Posted: March 27, 2014
Roguelikes (or at least roguelites) on Steam are almost a dime a dozen nowadays. What exactly sets Rogue's Tale apart from the heavyweight in this category on Steam - Dungeons of Dredmor? Honestly…. not much. If you want an in-depth experience with multitudes of classes, skills, and items types, don't look here. Rogue's Tale is, simply put, a roguelike distilled to the genres' simplest concepts:
1) Turn and grid based play, randomly generated dungeons and encounters, and perma-death.
2) Unnecessarily clunky and cumbersome controls.
3) Unyielding difficulty, unfair and frustrating deaths that encourage you to punch holes through your monitor.
4) Addictive as crack.
There's no crafting, only a small number of different basic item types, and essentially only three different archetypes you can play with the limited number of skill choices in the game - mage, fighter, and archer. Yet this simplicity is a large part of what makes this game so addictive. It's just so easy to walk through a dungeon, floor by floor, killing monsters and discovering treasures until you inevitably get killed by a lucky arrow or random spike trap. Just one more death until I sleep, I swear!
Seriously though, you will die in this game. And you will die a lot, often within 5 minutes of character creation. Don't expect any handholding, other than some sparse tutorial messages. Your deaths will be unfair. My record is actually a death within two turns, less than 10 seconds into the game. Human and humanoid NPCs in this game have similar stats, skills, and equipment as you, after all. The difference is the human controlling your character. Thus, the only way to improve is to master the game mechanics and unlock different heritages, skills and equipment that carry over to your future characters. At least until you get flattened by a cave bear.
As part of the challenge, nothing in this game is identified. Sometimes this is nice - you'll find that your sword is causing status effects on your enemies, for example. But other times it's just plain annoying. In most other games, you wouldn't think twice about drinking an unidentified potion if you're really in danger of dying. In this game, the potions are more likely to kill you than not - there are a total of 24 potions in this game, 5 of which are beneficial, 19 of which are poison. An additional problem with requiring identification is that storekeepers simply will not buy unidentified items from you. This is a severe disadvantage through your first couple of playthroughs before you unlock any heritages. It doesn't help that 90% of items you find will cost more to identify than how much you can sell them for.
There certainly are many complaints that I have with the game. Those aforementioned heritages are far too difficult to unlock after the first couple. Just an example - I played over 15 hours on a single character, grinding through dungeon after dungeon, before I was able to unlock the enchantment and ring heritages. Yes, everything is randomly generated, but it really should not take that long to unlock. It's extra difficult because the game does not give you a list of the items that you've already found or identified. So if you see a missing item in the town store or a travelling merchant, you may not know that you need to purchase that item. Frankly, this was the reason I got tired of the game. At some point (admittedly 40 hours into the game), you just feel like the rate of reward and advancement becomes far too slow.
The controls in this game are also pretty terrible and needlessly complicated. Different weapon types have different keys you need to press in order to attack with them. Controls that work in the equipment screen don't work in the shop screens. It seems like the only reason that this control scheme was used is to pay homage to the classics of this genre. There's honestly no reason otherwise.
I left this game a "recommanded" rating, but I would really only recommend it to people who enjoy playing punishing roguelikes. Everyone else, please stay far away. As the reviews on Hack, Slash, and Loot indicate, if you aren't looking for a game in this genre, you will not like this game.