Roguelikes are so engaging because of the constant challenge they present with each new run. While there has been much discussion about what distinguishes a roguelike from a roguelite, we think that recent games in the genre have become less nuanced, with a focus on pushing players to undertake repeated plays in order to reach the conclusion. Here are our picks for the top ten roguelike games of all time, ranked from best to worst, based on how much you value the ASCII characters.
FTL: Faster than Light
It’s a galactic rescue mission that will take you across the galaxy. True, it’s an old story, but the game’s systems ensured that each run was fresh and challenging in its own right. FTL was a behemoth of roguelike gameplay thanks to its emphasis on exploring a procedurally generated galaxy in search of new species to recruit, equipping your ship with the most advanced equipment available for ship-to-ship combat, and opening airlocks at the worst possible times. Similar to The Oregon Trail, it forces players to make tough decisions with severe consequences for making the wrong one, making the occasional triumph all the more satisfying.
It’s easy to get the impression that whatever you do in Darkest Dungeon is the last chance for mankind to survive against an army of demons, monsters, and insanity. With a fantastic narrator explaining the party’s activities (and unmitigated misery) as they slog ever on, players will need to perfect the art of balancing strength, party composition, and hope to ever finish the title. If you’re going to venture into a crypt in search of buried wealth or interrupt a satanic ritual, the only thing you can really count on is the cold, compassionate hands of death.
Tales of Maj’Eyal
Tales of Maj’Eyal, a turn-based RPG with dozens of character, class, and race combinations that can be unlocked as you proceed through the unique class adventures, is a hidden treasure that offers a totally free edition. With its high difficulty and apparently never-ending dungeon crawling, it’s also the one that most closely resembles the original Rogue. Turns when enemies advance on all sides are slow, thought-provoking moments as you hem and haw over the resources already available, as players wind up with a wild variety of abilities. There is a plethora of gear that can be used to improve various attributes, the number of adversaries is practically infinite, and the game’s mechanics are fascinating to learn about and use.
Risk of Rain 2
Land accidentally on a foreign world, wipe out the natives, and teleport on. The 3D sequel to the 2D smash hit Risk of Rain has a deceptively basic idea, but it regularly delivers with memorable characters and upgrades you’ll want to hunt down in order to make the most of your talents. With a group size of up to four players, you’ll be able to try to escape this harsh planet, amass as much wealth as possible, and go out with a bang. Run-and-gun gameplay returns in Risk of Rain 2, but the real debate centers on how much loot to collect before activating the level boss and continuing on.
Gunfire Reborn is an anthropomorphic roguelike where you can soar like an eagle and sting like a rabbit with your trusty firearms. This game veers dramatically from a painful battle to an unrestrained power-fantasy once players learn the interconnectedness of the hundreds of weapons they can obtain, the different scrolls that increase abilities, and the powers that enable them to eliminate dozens of enemies at once. As you make your way through the game, you’ll get access to new characters, each of whom can add a different set of mechanics to your group.
Crypt of the NecroDancer
If you’re familiar with Crypt of the NecroDancer, you’ll know that just looking at a screenshot is enough to give you an earworm of one of the best soundtracks in gaming. To counter opponents that advance in predetermined patterns, players must dance to the music. If you fail to move on the beat in a multiplayer game, your coins will be lost and your opponents will have an opportunity to attack. Shops sell a wide variety of weapons, some of which have unique properties, such as rapiers that grant the user a dash attack or polearms that let them strike from a greater distance. With the inclusion of this feature, players are no longer restricted to moving in time with the music.
Dead Cells is a Metroidvania roguelite action platformer that became popular thanks to Steam’s Early Access program. The game follows a solitary prisoner who is desperate to escape. Each failed run triggers a new set of levels packed with more difficult platforming obstacles and hostile foes. The player faces a constant trade-off between risk and reward: they can curse themselves for an instant power up, or they can try to sprint as fast as they can in the hopes of unlocking time-gated rooms, which may also contain powerful items. The action is superb, with tight controls, a plethora of weapons and skills, and more content to uncover than you can shake a stick at.
Slay the Spire
In early 2019, the world was taken over by the card-based RPG Slay the Spire, which finally gave card-based RPGs a renewed sense of vitality and purpose. The original goal, using three characters with different mechanics, was to ascend the tower and reach a mystery heart. Since its release, the globe has been continually fighting enemies with its card upgrades, powerful artifacts, and easy-to-understand-but-hard-to-master basis. You won’t have to stop killing unless the power goes out, thanks to the game’s Steam Workshop connection and its collection of more than 600 mods.
Participate in the ultimate act of defiance against a parent by assuming the identity of Prince Zagreus, the son of Hades. The action-based gameplay is finely honed, and Zagreus is given the power of the Gods to use against dozens of opponents across Hell’s tiers thanks to a variety of weapons and upgrades. A magnificent tale is weaved throughout the vibrant backdrop of characters and mythology, and bosses and guardians will remember you and comment on your previous unsuccessful attempt or their comeuppance. Supergiant Games, with their knack for excellent storytelling, adopted a mythology that weaves a beautifully inspired tapestry of woe, sadness, and betrayal, and it is this element that elevates the game to the next level.
Binding of Isaac
The original Binding of Isaac was a superb roguelike with a bizarre, twisted plot about a woman who had given in to religious zeal. The Binding of Isaac is a fantastic ode to roguelikes in which powerups can transform your character from a crying boy into the harbinger of doom, but the constant reworks and re-releases with numerous suffixes have diluted and tired a once-mighty title. Many people could identify with the protagonist’s struggle to survive in an abusive home and the sense of relief she had when she was able to break free. In the case of others, it entailed aiming your tears at garbage cans. It was universally hailed as a masterwork by critics.