I’m sure purists will hate me for saying it, but I much prefer playing Rogue-likes with graphics. There’s something about piloting an ASCII character over a wasteland of punctuation and mathematical symbols that doesn’t quite do it for me. I do love the idea of the crazy, randomized world that those symbols represent and the interesting tales of untimely demise that they conjure. I just need a little window dressing to get me going. There has been an increasing amount of graphical based Rogue-likes spawning recently but Rogue’s Tale is the first I’ve played that really feels like a classic, good old-fashioned, get to the bottom of a randomized D&D dungeon Rogue-like. And it sure is addicting.
Don’t let the almost cute, simplified art style fool you, Rogue’s Tale is a no-nonsense dungeon crawl that’s intent on killing your character as quickly and succinctly as possible. There was more than a handful of times I started a game and was dead three turns later. Without even leaving the square of dungeon I begun on. Dungeon denizens don’t just attack the player though. You may start a game/descend a level and find yourself in the middle of a three-way battle between a couple of giant snails, a wizard, and an archer (or any other combination of the game’s foes) . When this happens I tend to sulk off to the sidelines and take on the, hopefully, weakened winner. Rouge’s Tale does that delightful thing where the things you fight are governed by the same rules the player character is, so a victorious enemy wizard having beating a few giant snails may level up in front of your very eyes. Insult was added to many of my injuries when the creature that just killed me got a level-up for his trouble.
If I didn’t make it clear enough in the last paragraph; Rogue’s Tale is hard. One of the reasons it invokes such a sense of the older, classical Rogue-likes is the game environment’s stone-faced disdain for your existence. The dungeon itself becomes a character of sorts, a tangible force resisting you going any further. The randomized content of each level feels it was perfectly content existing before you turned up. I often found corpses which were the victims of dungeon’s animosity or pitiful enemies stuck in traps meant for me. Some levels will throw everything at you at once, exploding into a righteous scene of dungeon warfare. Other levels will lull you into a false sense of security offering only unlocked doors as resistance. That is until you stupidly fall into a pit-trap and a rat kills you while try to climb out. It’s a deadly and unfair riot that certainly doesn’t do anything different from many of the quality Rogue-likes already out there. What it does do differently is have clean, stylish graphics, and a decent UI that doesn’t require you to read a Wiki to work out.
Although the UI is in generally pretty swish (and positively swanky by Rogue-like standards) I had an odd feeling while playing. Rogue’s Tale hasn’t quite figured out if it wants you to use the keyboard or the mouse to control your dungeon fodder. Actually, I’m quite sure the best way is to just use the keyboard but for most of my play time I was awkwardly trying to use the mouse as well. Some commands can only be accessed using the keyboard (like searching or jumping) which is a staple of the genre. It would have been nice to see Rogue’s Tale get away from the slightly bizarre Rogue-like practice of attempting to bind every-single-button on the keyboard to an action. Old habits do die-hard. I will admit once I grew some balls and remembered the couple of keys I needed so I could just use the keyboard, things were much smoother. I was especially impressed with how easy Rogue’s Tale makes navigating it’s paperdoll inventory without the need for a mouse.
Another thing I was impressed with was the game sticking to its hard-assed guns and not allowing you to sell items without identifying them. This may sound like a minor detail but it adds a LOT of pressure to the scarcity of gold, and therefore the resources, you need to survive. You can’t simply farm the crappy leather armor from the top levels of a dungeon to cheat your way to better items. You need to identify that crappy leather armor before you sell it, and identifying each piece of leather armor costs more than its sell value. This means that even a trip to the merchants is an experience fraught with some risk; Identifying that scroll or potion might let you sell it for a pretty penny or save your life. Or it might be a piece of junk you just wasted your gold on identifying. Lo to any one dumb enough to put on a necklace of asphyxiation without getting it checked out first.
So what’s the difference between Rogue’s Tale and any of the fantastic free Rogue-likes already available? At the heart of it; not a lot; there is plenty of more sprawling, more detailed Rogue-likes about. At a superficial level though, Rogue’s Tale presents that old-school rogue-like appeal in a visually pleasing , easy to get into package. Rogue’s Tale has all the magic of a hardcore Rogue-like with much, much less of the unnecessary learning curve. It feels much more traditional than Dungeons of Dredmor, or even Tome 4 and is probably a much better diving board for the genre than both. For this, I’m giving Rogue’s Tale a healthy 4 unidentified tomes out of 5.