Friday, 13 June 2014


It's been a long while since I last reviewed a Roguelike.

Part of the reason is that I meant to review the "Big 5" of Roguebasin first, then move on to other games in time.  So on more than one occasion I mentioned that I'd review TOME4 in the near future.  The problem is that I can't really get into TOME4, despite its merits, for a number of reasons.  And I don't even have ADOM installed on my current laptop.  So I've barely scratched the surface of these games, not nearly enough to comment on them in any reasonable way.

So, the obvious solution finally comes: review games I actually play.  And we start today with Brogue.

Brogue is a relatively recent game that in many ways calls back to the original Rogue.  As in Rogue, the goal is to get the Amulet of Yendor (located 26 levels into the dungeon) and escape.  It is a short and simple game, in the so-called coffee-break Roguelike or Roguelite subgenre.  Brogue is a very minimal game: there are no classes, no races, only two stats (Strength and Hit Points), no spells outside of items, and a simple dungeon with no branches and no shops.  At first that turned me away from the game, but I'd seen many people praise the game so I stuck at it.  And I learned that the simplicity is not a weakness; it is one of Brogue's greatest assets.

By keeping things simple, Brogue manages to focus on the core Roguelike experience without overwhelming you with too much irrelevant crap.  You still face every combat knowing it could be your last, still must balance exploration and a food clock with the need to rest and heal, still must manage your inventory and identify the things you find.

Simplicity continues to Brogue's interface.  Only a handful of commands are needed; equip, apply and throw covering it.  This lets you use the numpad, arrow keys, vi directions or the mouse to move around.  Auto-explore is there if you want it.  The game also does a good job of telling you what monsters are around (and what state they are in) with a clear list on the side of the screen:

The same list also tells you what status effects you are under, and when they will run out.  Meanwhile, the ID game is simplified with a list of what items you have found and (crucially) what you have not:
The ease of interface is such that I'd recommend Brogue as an introductory Roguelike to those who haven't played one before.

The lack of classes means that whatever you find, you can make use of it.  Also, it doesn't mean that all games play the same.  Usually, there's a room in the first few levels containing several items where you can only take one, and which item you take will help direct your strategy for at least a dozen levels of the dungeon.  Take a staff of firebolts, and play as like a mage; a wand of empowerment, and boost your allies; or maybe just a good weapon or armour.

Allies are another thing Brogue does well.  You can find captive monsters, and if you free them, they become your allies.  Your allies can learn skills from defeated monsters under some conditions, and with care and development can prove very handy against the more dangerous threats.  Unfortunately they do have a nasty tendency to rush against enemies even when low on health, and so catch a serious case of death, but in most cases that's your fault for not anticipating the danger.

Brogue uses a simple ASCII graphics in the oldest tradition of Roguelikes, but it makes good use of that simplicity.  For one thing, it fits a good-sized dungeon on a single screen, something most tiles fail at.
Single level of dungeon; note how lit areas clearly stand out.
But the colours do a good job of communicating different types of terrain; shallow or dark water, stone or wooden walls, ground that is dry, blood-spattered or burnt; it's all there and more.  The interaction of terrain is also handled well and intuitively.  The dynamics of fire, for example, behave the way you'd expect based on the different terrain types.  Long grass-like fungus blocks line of sight, but if you walk through it you trample it flat.  Jumping down deep caverns takes you to lower levels in the dungeon.  It's all there and more.

The only real bad thing I can see with the game is that I don't think it will have much replay factor once finished.  But then, that too is not such a bad thing.  Even within the narrow Roguelike genre, there are so many games to sample that at some point you have to stop playing most of them.  At least in Brogue you won't feel that you've had to skip too much stuff.

There are many more things I could say about Brogue.  To keep this review from growing even longer, I'll summarise it with a single word: elegance.  Brogue is elegant in its simplicity, elegant in its interface and elegant in its mechanics.  So I elegantly recommend this game to all.

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