At last, here's a subjective review of all the major and some of the minor Roguelike Games. If these reviews get you excited (that means I'm doing my job!), then hop on over to the Download and Links pages so that you can enjoy these games for yourself!
I'll update this page as I gain more insights into the current games, discover new games, and find interesting or informative screen grabs or game play examples. Therefore, you might want to check back periodically to see what's up; I'll post notices on the News page when I do make changes. Likewise, if you have any info you would like me to add here, including links to your own reviews of these games, let me know! My current email address appears at the bottom of each page.
Also check out my Previews of games to come...
Rogue started it all, back in the 1970's. It was issued as a test application for UNIX, and attained a respectible degree of popularity among system administrators and computer science graduate students.
Decades later, Rogue seems clunky and simple next to its better looking, more detailed successors. Because most of Rogue's cooler features have been copied and improved upon by one or many of its children, it comes across as being nondescript, predictable, and shallow (like watching one of those old "scary at the time" horror movies). Nevertheless, because of its relative simplicity, Rogue remains an excellent introduction to the genre it spawned.
Bottom line: Although a bit clunky and bland, Rogue is still an ideal starting point for Roguelike newbies.
A few years after Rogue came Hack, which was later renamed NetHack. A word to the confused: NetHack has nothing to do with networking or computer hacking; instead, it is a game about hacking up imaginary monsters and was developed by people spread out over the Internet.
NetHack's claim to fame is its incredible amount of detail. For you action game fans, NetHack is to Rogue as Duke Nukem 3D is to DOOM; it pushes the depth and believability of the game world to a whole new level.
To give you an idea of just how "deep" NetHack is, version 3.2.1 takes up over 2 MB of disk space uncompressed. In this day of two gigabyte games that's not a whole lot to brag about in itself, until you consider that NetHack has almost no graphics and no sounds... Those two megabytes are all guts, all logic, lean and mean and ready to bite you!
It is difficult to get a picture of just how detailed NetHack is unless you play it, not once or twice, but about thirty times. The farther along your get in the game, the more frequently you encounter special levels, items, monsters and concepts, and since each game is completely different from the last, thanks to excellent dungeon level randomization and the class-dependent quests, you will never see all the features in a single game even if you win it.
Goodies include: graveyards, killer bee hives, zoos, towns, mazes, shops, mines, quest levels, sinks, thrones, altars, magic lamps, "famous" weapons like Excalibur, anachronisms like credit cards and cameras, fortune cookies, polymorphing, digging, luck, divine assistance, pets, ghosts of former characters, monsters that swallow you whole, grant you wishes, tell you riddles, deliver you messages, and seduce you. This list only touches on the incredible number of cute and useful "easter eggs" that the NetHack development adds with each version. After eight years of playing NetHack, I've probably only seen about 80% of them!
To help illustrate NetHack's complexity, I have written a brief newbie's how-to for many NetHackers' favorite pastime: shoplifting. This will also probably give you a futher, important insight into NetHack: this game has an extremely long learning curve! However, it also elicits, at least for me, some of the most exciting gaming moments ever.
Another nice thing about NetHack is that it plays very fast. My average NetHack character survives less than half and hour, a tenth the lifespan of my average Angband character! Shorter games mean more games, but also less character attachment. Indeed, NetHack emphasises role playing the least of all the Roguelike Games. Rather, its emphasis is on short-term tactics and problem solving.
For you long-time NetHack addicts, the latest version, 3.2.x, introduces an optional graphical display mode, new monsters, new traps, easier to use inventory menus, and more configuration options.
The latest, greatest NetHack variant is Slash'em, which stands for "Super Lots of Added Stuff Hack with Extended Magic." It adds new characters, graphics, monsters, items, spells... you name it. Since the official NetHack version is updated so infrequently (the recent pattern is once every four or five years), Slash'em has taken over as the representative Hack descendent.
Bottom line: You'll definitely want to check NetHack (or Slash'em) if you are at all interested in Roguelike Games. It's especially great for puzzle lovers, fans of all sorts of mythology and fantasy, and gamers with a sense of humor.
There are other NetHack variants out there, but SLASH'EM [or just plain SLAM, as I like to think of it] is the main one. Unlike Angband, SLAM's default ASCII mode is really ANSI graphics, which I like; you don't have to add a -mibm switch or anything like that. I'll try to add a standalone review of SLASH'EM soon.
Set OPTIONS=windowtype:tty in defaults.nh to replace the GUI with (the more familiar) ASCII interface.
The next big Rogue-inspired game (that I discovered) was Moria. This game was much larger in scope than its contemporary cousin Hack; it had more monsters, more weapons, more character classes, more items, more dungeon levels, more screens per dungeon level, and a much more sophisticated magic system. No wonder it was called Moria!!! [groan]
The current version of Moria is called Angband. Both Moria and Angband are names of gigantic evil dungeons in Tolkien's Middle Earth sagas: Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The games themselves are indeed (loosely) based on Middle Earth; for example, every once in a while you will stumble across a familiar character like Wormtongue, Farmer Maggot (and his dogs), or an item like the Phial of Galadrial, Orcrist, etc.
Angband has the most sophisticated magic system of all the Roguelike Games. Almost all of the character classes (Ranger, Wizard, Rogue, Paladin, Priest) can cast spells; only Fighters are nonmagical. There are about a hundred different spells, which gain in effectiveness and variation as you accumulate experience.
A typical Angband game lasts many evenings. This is for several reasons: the levels are huge and are regenerated each time you reenter them (unlike NetHack, which "remembers" levels even after you leave them), there are fewer "instant deaths" than in NetHack (cockatrices and genocide scrolls), and there is a town on the uppermost level that you can use as your home base. The town is where you can buy, sell, and store items for later (like spare spell books, potions of restoration, etc.), test out new spells and wands, and rest your weary bones.
One really cool feature with Angband is the ability to create your own command macros. Macros are extremely useful, especially with all the spellcasting you do. For example, to cast magic missile at a monster, you normally type "m" for magic, then "a" for the basic spellbook, then "a" for magic missile, then some arrow keys or "*" and a dot to specify the monster as a target. What I did was define a macro so that all I have to do is hit my "F1" key and it will target the nearest monster and fire a magic missile at it. "F2" does the same thing except with a frost bolt. "F3" is "phase door" which is the spell for teleporting a short distance away. Anyway, Angband's macro definition ability is very handy.
On the downside, there are a couple annoying features about Angband. These are only really annoying when you compare them to how NetHack handles them. One deals with object persistence. In NetHack, if you throw a spear at a monster, or if a monster steals some of your gold, you can always get that spear or gold back (if you kill the monster). In Angband, sometimes you get your spear back, sometimes it just disappears, and if you kill a pickpocket you don't always get back all the gold he stole. This lack of persistence applies to dungeon levels as well; NetHack "remembers" all the levels you explore, so you can always return to them, but Angband remembers only your current dungeon level. This lack of continuity can be distracting and lead you to make "unrealistic" tactical decisions, like running up and down stairs to avoid monsters and get a "refresh" of the current level.
Recent versions and variants of Angband have sought to improve the permanance of objects and locations, and other areas of the game. Kamband enlarges the town, adds religions, and introduces the option of dungeon levels which are persistent in that, though the character forgets each level's contents upon leaving it, the level will always be generated the same way when the character returns (the same random seed is used). Zangband adds character mutations and a revamped, Master of Magic-like spell system. Mangband (Multi-player Angband) lets you play cooperatively or competitively against other Angbanders in real time over the Internet.
Many of the above mentioned variants add (as optional) graphical tiles, sounds, menus, and multiple windows, making Angband more newbie-friendly than it used to be.
Bottom line: Even though it lacks NetHack's wit and robustness, Angband is nevertheless an excellent game, especially if you are in the mood for a long, involved RPG that's heavy on magic and item management. There's not as much puzzle solving as in NetHack, but this to some people is a plus, because it means you can focus more on long term strategies.
I prefer to play with the DOS version on my laptop [using the -mibm command line option for pure-ASCII graphics]. On my desktop, I use the Windows versions, so that I can have all the extra windows [though I still use ASCII instead of tiles]. I've included both versions (DOS and Windows) for download.
There are, of course, other variants. LOTS of them. I'll try to add some more one day. Right now I've been playing Zangband and nothing else, not even Vanilla. I'll also try to add a review of Zangband.
Many of the variants, including Vanilla Angband itself, have been compiled with Tim Baker's Tk/Tcl libraries. Although I personally prefer playing the ASCII versions of *band, you might want to check out the Tk versions at Tim's AngbandTk Home Page.
Omega popped up a couple years after Moria/Angband and introduced outdoor travel, guilds, an advanced inventory system, hands-on tactical combat management, more intricate deity alignments, and a large number of static locations.
With its preconstructed towns, villages, castles, and wilderness, Omega plays much more like an adventure game (like King's Quest) than Angband or NetHack. It was the first Roguelike game with a significant plot. This was not really a plus in my book, since I normally prefer "plotless" games where I can explore random worlds (I'm an Evolutionist rather than a Creationist).
For the above and other nitpicky reasons, I never really got into Omega. Usually I spent most of my time fighting monsters in the primary town's arena. Omega seemed very buggy whenever I ventured into the dungeons, and I found it very easy to die while wandering in the wilderness, so I resigned myself to the short life as a gladiator. Also, Omega's interface is not as smooth as that of NetHack or Angband, most notably in its overly complex inventory management.
It's been several years since the last version of Omega, and there hasn't been much recent talk on continuting its development. A comparably new Roguelike game, ADOM [see below], seems to have taken over the Roguelike-with-a-Plot position. Because ADOM was, or at least seems to be, heavily inspired by Omega, there hasn't been a whole lot of clamour to revive Omega.
Bottom line: Because of its emphasis on plot and de-emphasis on randomness, Omega would probably be appreciated most by adventure gamers who are bored with the lack of plot in NetHack and Angband and some of the other Roguelike Games.
Larn is the "simpleton" child of Rogue. It is quite limited in scope and appearance, has an almost childlike plot, but also has a couple of unique ideas and a feel of its own.
Larn's black and white, ultra-limited character set give it the most primitive appearance of all the Roguelike Games. There are also a couple of bugs like text messages that overlap each other. Death tends to come quickly, and you will even miss the farewell screen if you're not paying attention.
But, Larn is still pretty fun because its dungeons are small and dense (unlike, say, Alphaman). Also, it has a town on the upper level for buying, selling and storing items, which is good practice for Angband. Larn has a time limit to moves the game along, so you don't spend too much time fighting, then patching yourself up, then fighting, then patching yourself up, etc.
Bottom line: Larn serves as decent introduction to Roguelike Games. It is simple and straightforward enough for you to become comfortable with the traditional Roguelike Games' ASCII/keyboard interface, so that when you move to one of the "big guys" like NetHack or Angband you won't be so overwhelmed by the learning curve.
Even though it is relatively new [first released in the mid 90s], ADOM is one of the most popular Roguelikes. It was voted the "most downloaded game" on the Internet a couple years ago. It even has its own newsgroup (rec.games.roguelike.adom). Not bad for a new kid on the block.
ADOM starts with an impressive mixture of elements from NetHack, Angband, and Omega, and then adds several new features of its own. In particular, it borrows Omega's idea of pregenerated wilderness and town maps, NetHack's dense, single screen, random dungeons, and Angband's extensive assortment of items and monsters, as well as its management of magic and inventory.
ADOM's unique and most impressive contributions are its skill system (reminiscent of that in the commerical RPG Betrayal at Krondor), its quests, and the "special random bonuses" a character gets during character development. It also adds corruption, dynamic dungeon difficulty, monsters that behave differently from one another, a variety of traps, characters with which to chat and obtain information, outdoor encounters, weather, and many other neat little features. ADOM has a lot of depth.
However, many of us never get to fully experience ADOM's depth, because it is so difficult. I have tried many, many times over the years to really "get a foothold" in the world of ADOM, but I've failed, over and over again. My characters tend to die suddenly, unexpectedly, through no apparent "fault" of my own; even when playing ultra-conservatively, they die, die, die, die, die... It is demoralizing. Every time a new version comes out, I download it in hopes of it having a chance this time.... And then I die, die, die, die, die... I hardly ever get anywhere in the game. I'm lucky if I can clear the carpenter's dungeon, and after that I don't know what to do, so I go wander around until I find another dungeon and then aI soon die.
Frequent dying itself does not have to be depressing, as long as the early stages of the game are fun. The problem is that ADOM is quest-based, less reliant on random dungeon creation than other Roguelikes. In order to see new things in the game [unlike most Roguelikes, ADOM has an actual plot], you have to solve the quests. And in doing so, I find myself treading the same game world over and over. And do I get anywhere? No. I die, die, die, die, die... I see the same basic elements again and again, and after a while I get tired of the lack of variety, so I give up on ADOM until the next release.
Another problem I have with ADOM is its command interface. The number of commands is huge, and many of the commands have little effect on game play and could have been either combined with other commands or eliminated [e.g. checking the weather]. The default keymapping is a overwhelmingly large, complex, and does not work on my laptop. Yes, you can re-map keys, but there are so many commands that it's most likely you'll find it impossible to have assign appropriately labeled keys for each command.
There are also a ton of races and classes, which some of you may like, but which I find annoying. I personally prefer Roguelikes with maybe 4-6 races and classes and that's it. A nice cozy number of familiar character types. 10 is too many. 15-20 is ridiculous. The more character types you have, the less chance there is for each type combination to have been thoroughly tested and balanced. Plus, I "know" what an Elf is, in terms of its traditional RPG advantages and disadvantages, but I don't know what to expect from a vampire or a half-dragon, or an imp. Anyway, if ADOM were a short game, I could forgive the large number of character combinations, but since it's so very long, the consequences of a "bad" choice of character [how good can I expect an imp weaponsmith to be? I dunno] are harsh. So I always choose the "safest" character types: elven mage, hobbit thief, etc. The presence other character combos is just a distraction, an annoyance.
Bottom line: ADOM has delicious depth, but is too large, hard, complex, and in a word, "unwieldy" for a casual Roguelike player like myself. Its heavy focus on quests rather than random dungeons decreases its replayability. There are people out there who love it, and I have a lot of respect for the designer [Thomas Biskup], but frankly, this game makes me feel like I'm retarded. Well, maybe the next version will be easier...
Ragnarok is another recent Rogue baby; it experienced its heyday back in 1996 but has since slipped into anonymity. Ragnarok sports fancy graphics (not just ASCII) and a mouse-driven interface which is easy to get used to.
The game itself is rather difficult. [Either that or I'm just inept!] I've tried repeatedly to get past the first level, but by the time I get about three screens away from the starting location, the monsters really start beating up on me. One time I made it to a dungeon, but I died right away when a room suddenly filled with water.
From looking at the help screens, I notice that Ragnarok has several quests, whose objectives sound interesting, but I never got anywhere close to solving one.
Bottom line: Although it has a thoughtful interface and graphics (some of the cut scenes are amazing), Ragnarok is a little on the shallow side and is extremely unbalanced.
URW is perhaps the most unique of Rogue's children, in both its appearance and its setting. It was released in the mid 90s (I even helped out a bit with its early distribution), but wasn't updated for a long time... until recently. It looks like the author is getting his second wind, and I look forward to seeing how this intriguing game develops.
The first thing you notice when you started URW is the weird chanting and the photographic title screen. Very strange for a so-called Roguelike! Then, during character generation, you enounter a pseudo-ASCII mentu system and weird Scandanavian tribe names... Huh??? There are some graphical glitches [hidden menus, buttons that overkap the screen edge] but these might be unique to ATI video cards. Regardless,as you create your character you see all these different screens, with very little look-and-feel in common.
The number of skills you get to develop (more even than ADOM) is impressive. The small glance you get at the world generation process, though a little too revealing, hints at exciting things to come. Then you get this weird planet map. It's unattractive, and shows the limitations of the world generator [a ragged tiled layout]; I suggest Sami either remove this screen or improve the terrain generator.
Things only get weirder. The chanting comes back and you are beseiged with screen upon screen of strangely fonted background information, options, options, and more options. It's overwhelming, but serves to convince you that there's a lot to this game.
When you finally enter the game, the map graphics look small and crude, like one of those old Ultima games from the 80s. They've been improved since earlier versions, though, so we should be thankful. If you walk around in the wilderness for a while [try not to get lost!] you'll notice a weird disjoint titled scrolling that kind of makes the game seem sloppy. But them, when you find a shop [in the town] and buy stuff, or check out your inventory, everything seems attractive and easy to use. It's very odd, how the interface goes from beautiful to ugly and back to beautiful. It's almost as if several people wrote different parts of this game.
Well,, the entire game is like this. Certain screen full-color photographic VGA, others are ASCII, others have small and crude character bitmaps or ULTIMA-style graphics. It seems almost arbitrary which types of graphics are used in which circumstances, evidence of sporadic and incomplete renovations. This inconsistency (from extreme polish to traditional Roguelike interface minimalism and back again) does not completely ruin the game, but it does lend it a schizophrenic aura.
URW's movement control is a little strange, like when you move your character: "up" means "forward," so if you are facing east, pressing "up" will move you one step to the east, not one step to the north, which is different from the other Roguelike games. (There is, however, a way to override the default and use "normal" Roguelike movement, where up means north, right means east, etc.) Also, the author's spelling and grammar are a little sloppy at times, and while it doesn't bother me (I think it adds flavor and genuinity), it might be a turn-off to some.
The game has a great deal of depth [yes, that magic word]. The help screens are excellent (they even have a primitive sort of hypertext). It's nice to get a verbal description of both special and ordinary objects, and see which areas of the body various pieces of armor cover. Combat with monsters is intricate (like that in Omega) and verbosely reported. You can drink from rivers, wander through different types of forests, forage for food, ski, etc. There are even seasons.
As a game, though, it's a little rough. It strikes me as less of a game-game more more like a collage of inspired but unpolished game ideas. It's fun to explore the different features, but the lack of focus and urgency keeps it from being addictive. Hopefully the author will begin tightening it up a bit, make the interface a little more transparent and less like a freak show.
The Unreal World home page has screen grabs for the latest version
Bottom line: With its odd use of graphics and its Scandinavian indiosyncracies, Unreal World stands off to itself. Deep, schizo, and nature-oriented, this game is a breath of fresh air after the claustrophobic dungeons and predictability of the traditional Roguelike games.
Rogue's Quest is recent (1996) and only runs under Microsoft Windows. It is mouse and window driven (though the mouse is optional) and consequently has a totally different feel from the rest of the Roguelike Games.
Rogue's Quest has a few neat features, including a dungeon builder, drag and drop inventorying, an excellent help system, and pleasing graphics, but unfortunately, the bulk of the game's creative effort seems to have gone into the GUI rather than the game play. The result is an attractive but bland play-once-and-then-shelve (POTS).
Rogue's Quest seems to be eternallyl under construction. Some of the help screens are unfinished, certain game features are "not yet implemented," and the pre-designed scenario that comes with the game is ridiculously easy; I won the game on my first attempt, and that never happens to me! I just ran around and attacked every monster I saw, mindlessly until the last level where there were Vampire Lords and Count Somebody; for these guys, I zapped them with a wand of paralysis or sleep and then I attacked them mindlessly until I killed them.
Also, the monsters are stupid and without personality (they always make a bee line to the player), the items are generic, and there is little to distinguish one room to anything. There is no real reward for going up a level, except a slight increase in your hit points, but since hit points are not really a concern (the game is really easy, I tell ya), experience levels mean very little. Because of the unbalance and the fact that there are no puzzles, no special rooms, no hard to kill monsters, no need for any strategy, you really get very little sense of accomplishment as you hack your way through level after tedious level.
Bottom line: To beat the geneologic metaphor to death, Rogue's Quest is the "cute but airheaded daughter" of the Roguelike Games. It badly needs some game playing substance, and I'm not calling for more monsters and more items. No, Rogue's Quest needs a big dose of originality before it will be truly fun to play.
Alphaman is the only futuristic Roguelike game that I've seen. It has an ASCII interface and takes place in a post-holocaust wilderness. Despite its unconventional premise and its easy interface, the guts of this game are empty.
Alphaman's feel is sparse, lonely, and unfinished. The AI is idiotic (run-towards player, move randomly every once in a while), and the overall game play is shallow; monsters and locations seem to have few distingushing characteristics.
The handful of times that I played Alphaman, I never felt any tension, character attachment, or plot progression. I made several conscious efforts at getting "into" this game but each time I played I ended up trying to kill myself because it got so boring!
Bottom line: This is not my cup of tea. In fact, it is not a cup of tea at all, but a cup of lukewarm acid rain.
Evets came out in the late 80s. Around March 1999 there was a suddenly high demand for the game. Well, here it is. Honestly, when I took my first look at this game I don't know what the fuss was about. But as I delved deeper I saw that it offers some unique ideas.
The first thing that you'll notice is that the main menu and character creation interface are terribly unintuitive. There is no in-game help; you have to read evets.man to be able to to anything at all.
It's a multi-character game; you control a party. This is a unqiue idea, except that it is poorly implemented; inventory management and combat are much more difficult that in other Roguelike games. Casting spells is a pain; you have to type in the complete name of the spell and it doesn't help that there are misspellings in the anme [e.g., Magic missle]. For that reason, and the fact that hitting "ffff" in combat is easy, I suggest you create four fighter characters as your first party.
Once you get past the interface deficiencies you will notice stores and unique locations inside the dungeon. These are what gave me hope that game would offer something positive. I've found a review board, a barter shop, and then... nothing. There weren't even items in the deungon to pick up. Just stairs and pits and monsters. You ran run away from the monsters, by the way. And I never had characters starve to death. Also, the dungeons don't appear to be random.
The bad interface cripples the game. Most players will probably give up before seeing much of the game at all. If I didn't have to review it, I would have deleted it before you can say, "Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is calling." Even so, I only took the game for quick test drive, maybe an hour or so of playing.
It seems like the game was still in the early stages of development when it was abandoned in 1988. Since it hasn't been touched in over a decade I decided it would fit better in this Review section than in the Preview section. Personally, I find it overall to be unattractive and not fun to play.
In other words, I still don't know what the fuss was about!
I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to make a new character. I figured it out and wanted to pass the info on to you, so you won't have to do the same. Goto (I)nspect then type in the name of the character you want to create. It will prompt you to creat a new character. Also, when you are in a shop Esc gets you out.
Also check out my Previews of games to come...