Thursday, August 01, 2013

Review: Rogue Legacy

From the first time I had heard about Rogue Legacy, I knew that I wanted it.

To put it in perspective, this is the game that was making me cranky during the Steam sale, since it was the one I most wanted to play and I couldn't bring myself to buy it if it was going to have a better sale price at some point during said sale.

And I regret waiting until the last day to buy it. But even if it wasn't on sale, I would have still paid full price for it.


Rogue Legacy, created by Cellar Door Games for the PC, is by the studio's definition, a rogue-"lite" which tells you that this is a procedurally-generated game with permadeath. It is also very much a Metroidvania-type game with platforming, hidden areas, weapon upgrades and the like.

The way the game comes together is basically you play as members of a single family trying to conquer an ever-changing castle, one generation at a time. You are given a choice of three warriors from each generation, one of which is going to enter the castle and try to fight their way through it. If and when they die, you choose one of their three offspring to try to do the same.

Now there are two major complications. One is the fact that the money you gained your previous attempt at the castle which isn't spent on upgrades and equipment is forfeited when your offspring enters the castle, meaning you can't save money between runs. The second and more interesting twist is that each heir has a class, a spell and up to two additional traits, which can lead to some weird combinations, and some really tough runs if things don't fall your way.

There were a lot of dead heroes before this one.

For instance, there are some beneficial traits, like Hypergonadism which makes enemies fly back further when hit, and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) which means you don't have a foot pulse and therefore you don't set off spike traps... but there are also some nasty ones too like Vertigo, which means you have to play that life upside down with the controls still mapped for right side up (so everything is reversed), or being Far/Near Sighted which makes part of the screen blurry, making it difficult to see enemies, projectiles and hazards. But that is half the fun too, seeing what weird things will pop up in your descendants, though it is purely random and not the results of in-game DNA.

Oh Colorblindness...

And to make it through the castle, you have to buy upgrades at your manor and from people you have in your employ. For things like armor, weapons and runes, you have to find the designs in the castle first before you can buy them and use them. Your manor also has a rudimentary tech tree, as a lot of the different hero classes and upgrades have to be unlocked by getting levels in other skills first to make them available.

At death, you see all the enemies you killed on that run.

While playing with a keyboard is an option, this is definitely a game that is designed with a controller in mind. It has responsive controls and a nice set of jump physics allowing a lot of control while you are in the air, making the platforming and attacking mechanics excellent. It feels very natural, and it is something that most people with any experience with a platforming game will pick up quickly. It is very solid in this regard, although I have occasionally had a slight problem doing a downward thrust while jumping.

It is at times a frustrating game, but for the most part, I felt like the problem was me and not the game, and it kept drawing me in to play more.Yes, there are a few times that the castle presents you with rooms that are really brutal in an almost punishing way, but like I said earlier, most of the time, if your character gets hurt or killed, it was entirely your fault, and you know I respect that in a game.Failure is an option, but it isn't a crippling one, and in fact it is part of the whole mechanic of the game (since you can't spend money or change gear until your current hero dies). 

What happens when you upgrade a class.
There is a wonderful sense of progression between the lives of your various heroes as well. As I got better as a player from learning how enemies fought, along with the constant upgrades that my manor provided, I felt like I was getting closer to the end. At no point did I feel like I would never be able to conquer the castle... I just couldn't do it on that life, but I got farther or I killed more enemies or made more money or I found blueprints for a piece of armor, and it was like the game spurred me on to beat it, and I did so joyfully. I didn't feel like I was grinding, but that any particular run could be the one that would end up leading me to the end.

I liked the design decision to make killing a boss a persistent element of the castle... that unlike other enemies, killing the boss of one of the areas is permanent on that playthrough, again adding to the feeling of progression. 

I was also a fan of the fact that the game doesn't show you all the content it has on your first playthrough. There are weapon and armor pieces that you cannot get on your first run through of game, and because the enemies scale with your hero, there are higher level enemies that you are very unlikely to see until you start going through the game in successive New Game+ runs with a hero that you've leveled up. And you after each time you beat it, you can get a New Game+ with even harder enemies so it is always going to challenge you. I've been reading about people who are playing in New Game+12, so there is a high degree of replayability in this title. 

The automap
I was also a big fan of the presentation. The graphics, music and sound design come together nicely and complement each other well, and nothing seems out of place. I have a soft spot for sprite-based games too, and the art style appeals to me on a deep level as an older gamer.

All in all, it is a great game that I can't recommend highly enough. I have more than gotten my money's worth from it, and even as I type this, I am tempted to play a few more lives in my second playthrough in my New Game +. It is just so good, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was nominated for some awards at the end of the year (it was already chosen as a PAX 10 selection). It is a quality title and it is well worth buying.

The game is currently only for PC, but Cellar Door Games is working on having ports out for Mac and Linux in the future. The game was very stable for me in its current build as well.

So check it out.

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