Review – Rogue Lords
Slay the Spire changed the roguelike landscape forever. This was a game that proved that you could literally make a roguelike out of anything, even a freaking turn-based deckbuilder. Turn-based RPG combat and brutal roguelikes feel almost like they have been almost meant for each other thanks to that game’s success. One of the many, many roguelikes to take inspiration from Megacrit’s gargantuan hit is Nacon’s brand new Rogue Lords. It’s a devilish little title that takes some of what made Slay the Spire work to begin with, and adds an extra dosage of satanism and macabre to spice things up.
Rogue Lords puts you in control of the devil himself… kinda. You see, a long time ago, Van Helsing and his crew have managed to defeat the devil’s army, forcing him to retreat to the underworld. He now vows for revenge by purging the world off its purity with the help of his disciples, the ones you actually control during the game. Who are these disciples, you may be asking? Well, they are all famous characters, such as Dracula, the Headless Horseman, Baron Samedi, Bloody Mary, Dr. Frankenstein, and more. You get the gist, you’re basically controlling people who would easily be villains in Penny Dreadful. And it works.
It works because each character you choose for your team of three has a completely different movepool that synchronizes well with one another. For instance, the Headless Horseman is your go-to brute to deal massive physical damage, while Dracula works well as a cleric, recharging your skills and giving teammates buffs. You have a set amount of action points per turn and are free to spend as many as you can with whichever character you want. You aren’t limited to just one move per character per turn.
The turn-based combat itself is pretty good, but that’s not the main attraction in Rogue Lords. Remember, you’re the devil. You may not be directly in control of the prince of the underworld, but you can still use his influence in the battlefield. You’ll have a finite amount of demonic essence that can be used to essentially cheat your way through the game, either by recovering your disciples’ health or reducing the opposition’s health. You can also send status ailments towards the opposition, and much more. Knowing when and how to use this finite essence is the way to win in what’s an extremely brutal roguelike.
There aren’t that many battles per chapter, believe it or not. You can actually skip a lot of them by picking alternates routes in the overworld, although the biggest struggle is actually having to move your avatar around it with some really clunky mouse-based controls. A good chunk of the game is actually set around chance-based role-playing sections where you pick one of your disciples, engage in a specific situation, pick and action, and hope for a good outcome. If successful, you receive permanent stat buffs, such as more health or more damage. And yes, you can also use the devil’s essence to cheat your way through these sections. Duh.
That’s not all you can do in the overworld. There are mandatory story-based sections that bless you with some amazing narration by someone who does a pretty good Keith David impression, all while accompanied by some bizarre Danny Elfman styled music. Occasionally, you can visit the Grim Reaper and exchange Souls (this game’s currency) for new moves or relics (passive buffs). You can inflict fear upon the land with your deeds, which results in even more passive buffs when you visit a new area. Finally, you can even upgrade your moves by collecting three of the same kind, fusing them together to form an improved version of the same move, all while being rewarded with a brand new move of your choosing. There’s a lot of room for experimentation in Rogue Lords.
In fact, there’s not a lot I disliked in here. I didn’t exactly like the simplistic polygonal overworld visuals, especially when compared to the pretty decent hand-drawn combat sections. I wasn’t a fan of the aforementioned clunky overworld controls as well. The thing that might make you love or hate Rogue Lords, however, is its difficulty. This game couldn’t care less about your well-being. It’s punitive as all get-out, and its progression system (as in, the way you unlock new characters) is a bit too slow. If you end up liking its loop, you won’t mind the grind at all, as the game itself is immersive as hell (pun intended). If not, you will possibly despise it from the moment you finish its really long tutorial chapter.
Rogue Lords takes some of the most entertaining elements from Slay the Spire and adds its own macabre twist in order to create something that is equally derivative and unique. This is not a roguelike that will please everyone, since its difficulty curve is off the charts, but there’s a lot to like in here, from the horror themes and surprisingly captivating story to the sense of accomplishment when you manage to finish a run with a souped up squad. What better way to spend October than playing a game where you can control pretty much every single horror monster at once, and cheat your way to victory?
The polygonal overworld looks a bit too underwhelming, but the hand-drawn characters look quite good during combat sections. All in all, it’s decent.
The roguelike exploration and combat sections are excellent. The role-playing events are outstanding. The overworld controls, especially when using the mouse, are unnecessarily clunky.
Rogue Lords‘ soundtrack is good, but it sounds a bit too “Danny Elfman”-like for something that’s supposedly mature. Its voice acting is outstanding, though.
Fun Factor: 8.0
Despite suffering from some balancing and difficulty issues, Rogue Lords is an infectiously entertaining game. It’s hard to resist its macabre themes and cheating system.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Rogue Lords is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Rogue Lords was provided by the publisher.