Roguelike Updates: Who Needs Leveling, Anyway?

It’s time for another roundup of updates to the various roguelikes I’ve covered on this blog. The big news is that Brogue has reached v1.7, with some major changes.

With the exception of its scrolls of enchantment — which allowed players to customize their characters not by some up-front character generation choices but by which pieces of equipment they chose to enchant — Brogue was quite similar to the original Rogue on first release. But the scrolls of enchantment were a great idea, and the strict rationing of these scrolls created strategic dilemmas not found in other roguelikes. By the time I wrote about it, other features of Brogue had already started to follow suit. The player character’s strength (and therefore, ability to use heavier weapons and armor) was no longer tied to experience level, instead being granted by potions of strength which were rationed just like scrolls of enchantment. This meant that it was no longer necessary to fight lots of enemies before getting to use better equipment, and stealthy tactics were more viable.

Still, fighting monsters for experience points to gain levels remained at the core of Brogue, and gaining levels was the only way to gain more health. Until now. With v1.7, leveling has been completely removed from the game.

To make this work, potions of healing have been replaced with potions of life, which provide a permanent health boost and are (you guessed it) strictly rationed. These potions will also heal you, but you’ll get more of a permanent health boost if you drink them when you’re not wounded [EDIT: Turns out this is incorrect… the potions give a set boost to maximum health, which means diminishing returns on drinking more of them, which is why I thought the boost was smaller when I was wounded]. I found that this has a dramatic effect on how the game is played; before, I would often have several healing potions in my inventory and could use them in emergencies, but now they are much more rare and I’m usually drinking them as I find them for the health boost. Escaping from a tough spot is a lot harder.

To help compensate for this, there’s a new class of items in the game: charms. These are basically like rechargeable versions of scrolls or potions. For example, a charm of teleportation can whisk you to safety, just like a scroll of teleportation, but the charm can be used again after it’s recharged. You can even enchant charms to reduce the cooldown time. I sense that amassing the appropriate charms will be critical to survival.

What’s most interesting about the design changes, to me, is that there’s now no upside to fighting enemies, except for the rare types who drop items when killed. Monsters are now purely obstacles, with no reward for killing them. I imagine that sneaking through the whole dungeon without fighting anything would be the optimal strategy, although it would be nearly impossible to pull off. Instead, it’s all about planning for trouble, and having the tools to survive when monsters do see you and there’s no way out. That’s why you can’t just make a beeline for the stairs on each floor: you need those scrolls of enchantment, potions of strength, and potions of life. Exploration, not fighting, is how you get more powerful.

There are some other minor changes too, like the frequency of the special treasure rooms and the new potion of invisibility, but you really should just go check it out for yourself.

The other major news is that v0.11 of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is out. I haven’t had has much time to play this, but the major change is that the Spider Nest, which used to be one of the game’s small “portal” levels, has been expanded into a full dungeon branch, complete with its own rune. In the little time I did spend with my Hill Orc Priest before he was slaughtered by a pack of gnolls, I spotted improvements to the mouse interface in the form of more clickable buttons, and several new sprites for items and some monsters (provided you’re playing the tiles version). I’ve been playing other stuff since my hard-fought victory but I’m looking forward to trying out this new version.

What else? Mercury, the winner-generated experimental roguelike, is going strong, having just finished Season 1 and started Season 2. It seems that the game is being swept clean again, and the biggest winners of Season 1 have designed the intial player classes, monsters, and items that kicked off Season 2. To be honest, I haven’t played this since I wrote about it, despite being quite intrigued by how it would evolve. I’ll have to dip in again and see how Season 1 ended, and how Season 2 is shaping up. Also of note is that private servers have been added so players can run their own versions of the game with their own constraints on what can and cannot be added.

Tales of Maj’Eyal has hit beta 42, aka “Dreaming My Dreams”.

Dungeons of Dredmor got a new paid expansion a while back called Conquest of the Wizardlands, as well as some more patches. Looks like a lot of new items and skill trees, as well as a new option to open a portal to a pocket dimension to store items. But I haven’t tried it myself.

OK, that’s it for now. May you find procedurally generated enjoyment.

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6 Responses to Roguelike Updates: Who Needs Leveling, Anyway?

  1. jefequeso says:

    Man, I still need to give Brogue a decent try. So many games, so little time!

    Also, I sadly found the visuals to be a little overwhelmingly complex. But I expect if I spent some more time with the game, I’d get used to it. Most everything else you’ve said about it sounds really attractive to me. And even in the sort time I’ve spent with it, I already had one memorably hilarious death (it involved a incendiary dart and a room full of explosive gas. Yeah, I don’t think I need to say any more).

    • waltorious says:

      There’s a relatively new feature (a few patches ago, I think) that lets players disable color effects by pressing backslash. I’ve never tried it but it might make the graphics a little clearer, at least until you get used to things. It’s definitely worth checking out, though.

  2. Dungeon Crawl is by far my favourite Roguelike, although I do sometimes enjoy a game of Brogue. Have you tried Caves of Qud? It’s quite an ambitious game, I highly recommend it.

  3. MidianGTX says:

    Just a small point, and I don’t know if you’ve mentioned it, but Brogue was also ported over to the iPad by some friendly and talented people recently. It holds up really well as it’s essentially played with “mouse controls” via taps and also has an optional d-pad if you prefer. Also, holding your finger down brings up a magnifier to make selecting specific tiles easier. It’s not as fast as playing the PC version, but it’s still free, and now it’s portable too!

    • waltorious says:

      I actually didn’t know that. I’d heard of an Android version, but I think it was by a different person and was actually for sale, which was odd. Sounds like he had semi-permission from Brian Walker (the creator of Brogue) but it still seemed strange to me. I’ll have to look into the iOS port. I actually haven’t been playing roguelikes that much recently, except for Caves of Qud, so I’m probably overdue for a Roguelike Updates post.

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