Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Rogue-likes: the bane of my existence and yet a genre I always find myself coming back to. This time we’ve got a preview look at Rogue Lords, a Van Helsing style “myths and monsters” themed journey to re-establish yourself as the best demon/dark lord in the land.
Rogue Lords takes a lesser used path, having you as the player command your minions as the “devil”. Your goal is to dominate the lands of the humans, using your dedicated minions as a medium to spread your influence. Unlike the more traditional rogue style, this time comes at you as a bit of a deck builder with progressional choices as to what situations you want to find yourself in next.
You can bring a team of three with you into each Book, which is subdivided into chapters. Each chapter will start at a node, branch out through different paths, and then culminate at a single point again. At the end of each stage you have a boss battle. Each node on the map is a new encounter, and can be randomly chosen from: a skill shop, a battle, an event, an elite battle, a random encounter, a “healing” pool, or maybe a sacrificial altar. The paths through each chapter are randomly decided, so you better start planning how you want to sit for the final encounter at the beginning of each Book. Your job as the devil takes on a few interesting facets, mainly the fact you can cheat. Which is nice, cuz most roguelikes make me want to cheat.
But first you need to know how each node works, and how the game progresses. Normal combat nodes, for instance, allow you a choice between a terror effect, a skill, or souls (the games currency) when entering combat, and will reward you upon completion. Event nodes task you to perform an action you deem beneficial to your characters, which will provide them with stat bonuses or effects upon success, or perhaps a fight on failure.Completing a node will let you take a branch to the next node in the ‘tier’ along the pathway. So how do you cheat? Well, you’re the devil, you’re not meant to play fair. During an event, combat, or on the map you can hit a “devil mode” button which will let you adjust things to your will. You only have a limited number of points to use though, and while you can recover those and the Springs nodes, you may need that power if you get into a tough fight as well.
On the map your cheating is pretty much restricted to connecting to a path branch you aren’t able to reach from the path you’re on. In events and battle however, cheating becomes a lot more integral. For events you select a character beforehand, only knowing what the succesful outcome will provide. You then have a measure against that characters peronality status to perform an action, which you get a choice from two or three options. The chance of success depends on how high your character personality status is. But what about when your success rate is super low for all your option? Well, then you cheat, and increase the chance of success. Congratulations, you’ve now completed your task and won your reward. Depending on the other characters in your team, there might be some short conversations and bonus rewards, or you might receive a negative trait if the character isn’t happy with the outcome. As an example, of the three characters initially offered: Dracula, Headless Horseman, and Bloody Mary, I found Bloody Mary didn’t like it when I attempted a stealth check as the horseman. She then got negative one to the “scare” stat for that.
Combat in Rogue Lords is both rather well balanced and yet horrifically unbalanced as well, at least for right now. You start with five action points, and each character has their own moves independant moves, although they all use the same action point pool. Each action will take a set number of points, and will then become unusable until rechatged. Each character has a recharge, some with different effects. For example, Bloody Mary can place a mirror behind a target that duplicates her attacks. Combat is turn based, so you go first, and then your enemies. You can cheat here by adjusting both your own unit health pools or enemy health pools, moving around staus effects, or recharging skills. So how is this both balanced yet unfair? Well, what skills you earn are randomized, so you may earn or have for purchase a lot of mediocre skills.
This won’t bode well towards the end of the book when you need better skills. My first attempt at a full book had my Dracula largely useless, as I rarely got many skills that fit well with the build I was using. In addition to that, the second last fight I got in was wretched. The enemies kept spamming full party damaging moves, and I barely had enough output to outpace them. And then wave two came in with an almost identical set of enemies and I got demolished. On the other hand, I had an absolutely dirty setup going where I could build up twelve stacks of damage over time on every enemy, while dishing out an average of about sixty damage per turn, if played right. It’s largely up to chance, hence the “rogue” in the title, although the battles can range from “super easy” to “nai wa” at basically any point.
I have to say, I really like what Leikir/Cyanide Studio has done with the skills. Your skills can be upgraded to increase damage and reduce action cost, either by collecting three of the same skill, or by leaving a skill at the shop, which you will get back upon your next visit, only upgraded. My only gripe is that if you get three of a skill and they ‘can’ fuse, they ‘will’ fuse. You can’t just elect to keep them seperate if you wanted. You can also earn a skill, and skill slot, by sacrificing a skill at an altar. This unlocks a skill slot and gives you a replacement for the sacrificied skill.
To add to all this, you get the randomized effects that are either positive terror effects, or negative threat effects. A positive could be an extra skill after battle, and a negative could be a reduction in devil points restored from a fountain. Increasing terror also provides permanent better reward chances for a book as you invoke more of the effects. The threat effects are generally one-offs, at least from what I’ve experienced, and will drop on a random node ahead of you. Terror effects will be dropped on a ‘row’ of nodes, and may be fifferent for each node in the row.
One of my favourite aspects of Rogue Lords that I’ve seen is that it can boil down to strategy, even if you get a little hosed by RNGesus and the Gacha Lords. That being said, the ‘cheating’ mechanic is a really good way to help balance against luck insurance, and I was quite grateful for it. I’m really excited to see where the full release for Rogue Lords is going. It has a great concept with some fresh ideas, the art style is well suited for this style of gameplay, and the core mechanics seem well thought out. While a little balancing of the enemy AI might be desired, I suppose getting beat down like you’re a sandbag is part of the challenge behind roguelike games. Here’s hoping you were able to at least try out the demo while it was up, and if not, look forward to the release planned for some time this fall!Score: N/A for previews