Rogue is one of my favorite games, and the Roguelike is my favorite genre. The past decade or so has been very good to me. Developers large and small have embraced the roguelike design and refined it in creative and unexpected ways.
Inspired by @mento and @imunbeatable80 and their semi-regular series, I want to put together my own "ranking of roguelikes." I'll talk about how the title uses the roguelike formula, how well it works and why, and whether I would recommend it.
I'm not going to deal with the classics of the genre: Rogue, Angband, Nethack, and all their variants. They're fantastic, but they're a hard sell to the modern game player. Instead, I'll focus on their descendants.
I take a fairly expansive view of what a roguelike is: any game that has permadeath that sends you back to the beginning, armed with new knowledge for the next attempt.
What makes a roguelike "work?" A good roguelike rewards experimentation and improvisation; it has meaningful risk/reward calculations; and it allows for multiple solutions to a problem; and it teaches you something through your failures.
1. Rewarding Experimentation and Improvisation
Doing the best you have with the tools you are given is a crucial part of good roguelike design. It's a huge part of the appeal to a player, creating those one of a kind stories that only they experienced. Items and enemies interacting in unexpected ways is a core part of what makes a roguelike enjoyable.
Great roguelikes will let you do unexpected things by using those tools in creative ways. They might be beneficial or detrimental to you, but they make sense within the game world. Ideally, they should leave you saying "holy shit, that worked?!"
2. Meaningful risk/reward calculations
You are never going to have everything you need, and you're going to have to make decisions about what to keep, what to use, and what to abandon. This is true for every game, but it's especially important in a roguelike. Once your run is done, it's done. You don't get to carry items over to the next run; if you don't use it, you lose it.
This means that every one of your decisions has weight. Waiting too long to use that powerful item might mean certain death, but using it too early means you won't have it for the truly dangerous enemies later in the run.
Good roguelikes make these kinds of decisions the core of their game.
3. Multiple solutions to problems
I've seen people refer to "verbs" in games, the actions that you can perform and the ways that you interact with the game world. In a roguelike, there should be many verbs that allow you to deal with the challenges you face: run, fight, set a trap, use an item, sacrifice an ally, hide, and so on. Ideally, each of these verbs should offer a solution to any problem you face.
4. Teaching you through your failures
More than almost any other genre, a roguelike should teach you something important when you fail. You should be able to look back at the moments before failure and see what you could or should have done to succeed. The next time you find yourself in that situation, you'll be able to put that knowledge to use.
I'll try to put together the first entry in the next few days. I hope you all enjoy the journey with me!
The following is the list I've built for the series. I welcome any additions you feel belong.
Children of Morta
Death Road to Canada
Deep Sky Derelicts
Enter the Gungeon
Into the Breach
Kingdom: New Lands
One Step From Eden
Out There: The Alliance
Risk of Rain
Risk of Rain 2
Shiren the Wanderer
Slay the Spire
Wizard of Legend