Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Roguelike Overview

When I started this blog, I had several things I wanted to discuss.  Things like atheism, feminism and particle physics are fairly serious subjects, and writing about them demands time.  So I threw roguelikes in as a more light-hearted subject, figuring that I could write posts about them when I wanted something quick and easy.

Well, that's not how it turned out.
 Just look at the long time between my reviews of NetHack and Crawl; even my planned strategy guides for Angband have been delayed, though I do intend to get back to that in the next couple of weeks.  A big reason for the delay of my Crawl review is that I realised I didn't know the game very well; essentially, I started to get the hang of the system and suddenly realised how little I actually knew.  (The same criticism can be levelled at my NetHack review, incidentally, and at some point I may return and redo it).

I currently intend to review TOME next.  However, it'll take me a while before I feel ready to do that game justice.  So for now, I want to give a few thoughts on all the roguelikes I'm currently playing.  All of these will get proper reviews eventually, but for many of them I've barely scratched the surface.

TOME (Tales of Maj'Eyal) is an interesting game.  Unlike most roguelikes, it has sound and can not be played with ASCII symbols, at least as far as I can see.  This actually makes it somewhat less appealing to me, as I tend to play on a small netbook where the TOME graphics lead to smaller visibility.  TOME is interesting in that unlike the three games I've reviewed so far, it has multiple areas to explore rather than a single dungeon, as well as a quest system (including very annoying escort missions).  It also follows common practice among modern games in having unlockable content.  As a whole, the skill and experience system has a very different feel to other roguelikes that I've played.

ADOM (Ancient Domains of Mystery) is similar to TOME in having multiple areas and a quest system. I'm not sure which came first, but I think it might actually be ADOM.  The interesting thing is that this game is no longer in development, in fact the most recent version is a decade old.  While that was a serious problem for NetHack, ADOM has a very nice interface.  Also noteworthy is the character creation system.  While it's not compulsory, you can set your starting attributes by answering a series of questions, essentially generating the history of your character.  The different actions you took affect your initial skills, and the options avoid the trite obviousness you can sometimes get with this type of approach.  While this might not appeal to power gamers, I kind of like it.

Sil is a recent game that technically is an Angband variant, but has pretty much departed from the Angband code.  I've only played it a few times, but I think it might become my favourite roguelike.  The game borrows Angband's setting, that you are sneaking into Morgoth's fortress of Angband in the First Age of Middle Earth.  But while Angband plays very fast and loose with the Tolkein setting, Sil treats it straight.  The goal is not to kill Morgoth, since he's basically a god and so you can't.  Rather, you must repeat the feat of Beren and Luthien, and prise a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown.  All the non-Tolkien or Third Age things have been dropped; no zephyr hounds, no kobolds or gnomes, no Rings of Power or enemies like Saruman or Smeagol.  Not even any plate mail.  Magic has been heavily redone; we never see anyone in Tolkien's works throwing fireballs or teleporting.  Instead, magic-like effects come through various Songs, of stealth or sleep for example.  Like Crawl, the lack of reliable escapes forces you to be cautious and plan ahead, and avoids the Angband problem of monsters needing to threaten one-hit kills to be dangerous.

The other games I'm currently playing are all Angband variants.  First of these is Angband: First Age, which was also the first variant I tried.  FAAngband has a similar approach to Sil, removing many things that don't have a proper Tolkien feel.  It does not go quite as far as Sil, but compensates by starting your quest at its beginning; while Sil assumes you've already snuck into Angband, in FAAngband you must travel all the way from your home town through dangerous wilderness.

FayAngband is, as the name suggests, something that plays up fairy elements.  For example, Elves and Goblins are interpreted as somewhat fey.  It also essentially enforces diving, allowing you to descend multiple levels at a time and enforcing a minimum depth.  The ability to always return to town when going up stairs is a bit implausible, but does help remove more tedious gameplay.  I'm a bit uncertain with this variant as a whole.

OAngband (from opinion Angband) is an old variant that expands the types of magic, adding druids and necromancers to the Angband wizard and priest.  It was used as the basis for FAAngband, so feels a lot like that game but without the wilderness sections; but that shouldn't be taken as a slight.  It feels different enough from both Angband and FAAngband to be worth a look.

Sangband, or Skill Angband, is an Angband variant using a skill system for character development.  In this sense it is kind of like a mix between Crawl and Angband, with some of the benefits of each.

UnAngband is an interesting, if somewhat unfinished variant.  Set in the Third Age but with the same goal, you must travel from Hobbiton to through the wilderness; this is handled differently to ADOM/TOME and FAAngband.  There's lots of new stuff, but also a feeling that more is planned, as well as better implementation of what there is already.  Still, it's an interesting option at least.

Finally, there's Angband v4, and experimental variant that is trying to redo Angband from the ground up.  A lot of problems have been noted with Angband over the years, but attempting to fix them properly would require a lot of work and could unbalance and damage the game.  In v4, anything can be tried as long as someone is willing to work on it; this means that not everything is guaranteed to be balanced, but on the other hand the net result will hopefully be a better game unconstrained by historical choices.

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