Pardon the slightly alarmist and attention grabbing title, I guarantee this is not a Skyrim bashing blog, and it will not have the word "gay" or "LOL" anywhere in there. Oh shit, nevermind, I guess it does. But the rest of it definitely will not. Probably. The point is, I do not recommend you miss out on Skyrim, because it is a fantastic game; but for ten good reasons which I will point out below, I am completely missing out on it myself, and by the end of this blog I hope you will understand why.
I got Skyrim upon release and have only put around ten hours into it. It's been a fantastic ten hours, and I've already come across some pretty epic things. Accidentally jumping on top of a dragon on a mountain was a simultaneous "oh shit" and "fuck yeah!" moment that I have seen elsewhere. And with a little more time on my hands, there is almost no excuse for me not to pour my life into this game. So what's the deal?
Recently I got back into Roguelikes. It all started with Binding of Isaac, a game which I didn't totally love, but which reminded me of other, similar games. I was going to hop back into Nethack, a year after I stayed up many a late night killing newts and robbing shop owners, but I thought I would explore the genre a bit to search for other titles.
But what is a Roguelike? It has been explained so many times now there probably aren't many gamers who don't know. Roguelikes are essentially turn based dungeon crawlers which are completely procedural generated, and which are hard as deer poops. Most of them have you diving into a dungeon, and most end around level thirty or so, but are also so difficult and unpredictable that actually finishing one is considered a lifetime achievement in the Roguelike community.
I will let the games explain themselves. Here are ten titles that have managed to completely absorb my time, and my attention, and most dreadfully, which have prevented me from playing Skyrim.
I put this on the list because it's a good introduction to Roguelikes. It happens to be one of the most popular, but also one of the most obtuse. The interface is a bit cumbersome, the game plays a lot like a text based adventure where doing seemingly random things will bring extremely positive or negative results, and where death comes swiftly and easily. It's notorious, it's incredibly difficult, but it is also quite a classic. The varying dungeon types make it interesting to play, and the near limitless actions a player can perform give it a depth seldom seen in other games. There are still new things being discovered about it, and it is said that a "spoiler free" play through might actually be impossible. It was foretold long ago that a man would come, a chosen one, who could play it without an FAQ. But this is only a legend, one that has yet to be fulfilled. I might have made all that up just now, I'm not really sure.
9. Dwarf Fortress
Don't let the look of this game fool you; you will need a beefy machine to get this game running properly. Computers are very good at doing one thing in particular, and that is mathematics. And in no game is that medium explored more thoroughly than in Dwarf Fortress. Before you even start the game, it takes a long ass time creating an entire world, its history, its creatures, and its lore. And then when you finally get to plunge into the game, something much different is waiting for you; a real time simulator where you control seven dwarves tasked with the straightforward goal of building a fortress - though the learning curve is not straightforward at all. I have invested hours simply learning the interface, and though the time has been rewarding, this is a game I can recommend to almost none of my friends. It required patience on an unfathomable level. Death IS inevitable, eventually, whether it involves your fortress being raided, or being flooded by lava. But the journey to death is as sweet as life itself, and definitely worth the effort. If you don't play this one, just marvel at it's uniqueness; it is what games would have evolved into if graphics had never been invented, and this in itself is a strange, and beautiful thing. This game alone could eat any possible time I might make for Skyrim, or any other game for that matter.
8. Tales of Maj'Eyal
Probably the most accessible of the bunch just for it's modern interface alone, this spin off of an old Roguelike called Moria has taken on a life of its own in recent years. The first thing you will notice about it, is that it's very pretty both in its audio and visuals. The second thing you will notice is that it is very fucking hard. This one goes a lot deeper than many Roguelikes, sporting extensive and original lore, massive landscapes, and even a world map. The gameplay is still familar and simplistic, but the presentation is anything but; and like Dwarf Fortress, you will need a decent machine to run this especially when the action gets heavy. In a way it is both the best and worst stepping point into the world of Roguelikes. The tutorial alone had me dying several times before just ending my game completely, but it is one I have been slowly edging into, and I am enjoying my time with it.
Roguelikes are generally all about the crawl; an endless delve into near limitless dungeons, full of familiar and deadly fantasy creatures. Transcendence is not a whole lot different under the hood, except for the fact that it takes place in the stars. It sort of feels like a cross between Nethack and Star Control, with players navigating a starship, fighting enemies in real time and salvaging junk to improve their inventory. Quests can be taken on, rewards found, and even though there is a bit of exploration to do, the game is still ultimately broken down into levels and will never feel to gigantic or daunting for those who are used to the claustrophobia of more classic Roguelike experiences. It's a lot of fun and has been around for quite awhile, so I am surprised I have never heard of it until recently.
To be fair, Aardwolf is not a Roguelike, but is instead a MUD: a Multi User Dungeon. MUDs were essentially the genesis of the MMORPG, sporting persistent worlds with ever spawning mobs of enemies, and a large active player base at the peak of their popularity. MUDs are almost exclusively text based apart from a few useful bells and whistles, and Aardwolf is no exception. The game has a learning curve, but it's not as daunting as I originally thought, and in the few hours I have put into it, I have seen about a dozen new players entering the game world for the first time. Though not half as active as they used to be, popular MUDs such as Aardwolf are by no means dead - and this is something I am very thankful for. There is something about these relics that I love, and that I want to see preserved. And for that reason, I am going to continue investing time into Aardwolf; it's massive tutorial alone was enough of a selling point for me, since these games are usually hopelessly complicated for newcomers.
5. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup
Crawl is yet another classic Roguelike that has been picked up by the open source community and continues to be expanded under the name of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. The game is notable for it's difficulty, it's fantastic looking dungeons, and its excellent interface and presentation. The game is pretty, but not tough on the hardware, and it is proof that a graphical Rougelike can work while still preserving the sanctity of a strictly ASCII environment. Dungeon Crawl is huge, and I can't express the hours I have spent in its world, getting crushed like a bug each and every time. This is one that is worth keeping an eye on, and one that is constantly being improved. Kudos to the people behind it, they are truly doing the work of some malicous, dungeon dwelling god.
POWDER is a Roguelike that was developed for the Game Boy Advance, and later ported to the DS, iPhone, PC, and a few other platforms. It was developed by a fan of Roguelikes who couldn't find a suitable experience for his Game Boy, so decided to make his own. While POWDER is simpler than many games in the genre, it still sports the difficulty, random items, and difficult enemies that these games are known for. I like that the game starts you off with random equipment each time, and the religious system in the game is very simple and well done, allowing you to adopt several different gods who will help you or punish you based on how well you do your bidding. Despite the consoles small stature, this is a huge game, and one that is worth seeking out for bedtime dungeon crawling sessions.
A more direct spin off of Moria, Angband will seem familiar to anyone who has played the first Diablo. The game starts you off in a tiny town full of merchants (and the relentless Farmer Maggot - go ahead and kill him, nobody will judge you) where you can buy and sell items before delving into the dungeon below. Angband is unique in that every single floor is regenerated every time you enter it anew. This makes it very difficult to form a strategy, and makes those trips back to town all the more difficult, though persistent dungeons is an option you can turn on. The thing I like about Angband is that it uses an ASCII interface that is actually very friendly and intuitive. You can pull up a map of the dungeon you are in at any time, the look feature has auto targeting, and in the game itself has many options you can use to improve your overall experience. For this reason, I prefer it over the needlessly archaic Nethack, though Angband is insanely long and very difficult, even moreso than many other games in the genre.
This is the most unique Roguelike I have played because it does everything it can to emulate the experience of Doom, but in an ASCII environment. The game is all about health pickups, ammo drops, and big fucking guns, and with the original Doom soundtrack and tone firmly in place, it will be a laugh for fans of the franchise. All of the powerups exist in their original forms, the enemies function how you would expect them too, and there is even a function to view them drawn in full, ridiculous ASCII on the screen if you wish. The game has a fantastic level system that is built around character feats, and there are even bonus "arena" stages in between levels where you can fight it out against waves of enemies in order to earn stockpiles of weapons and ammo. The same conventions of other Roguelikes apply; a single death will send you packing, and in the later stages, the outcome is damn near unavoidable. DoomRL is a game that shouldn't be viewed as a gimmick, and among all the entries listed here, it puts up a good fight for the number one spot - if there were two of them, it would definitely be in there.
Brogue is completely successful in what it provides; a straightforward distillation of the genre that is both easy to get into, yet has some addicting depth beneath the surface, all wrapped up in a very traditional yet simultaneously progressive interface. Simply put, it is the most beautiful ASCII based game I have ever seen, with great lighting effects and colors used in such a way as to make the game both easier to navigate, and very impressive to look at. Brogue sports a smaller set of enemies and items than a lot of other games, but is very easy to learn because of this. The game only really requires a few keys to properly play, but the wide open environments and some unique mechanics make it worth visiting again. The most impressive part of the game was the way that dangerous gasses work, spreading and dissipating realistically, making the toss of a caustic gas potion in a narrow hallway an extremely bad idea for both enemies and the player; and making the same almost completely noneffective in a wide open area. I was able to show this game to one of my more aesthetically inclined friends, and while he initially had no interest, we spent the rest of the night sharing stories of our deaths with one another, and reveling in the little surprises and discoveries the game provided us with. Brogue is a game that deserves attention, and expansion, and it is one that I will be watching and playing for a long time.
With all of these fantastic yet strange games under my belt recently, even the massive appeal of beautiful Skyrim has not been able to take my attention away. These are simpler games in a complex time, where arguments about review scores, and gaming politics and drama reign supreme. I view titles like these as a breath of fresh air, some overall undiscovered gems that almost seem to be completely untouched by any kind of controversy, yet which offer deep, immensely entertaining experiences that will sadly go on ignored by most. In a world now judged by outward appearance, raw games built upon strong, complex mechanics are a welcome change, even though I am still very excited to take some time away from them to go kill some fucking dragons.
I highly recommend checking some of these titles out, but be warned; they may take away far more time than you would ever expect, and they may satisfy you in ways you'd never think an @ sign and some crude hallways made of #'s never possibly could.
k is for Kobold, J is for Jelly, and G is for some great fucking Roguelikes that you should go out and try right now.
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