Van Helsing thinks that he’s dealt with The Devil once and for all this time. Take the reins of the Prince of Darkness himself and prove him wrong in this roguelite RPG.
Genre: RPG, Roguelite
Developer: Leikir Studio,
Release date: 30 Sept, 2021
Roguelites have taken the gaming world by storm in recent years and I’m certainly not upset by it. Death as a part of your journey as opposed to being the end of it brings with it a considerable amount of replay value as you hone your strategy with new tools after each loss. Tangible gains after each run are the defining feature as you continue to unlock more exciting options for future attempts at victory. Rogue Lords takes the best of the genre and creates a familiar yet new experience by combining the successful ideas of the past with an engaging horror atmosphere to make its own unique experience.
Damn That Van Helsing!
As with most roguelikes, Rogue Lords has an overarching plot that defines the narrative but each run is different in its events. This time around there are different books, or adventures, that you can choose from that flavor the big story events within them but they have a relatively minor role when compared to the generated elements. The central thread here is that you are The Devil and you’ve returned from banishment by Van Helsing after a rough encounter with him where he pulled out all of the stops. Perhaps unsurprisingly, even without The Devil and his monsters around, humanity has continued on with its trend of being absolute dicks to one another. A fanatical religious sect has taken over and forced itself onto the population as they build their churches and burn those they deem heretics across the land. Sometimes they catch a follower of darkness while at other times they’re simply tormenting the innocent needlessly. The world’s not doing great even without him, but the return of the Prince of Darkness is surely toward the bottom of everyone’s Christmas list this year.
Although he’s very influential over the world of mortals, The Devil tends to delegate to his most trusted disciples when he needs a more hands-on approach. These disciples aren’t just any Tom, Dick, or Harry either, and you’ll likely recognize them from classic works. Their ranks include such legends as Vlad Tepes Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, and The Headless Horseman, among several others. I found their voice lines to be entertaining and faithful to their origins even if they could have used a few more of them to spice things up. As much as I love the line, “I heard you, you call me three times,” hearing it a dozen or more times every fight got a bit old.
A Conquest of Many Paths
Rogue Lords involves branching paths that lead to a variety of locations that offer varying benefits and challenges. This is similar to what we’ve seen in titles like Slay the Spire and FTL, though the key difference here is that you actually control your party as they move between locations as if it were an action RPG instead of instantly jumping from point to point. On one hand, I can see this being meant to further immerse you in the interesting setting that you’ve been placed into. On the other, it often feels like you’re wasting your time as you trek through randomly generated worlds that don’t look all that different from one another.
The party-based system of this title offers plenty of variety for building groups that synergize well together. As you travel down these paths, you’ll be able to build them up from a small standard selection of skills and poor attributes to brutal powerhouses of your own design. Traits, attributes, and skill loadouts all go into making your disciples your own. It’s important to note that Rogue Lords is not a card game and each loadout is a selection of skills that is always available as long as you have them recharged with the needed action points remaining.
Traits more often than not come from event locations that play out like short, multiple-choice visual novel scenes. A set of attributes are used to determine which options each character is skilled with such as how terrifying or deceptive they are. The higher their skill the more likely they are to succeed at a related task. It feels like a tacked-on system at times, but I have to admit that these events are quite fun and offer some great rewards. You often received maximum health benefits and permanently boosted damage modifiers which drastically increase your combat efficiency.
Souls are the currency that you’ll collect in Rogue Lords. When you’re lucky enough to meet with the Grim Reaper, he’ll trade you new skills and relics, as well as “borrowing” a skill of your choice to cheaply upgrade it for the next time that you meet. All of these options can offer solid bonuses, so the more souls that you can get your wicked hands on, the better.
Spilling Blood and Devouring Souls
Combat is a turn-based affair that consists of the player having action points to split among their party as they see fit and enemies that carry out one action each per turn. Health is split into physical and spiritual; once either of these types is depleted, a character will become vulnerable. A vulnerable enemy will die upon suffering that type of damage again while a vulnerable disciple will start stealing the amount they are damaged from the Devil’s Essence pool to stay alive. You aren’t defeated on a disciple by disciple basis in Rogue Lords, you only lose a run once your Devil’s Essence has been completely drained.
Devil’s Essence has more uses than simply acting as your disciples’ emergency health reserve. It can also be used at will as a source of mana to “cheat” and give yourself an advantage in a variety of situations. In combat you might use it to shift a disciple or enemy’s health up or down or to move buffs and debuffs around freely. Outside of combat you are able to use it to boost success choices in story events and to teleport between paths that don’t connect to one another.
Disciples skills come in a wide variety and every disciple has their own unique selection. The starting party consists of a bloodthirsty leader who brings strong party buffs, a tank fellow who seems to have lost his head, and a mirror-based murder machine. I’ll let you figure out who’s who but they’re all capable of specializing in very different ways from one run to the next as they progress. I’ve found that whether you’re going hybrid to strike at both the spiritual and physical health of enemies or if you’re building for one both builds tend to work, but you should always have at least a skill or two to hit the other when you might end up facing off against enemies that are particularly resistant in one of the categories.
Rogue Lords has succeeded in carving out a space for itself on the digital roguelike shelf. It’s familiar enough for genre veterans to hop right in but it’s unique enough that it doesn’t directly compete with the long-standing heavyweights. I recommend this title to anyone who’s looking for a new experience in a similar vein to Slay the Spire especially if the horror theme counts for bonus points for you.