Roguelike Updates: New Crawlers and Redder Rogues

Readers who are unfamiliar with rogulikes may wish to read my introduction to the genre, or some of my Roguelike Highlights posts. Also remember that you can click on images to view larger versions.

One of the two updated roguelikes I’ve been playing is somewhat timely: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup reached v0.14 a mere three weeks ago (and is now on v0.14.1 with some bugfixes). The other is not: Red Rogue (which is actually a roguelike-like) reached v1.0.3 over a year ago (and I even mentioned it an an earlier Roguelike Updates post), but I hadn’t gone back to try it until recently. And then I found myself drawn in once more, playing it far more than I expected and being impressed all over again. I decided it was worth adding to my original post about Red Rogue with my more recent thoughts on the game.

Read on for details on these two, plus a run-down of other updated roguelikes.

First up is the v0.14 update for Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. This update came on the heels of my second-ever win (the first is chronicled at length here), which seemed a fitting farewell to v0.13. I managed it using a deep dwarf berserker, a race and class combination that I’d tried before. I followed the same strategy, with one important new detail: I learned that a character’s Evocations skill can provide higher maximum magic points if it’s the character’s highest magic-related skill. Deep dwarves happen to be really good at evocations, since they use wands to heal themselves and compensate for their lack of natural healing, and they can permanently spend one of their magic points to recharge their wands. Training up Evocations a bit gave my berserker enough magic points to keep healing himself until Trog, the god of rage, finally granted him a vampiric battleaxe. It was an artefact axe to boot, conferring extra resistances in addition to dealing a huge amount of damage to my berserker’s enemies and healing him in the process. With careful play, he escaped with the Orb, and even surpassed Urist Redbeard’s score (and Urist escaped with the Orb way back on v0.9).

So then, onward to v0.14! Dubbed “The Shadowy Depths of Madness”, it’s a big update. Two new playable races were added: formicids, which are like humanoid ants, and vine stalkers, which are carnivorous parasitic plants growing on a humanoid host. Formicids have four arms and can carry very heavy things for their size, letting them use two-handed weapons together with shields. But, their attunement to the earth means they cannot be teleported, by any means. This is a serious drawback, since teleportation is one of the most common methods for escaping deadly situations in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. To partially compensate for their permanent stasis, formicids can dig through walls or even burrow downward to the next Dungeon floor. But these methods are more dangerous ways to escape trouble, and formicids will still have to run under their own power.

I played a few formicids and had a lot of fun. They’re able to wear all types of armor except for helmets — their antennae preclude helmets but let them see invisible creatures and even sense them through walls — and since they can sport a shield and a huge weapon, they’ve got great defense. They’re a solid choice for fighters, but one must play very carefully and always have an avenue of escape open. My best formicid fell in the Orcish Mines when he ran into an orc warlord who happened to have a battleaxe of electrocution. He electrocuted poor Adam (yes, I named my formicid fighter Adam), dealing huge damage, so I had Adam turn and flee. But the warlord got another hit in, which also electrocuted Adam, taking him down to only a few health points. This was annoying, because weapons of electrocution only occasionally electrocute their targets, and Adam had just been electrocuted twice in a row. But at least he’d put some distance between himself and the orc warlord, so I had him keep running. But the orc warlord pulled out a crossbow and shot Adam dead. Sigh.

After that I switched to playing vine stalkers. These creatures are quite interesting. They cannot heal by using potions or wands, which removes another “panic button” that most adventurers use. They also have a very small health pool. But they regenerate health very quickly, and they have an inherent guardian spirit effect, which means damage they take is split between their health and magic reserves. And they have a special bite attack that can steal enemies’ magic power. Since they’re very good at stealth, I decided to try playing a few as stealthy assassins. I’m very inexperienced with stealth in Dungeon Crawl, but I had a good time taking a few vine stalker assassins through the early floors. They were also perfect for worshipping the new god that’s been added in v0.14, Dithmenos the Shadowed. Dithmenos provides abilities related to hiding in the shadows and is ideal for a sneaky type. I had fun sneaking up on unsuspecting enemies and dispatching them with my dagger, but eventually some nasty critter would see me just as I was about to slit its throat and would tear me apart. But I’m eager to try playing as vine stalkers again.

Since neither my formicids nor vine stalkers got very far, I didn’t get a chance to see the other big changes in the update, which fundamentally re-shape the Dungeon. Gone is the huge 27-floor Dungeon; in its place, the lower floors have been reworked into a new branch called The Depths. Additionally, the Vaults branch now requires one of the Runes of Zot to enter, so adventurers are strongly encouraged to chase after the easier runes earlier in their adventure. While I wasn’t able to test these changes myself yet, I approve of the idea behind them. Most players would leave the Runes until the very end, making for an easier but more boring game. These changes should spice things up and remove some of slog through the lower dungeon floors, which got repetitive fast.

In fact, I probably would have pressed onwards to see The Depths, if I hadn’t started playing Red Rogue again. When I first posted about Red Rogue, I had become somewhat obsessed with it but hadn’t managed to progress very far. Then I got distracted by other games — probably Dishonored — and I never really went back. Until recently, when I applied the v1.0.3 bugfix patch (which was actually released over a year ago). This update doesn’t change anything too major, but it was the impetus that got me playing again, and this time I managed to get a lot farther. And be even more impressed.

Red Rogue is really, really good. Its chaos dungeon is a creepier and more atmospheric place than the dungeons in any other roguelike I could name, and it explores some really interesting themes. I don’t want to spoil anything for new players, so I’ll just say that Red Rogue carefully examines some of the common tropes of the roguelike, and what they really mean. Let’s be honest: a single adventurer rampaging through a huge dungeon and slaying hundreds of monsters is a bit weird. It makes for interesting gameplay, but a very odd story. Then there’s the cycle of dying and restarting, over and over, until one adventurer finally makes it.

Well, in Red Rogue, the titular red rogue is rampaging through a dungeon and slaying every creature she finds, and it’s exactly as creepy and bizarre as such a thing should be. She tears out her enemies’ hearts, and eats them to heal herself. She wears her enemies’ faces to take their forms and gain their abilities. And when she dies, she reincarnates and does it all again. The experience is fittingly surreal: the dungeon shifts and reforms around her, bright red blood splashes over the grayscale walls, creepy droning music plays in the background, and snippets of the rogue’s dreams appear when she rests, as she ponders an eternity of delving into this place of madness. The game simply sets a fantastic tone.

The mechanics are great too, of course, but I’ve covered those already. What really impressed me this time was the strength of the theme, and the way the design leads to a slow realization of what is actually going on. The reincarnation is especially well done. In most roguelikes, the player keeps learning more about the dungeon as each individual adventurer dies, so the later ones have an advantage. Here, the red rogue is actually reincarnating, keeping her knowledge of her previous attempts and, sometimes, more besides. Once I figured out the way the chaos dungeon worked, I was able to use the reincarnation to my advantage, using my infinite lives to better prepare the red rogue for her mission. This makes the late game particularly satisfying, and before long I’d reached some of the endings.

But I have a feeling there’s still more to Red Rogue, even though my best ideas for how to find it turned out to be duds. I’m not sure what to try next, but I’m going to keep at it. And I recommend you give it a try too. It’s available for free, and the v1.0.3 patch was the final one, with creator Aaron Steed pronouncing the game officially complete. So you won’t have to worry about hunting down any more updates.

Even though I only played Dungeon Crawl and Red Rogue, a few other roguelikes have updated too. Tales of Maj’Eyal has reached v1.1.5, aka “Stoke Me A Clipper” (a reference I am happy to say I now understand). It seems that the removal of a certain area from the game sparked heated debate among fans, but I cannot comment on it myself as I haven’t played it since my original post, and back then I never got far. Sword of the Stars: The Pit has a new piece of DLC (“downloadable content”, for those who might not know) called The Pilgrim, although I can’t find a webpage for it, only purchase pages. The science fiction roguelike-like Transcendence has a free playable ship added and a new paid expansion called Corporate Command. And of course, FTL now has a free update called the Advanced Edition that adds a whole bunch of stuff. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet but will hopefully be able to soon, and I may even give it its own post.

So there’s plenty of roguelike and roguelike-like goodness to go around. Have fun dying!

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