Roguelike Highlights: Mercury

If you haven’t already, you may wish to read my Introduction to Roguelikes. Previous Roguelike Highlights can be found here.

I’ve been pretty busy recently so I haven’t had much time to post, but I wanted to at least write something quick about Mercury. While most Roguelike Highlights are fairly long and detailed, this one doesn’t have to be, because of the central premise of Mercury. It’s a winner-generated roguelike. Rather than being continuously updated by the developer, as most roguelikes are, Mercury instead tracks players’ high scores, and at the end of each cycle (I think cycles are two weeks long but I’m not sure) the two players with the highest scores can add a new character class, monster, or item to the game. Then everyone plays with the new stuff for the next cycle, and the new high scorers will get to add more stuff when that cycle ends.

That means that Mercury started off as a very simple game, with only one character class, one type of monster, and one item. Since then, it’s grown quite a bit.

The actual gameplay of Mercury is tailored to this kind of community-driven content. It’s significantly abstracted compared to most roguelikes. There is no randomness in the amount of damage you will dish out or receive (unless you count critical hits, which have a percentage chance that is clearly spelled out to the player). Instead of needing to eat, the player simply has a turn limit, which is replenished upon defeating monsters and descending to a new floor. Most importantly, there’s no overarching quest. The goal is simply to gain as many points as possible. Points are awarded for defeating monsters, but boss monsters are especially important because defeating them will increase one’s score multiplier. Then there’s a large bonus for clearing an entire floor. So the ideal scenario would be to find and kill the boss monster first, then clear the rest of the floor before descending. That’s assuming, of course, that you can do all this without being killed or running out of turns.

This means Mercury feels more like a puzzle game than a traditional roguelike (reminding me a bit of Desktop Dungeons). The visual style, which resembles a drawing on parchment with various symbols to represent creatures and items, is a perfect fit for the abstracted and puzzle-like nature of the game. I’m not particularly good at it, as I’m used to the simple goal of “don’t get killed” rather than “maximize your score”. But I think that the central idea is a great one. By limiting the changes to those with high scores, it means that one must become intimately familiar with the current form of the game and the strategies required for success before one is allowed to add to the game. This should act as a filter to prevent someone from simply adding an impossibly tough monster to the game just to grief everyone. But if someone did do that, it would be totally legitimate. It’s refreshing to see a game that’s not afraid of such things, and I look forward to seeing what happens with Mercury.

I played most of my games a while back, and since then there were three new character classes added as well as a bunch of new monsters and items. There’s also a Chaos Mode that lets anyone add to the game in a sort of free-for-all, and there are plans for private servers so groups of players can mold Mercury to their specific tastes. I’d say this is definitely one to check out, and to keep an eye on. Grab it for free for Windows or Mac here.

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One Response to Roguelike Highlights: Mercury

  1. jefequeso says:

    This sounds really interesting. Once I stop being addicted to FTL, I might have to give it a try.

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