Rogue Legacy Review

“Choose your heir”

Death has usually signalled definitive failure in video games but in Rogue Legacy, a 2D action-platformer, it feels something altogether more natural, an inevitable circumstance, you  can’t escape from it, no matter how skilled you may be or how powerful you think you are, eventually you will succumb and die alone.

Well, that was an unnecessarily dark introduction to the review.

Anyway, Rogue Legacy is a deeply charming and fun procedurally generated adventure where you take the role of a hero seeking revenge for crimes made against his family. However, you don’t assume the role of just one hero for the game, you see it’s anchored by roguelike game design, perma-death being a signature feature. When a hero dies, you start again using his/her heir, and your fresh journey through the castle will be markedly different as the level design is generated randomly, the challenge can never be totally predicted.

It’s a game that forces its players to embrace the grind, a feat that is easily accomplished upon experiencing the compelling gameplay loop it has, as you hack, slash, run, jump and spellcast your way towards inevitable death. It’s just plain fun, the controls are tight and super responsive and this goes hand-in-hand with the constant progress you experience at the end of each run through the castle. When your plucky knight bites the dust, your heir is able to spend all the gold you accumulated on upgrades, more powerful character classes and stat boosts. Each upgrade slimly increases your chances of survival, but after a few profitable excursions, you are able to make enormous progress on your earlier attempts. And yes, there are going to be a lot of attempts, sometimes you may only last a minute or two as you frantically fight off ghoulish creatures. It’s perhaps more appropriate to dub it a ‘difficulty cycle’ rather than a curve, especially as even when you get your character beefed up a bit, you can wander into a higher-level area and die as feebly as your first few deaths.

It amounts to wonderful level design, effortlessly juggling a procedurally generated castle with a set of persistent, definite rules. For instance, bosses stay dead once you’ve defeated them and key areas are always roughly where they’re supposed to be, the Forest will always be to the right of the map and the hardest dungeons will be towards the bottom.

The challenge is so beautifully handled too despite all the crazy variables at play, it might be hours before you even stumble onto a boss’s lair or feel confident enough to confront one. Moreover, the game reiterates to the player many times that running away from fights is the wise option to take, areas like the ‘Land of Darkness’ for example is so oppressive in atmosphere to newcomers that the game implicitly roars you away and not to return until you’re substantially stronger.

You level up and you learn, as you get stronger, you identify attack patterns and how to avoid them, overcoming bosses you never thought you’d have a chance in defeating, the victories you achieve in Rogue Legacy are some of the finest you’re likely to experience in video games period.

Your stats and loot may live again through your heir, but Rogue Legacy has another cute trick to add, in the form of random genetic traits. Some can be minor and used for amusements, like tourettes so your hero swears every time they’re hit. But most have notable gameplay ramifications, colour-blindness for example drowns the screen in an exclusively nepia-filter, ADHD makes your hero incredibly fast, dementia causes enemies who aren’t real to appear and dwarves can fit through areas no other characters can. A bizarre strain of strategic thinking is therefore introduced to the player through this genetic lottery, you’ll gradually understand which traits are less of a hindrance than others, even if it means selecting a class you wouldn’t normally pick.

Moving onto the character classes then, and you can be anything from a Paladin, a well-balanced knight, to a Barbarian, a huge tank-like class that can absorb massive damager, to even something called a Lich King (or Queen), which has low health at first but each strike you land adds more. Rogue Legacy puts a lot of thought into the grind, compelling character classes gel well with the inventive trait system, it saves the game from feeling a hit empty in the face of a gigantic loot-grind.

There’s such a graceful balance to it all, steady progression meets permanent death which may seem like two contradictory forces I know. However, every run feels significant, because even if you don’t manage to defeat the boss you’re stuck on, you’ve accumulated enough gold to upgrade your stats, and maybe even figured out his attack patterns. It wasn’t all for nothing, and your hero’s heir acts as a perfect motif for that realisation.

Rogue Legacy is a great game, wildly inventive and so much fun to play. It’s got just the right level of challenge and one hell of an addictive gameplay loop, a true gem.

9/10

+Addictive, fun gameplay

+Brilliant sense of progression

+Daunting, but accessible challenge

+Unique and engaging character classes