a $15 donation to the game's Kickstarter campaign. The reviewer was also granted access to a beta of the game prior to the title's final release.
Rogue Wizards is a fantastic roguelike dungeon crawler that delivers fun and challenging gameplay with a mildly interesting story. The gauntlet mode provides a lot of replay value and although the game has some issues, the attention to detail enhances the simple yet strategic gameplay to a real gem of an indie game.(Review Policy)
- Strategic Gameplay
- Classic Roguelike Dungeon Crawling
- Nice Sound Design and Animations
- Replayable Gauntlet Mode
- Limitations of Isometric View
- Small Bugs
- Disappointing Final Boss