If I fall in battle, at least I know that my children, my children’s children, and my children’s children’s children will carry on my work. Such is the life of an adventurer in Rogue Legacy, launching this week for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
Originally launched about a year ago for PC, MacC and Linux, Rogue Legacy is the latest in a growing line of smaller indie games making their way to the PlayStation family of consoles. Perhaps “smaller” is not such an appropriate term, in this particular case. Cellar Door Games didn’t have a massive budget to churn out a AAA mega-beast, but Rogue Legacy is a deceptively deep game, offering a massive, ever-changing world to explore and an upgrade system that will eventually help your bloodline succeed in its quest for vengeance.
The set-up for Rogue Legacy, though, is pretty straightforward. You play as an adventurer on a quest to overthrow an ancient and evil villain. It’s pretty standard stuff for a 2D action platformer, but this particular “rogue-lite” game throws a number of curveballs across the plate.
For starters, your first hero (or perhaps your first 50 or so) isn’t going to make it very far into the dungeon. They are weak and their abilities and gear is extremely limited. You’ll be lucky to clear five rooms before falling in battle, losing your hero to the pages of history. But their spirit will live on in the form of offspring who will pick up their sword (and gold coins) in order to continue the journey. That’s where the first of Rogue Legacy’s many hooks sink in: The lineage system. When one hero dies, you’ll be given the option of three offspring to play as next, each with their own class, spell and unique trait set up. You might choose to be a giant wizard with throwing knives or a hearty knave with a magical sword shield. The characters’ traits, though, are where a lot of the variety, humor and fun comes from, as your near-sighted heir will suffer from blurry images at the corners of the screen, your nostalgic son will see the world in “old-timey” hues, or your daughter suffering from vertigo will play in a world that is flipped upside down.
Once you’ve picked your next hero, you’ll have the ability to spend the money earned by the previous adventurer during their ill-fated quest through the castle. You can spend these on helpful NPCs, stat upgrades or new abilities for your various classes (Give your knights a shield, for instance). You can also spend your money by talking to those NPCs, utilizing your funds to buy new gear, empowering relics or even locking in the previous castle design at the cost of a huge hit on the gold you will receive during your next journey. You’ll want to spend as much as possible, though, as the castle guardian, Charon, will reclaim any unused funds before allowing you to head out on your next adventure.
The dungeon itself is built like a traditional Metroidvania setting, with rooms and corridors linking together as you delve deeper and deeper. The big difference here is the fact that the game is tough as nails, and your early heroes can only take a few hits before kicking the bucket. Entire rooms may be filled with enemies, half of which shoot projectiles that can travel through solid surfaces. Initially, your only weapons are a sword swipe, a downward thrust and a puny magical ability. As you spend coins at your family manor before entering the dungeon, however, you’ll be crafting stronger warriors with upgraded abilities, better stats and far better equipment.
As of this writing, I’m nowhere near completing Rogue Legacy, but I’ve made my way into a handful of the castle’s unique areas, fought a few of the maddeningly tricky bosses and watched as countless members of my family have fallen in battle. There are a ridiculous number of upgrades for me to spend money on still and loads of armor and runes I still haven’t discovered yet. I’m slowly but surely getting better at the game (recognizing enemy patterns and knowing when it’s best to just book it to the next room) and my previous upgrades have made it possible to progress just a liiiiittle bit further into the castle upon each death.
At this point, I can’t honestly say if I will ever complete Rogue Legacy. I’ve enjoyed my time with the game and will certainly be playing for a while yet, but what I’ve seen of completed dungeons makes me feel like I’m a long, long way off from ever reaching that goal. The game’s one major fault is that the progression can feel a little bit too slow at times, especially in the early goings. When you die multiple times in a row with only a handful of coins in your pocket, unable to afford a single upgrade or piece of equipment, it becomes harder and harder to hit that replay button.
Rogue Legacy is one of those games you’re either going to love or hate. It’s a genuinely difficult action game that frequently feels like it’s pouring on more than any one person can handle. What can often feel ridiculously cheap at first, though, eventually becomes more manageable and, ultimately, you’ll be bowling your way through earlier portions of the dungeon without breaking a sweat. The joy here is in the ever-present sense of progression, assuming you aren’t having a bad run comprised of super quick deaths. You slowly become a better rival to the castle and, eventually, you may very well topple the game’s main bosses and make your way to the final encounter.
It’s a game about the journey, not the destination, and Cellar Door Games has managed to make that long, crushing trip into the heart of the dungeon a lot of fun to experience.
Platforms: PS4, PS3, PS Vita, PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Publisher: Cellar Door Games