Exploring the replayable world of roguelike video games

Every ending is a new beginning

A colorful village scene from the roguelike game Cult of the Lamb. Via Steam.

A colorful village scene from the roguelike game Cult of the Lamb. Via Steam.

Roguelike is a subgenre of video games praised for their replayability. Traditionally, they feature procedurally-generated levels, endless amounts of possible outcomes and imminent death at every step.

Procedural generation generally refers to algorithms used to randomly create various in-game data that creates a unique experience for the player. This detail can be implemented into video games to automatically create large biomes while randomly placing items, collectibles, buildings and stage exits within the world.

This creates less predictable gameplay and makes every single attempt feel like an unique and unforeseeable experience.

In some roguelike games, players are spawned into the game with basic gear at the top or beginning of a generated dungeon or stage and as they progress through enemies and new terrain, the difficulty gets progressively more challenging.

The ability to find an overpowered item, vaguely understand it, obliterate your virtual enemies or accidently murder your virtual-self and then still being able to instantly jump right back into the action, is what gives roguelike games a refreshing experience.

There are thousands of great and not-so-great games within this subgenre that bring their own unique aspects of gameplay. Here are some top-tier roguelike games.

1. Noita

Hidden lore. Parallel universes. Sorcery. Noita is a single player roguelike that was developed by Nolla Games, an independent game studio based in Helsinki, Finland.

The playable character is a sorceress named Mina. She can fight, explore, melt, burn, freeze and evaporate through different passages by casting dangerous and powerful spells through an assortment of 2D pixel biomes.

The sorceress Mina progresses through a dungeon. Via Steam.

The lack of information provided is what makes Noita challenging for beginners. The basic movement directions are only displayed on a rune at the start of each new game. Besides that, there are no instructions of game mechanics, enemies or items given.

Through experimenting and exploration, players must learn to slowly adapt to an environment where every pixel is physically simulated. This means that every aspect of the characters and terrain can be displaced or destroyed.

Mina casts a spell towards a foe that blocks her path in the dungeon. Via Steam.

Noita can feel more like a sandbox than a roguelike because of the creative freedom players have to tackle any challenge in the order and pace they desire. Should you find a hidden path to an item or make the path yourself? The choice is completely up to you and how many bombs you have.

Noita 1.0 was fully released in 2020 on Steam for $20.

2. Risk of Rain 2

The first Risk of Rain is a roguelike two-dimensional platformer that was released back in 2013 that featured pixelated graphics similar to Noita.

However, in Risk of Rain 2, which was released in 2020, developer Hopoo Games changed the graphics and environment to be three dimensional, while following a similar approach to the first title’s gameplay.

A survivor stands atop a crash pod and surveys his surroundings. Via Steam.

The player’s escape pod crash lands on an inhabited alien planet at the start of a new run. Players can battle to escape the planet solo or build a team with up to three others online. The goal is to kill aliens for experience points and gold while locating the teleporter randomly placed inside each level.

A larger onslaught of enemies attack as the teleporter is activated and charging. The player will be sent to the next stage after they enter the fully charged up teleporter.

There are 14 different survivors with their own abilities, weaknesses and lore but only two survivors are playable when you first start the game, Commando and Huntress. Other survivors are locked until the player has completed challenges pertaining to each character. For example, beating the game on any difficulty will reward the player with the survivor, Captain.

The difficulty of the game increases as the player progresses through a run, with difficulty changing due to the duration of the current run as well as the initial difficulty set in the pre lobby.

A moment of combat between a survivor and alien. Via Steam.

Risk of Rain 2 enhanced the replayability of roguelikes with its amazing soundtrack, unique character design and the ability to utilize crossplay integration. The game is available on Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Stadia and Xbox One for $24.99.

3. Cult of the Lamb

Developed by Massive Monster, Cult of the Lamb is heavily praised for its soundtrack, meshed gameplay mechanics and adorable protagonist. A cute lamb that is supposedly the last of its kind is brought before the Four Bishops of Old Faith and sacrificed.

In death, the lamb is brought before “The One Who Waits,” a strange deity who is imprisoned in chains. In return for a second life, the lamb is tasked with destroying the Four Bishops and starting a cult to honor The One Who Waits.

Players must travel through five different regions on roguelike-style adventures to gather resources, perks and either kill or indoctrinate rival NPC cultists to join the player’s cult.

A lowly follower being indoctrinated by the player’s lamb. Via Steam.

Indoctrinated followers are gathered at a cult’s village and can be ordered to complete various tasks like gathering resources, building structures and performing rituals. If not fed or treated properly, followers will become rebellious, spread dissent and eventually leave the cult.

The game is single player but has Twitch integration, which allows viewers watching to vote on either helping or hindering the streamer’s adorably crowned, lamb cult leader.

Cult of the Lamb is an adorably dark game that mixes the peaceful village management from Animal Crossing and replayable roguelike features from Binding of Isaac to create a well executed game.

Cult of the Lamb can be purchased for $24.99 and is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Windows and MacOS.

An action scene from Cult of the Lamb that is bursting with color. Via Steam.

If roguelike games sound appealing, make sure to check out the multitude of games available in this subgenre and test your luck on a unique new adventure today.