Types of Roguelikes

Ive been playing a lot of nethack guys
Ive been playing a lot of nethack guys

Whenever I mention that I like to play nethack, or that I am still playing nethack, I often get questions asking if I have played "X" roguelike. The most common one being Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.

While I'm alway happy to answer peoples question, these questions I often find kind of curious. The reality is that roguelikes like DCSS and wildly different from Nethack, and are even more different from the Modern style of roguelikes. So asking this question is a bit like asking "Do you like Baldurs Gate?" after someone has mentioned they like Final Fantasy.

Anyways, because I get those kind of questions often, I figured I would at least explain how these roguelikes are differnet, and what I kind of view as the three major types of roguelikes that exist today.

So here they are (in no particular order).

Modern Rogulike (The Roguelite)

FTL, Rogue Legacy, Crypt Of The Necrodancer

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The Modern Roguelike is currently the most popular kind of rogulike. The term Roguelite actually captures a lot of what separates this sub-genre from the other two, but people sometimes do not like the term, thinking that it's used to put down this style of roguelike (which admittedly it may have been originally).

The two main key components that define a Modern Roguelike are: Low focus on the meta-game as a core part of the game, and a design that encourages short quick plays where randomness greatly varies the experience and provides difficulty.

A good example is Rogue Legacy. That game is very much designed for a player to replay the dungeon it generates over and over again in quick succession. You can tell that this is a core philosophy of that game by the Trait mechanic, a mechanic that only really makes sense if the player is going to have to play a lot of the game over and over again.

Rogue Legacy also introduced the cross-run progression mechanic which more of these Modern Roguelikes are adopting. This lets the user feel a sense of progression over time, and with enough perks/upgrades it helps reduce how much the randomness can affect a game.

As the term Roguelite implies, these games are meant more for short playthroughs with little attachment to any one playthrough. In fact, with many of these games, extended playing of the games can be frustrating, as the more one plays the one more gets frustrated at how much of the game is determined by randomness.

Classic Roguelike

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, ToME, Dungeons of Dredmor, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

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The Classical roguelike is the second most popular type of modern roguelike. These are the closest of the current style of roguelikes to the original type of roguelikes. These are often RPGs, but do not have to be.

The main defining characteristics of the Classic Roguelike are: Low focus on the meta-game as a core part of the game, and designed for long and involved runs that can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 hours.

These roguelikes are the closest to the modern Dungeon Crawler. Think Diablo and other loot games, except with random generation of dungeons and perma-death. The games are designed for players to find lots of loot (which is randomly variant), and to progress through a lot of levels. They also tend to include many different roles that players can play with large variance between roles.

For example, Tales Of Maj'Eyal (or ToME), includes a very large world with multiple areas and dungeons. All of these areas are randomly generated, and the game includes multiple quests and plenty of monsters to kill for random loot. The main goal of the game, and most of these games, is progression for the sake of progression.

As I mentioned before, if what I'm describing doesn't sound that different from a Diablo or a Baldur's Gate, but with turn based mechanics, that is because it isn't that different. These are essentially similar to those style of games, but with perma-death and randomness.


Nethack, Spelunky

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The Hacklike is the rare unicorn of the roguelike spectrum, both in terms of modern roguelikes and older roguelikes. This style of roguelike caters to a niche audience, and requires a significant investment from both the developer and player, and as a result these are somewhat rare.

The main defining characteristic of the Hacklike is: The meta-game is the game, all of the game is more or less designed around the player learning the ins and outs of the mechanics. Once enough of the metagame is understood, the game is consistently beatable. The randomness exists mainly as a variance to allow the player to learn the meta-game, and not to provide actual difficulty.

This style of roguelike is also sometimes reffered to as "puzzle games pretending to be roguelikes".

Another thing that defines a 'Hacklike' is what is called the 'YASD', or 'Yet Another Stupid Death'. Once a player has learned sufficient knowledge of the metagame, any death or loss of the game is often followed by the player thinking 'that was my fault'. This is a consequent of the strict meta-game that exists, and deaths that feel this way are called 'YASD', as they often make the player feel stupid.

Spelunky, the most modern incarnation of this aspect, introduced a new idea of the "Daily Challenge" to the genre. This was something that nethack communities had actually done before, but Spelunky was the first game to introduce it as a built in mechanic. The concept of this challenge is to provide the same dungeon to different players, and see who can do the best trying to beat it. In other words, the challenge is in who can figure out the puzzle that is the game the best.

That's all folks

And there you have it, those are the major types of roguelikes that kind of exist today. Now obviously these divisions are getting more and more fluid (Crypt of the Necrodancer for example has some modes that seem to be inspired by Hacklikes), and the genre is constantly evolving. However, I think this at least captures the major divisions between roguelikes.