Roguelikes aren’t the most beautiful games, and they don’t have the most intense gameplay. It’s just hard for them to compete with the blockbuster energy of today’s AAA games. Fans want new and different ways to challenge their minds, so who would want to play a game that is proud of being the same? But the best roguelike vs rogue-lite games is so well made that they don’t feel repetitive at all.
As we move into an era where 4k/60FPS is king, here are 10 Roguelike games on Steam that have a classic feel and will keep you busy for hours. This one is for people who want to see how smart they are and how well they can adapt to and get past any problem.
- The Binding of Isaac
At first glance, The Binding of Isaac looks like a nightmare version of the top-down dungeons in the original Legend of Zelda. Which isn’t wrong, because that’s pretty much how the first game was thought up in 2011. But if you replace Zelda’s happy-go-lucky elf hero with a deformed child who has to make his way through endlessly scary and randomly generated grotesque caverns, you can start to see how Isaac stands on his own. Isaac is a twin-stick shooter at heart, but there are dozens of passive and active power-ups to try out. It’s gross, hard, and insanely rewarding, and players have to keep living, dying, and starting over until they reach the end. The Binding of Isaac is still one of the most important games in its genre a decade after it came out, and it is also the best.
Hades shines when he does well even though he has failed. No matter what happens during a run, you always make social progress with a variety of NPCs like Achilles, Megara, ‘Dusa, and more. Or, if the building is more your thing, you can fill the halls of Hades with precious gems that will stay there for future runs. You can improve weapons by unlocking their different parts, which turns each base weapon in the game into a unique variant with its way of playing. Hades never makes you feel like you’re wasting your time because it has so many reward loops that you can go back to even if you fail. It seems like failed runs are just a part of the story. And navigating the hellish obstacles of Hades on subsequent attempts to escape is fast-paced, fun, and always exciting, thanks to power-ups that come in the form of boons from gods. And if you still don’t want to buy Hades, the IGN staff picked it as their game of the year for 2020.
- Spelunky 2
Spelunky’s original freeware version and its HD remake in 2012 had such a huge effect on the Roguelike genre that, without it, it’s hard to imagine most of the games on this list even being made. Spelunky 2, which came out 12 years later, took all of the best parts of the first game and made them even better without losing any of the procedurally generated magic that made the first game so great. There are more secrets to find, more biomes to explore, and most importantly, more stories to tell. Spelunky 2 is, just like its predecessors, one of the best examples of emergent gameplay in all video games. Its stories of both glorious success and heartbreaking failure are what makes it so memorable.
- Slay the Spire
Every roguelike game tells you to “play the hand you’re dealt” because it gives you random upgrades to use, but Slay the Spire’s deck-building system takes this saying much more literally than most. It’s crazy how willing this game is to throw caution to the wind and let you completely mess up its well-thought-out rules. Anything can happen if you get the right combination of character class, modifying relics, and powerful cards. The Defect, whose apparent strength is summonable orbs that automatically attack or defend every turn, can be turned into a melee powerhouse with almost unlimited attacks. The Ironclad warrior can become a vampire powerhouse who gives up his health to do damage. Even worse, the basics can be thrown out the window. This run, you don’t have to throw away your hand when it’s your turn. Next time, you can get cards from the decks of any of your characters. Or maybe the cost to play a card is different every time? It’s all over the place, and the only thing you can count on is that you won’t know for sure where your build will end up.
“Never tell me the odds,” said one of the best spaceship captains in sci-fi. Your tiny spaceship doesn’t have much of a chance of completing its mission when it’s being chased by bad rebels, attacked by hostile aliens, and forced to make tough life-or-death decisions at almost every turn. But that little bit of a chance is all you need. FTL is a thrilling, repeatable adventure. There’s a lot of tension from both decision-based story events taken from sci-fi shows that can change the game and pausable real-time combat that requires a smart plan for taking down enemies’ shields and turning off their systems, as well as a bit of luck to avoid incoming missiles. Building up your ship with the best crew, weapons, and upgrades you can find so you can survive going head-to-head with a huge enemy mothership is a great challenge that you can do over and over again, especially once you’ve unlocked more ships with different layouts.
- Dead Cells
Dead Cells emphasises the “just one more round” mentality of a good roguelike by giving you lightning-fast movement and twitchy combat in a 2D sidescrolling space. This means that you have to make life-or-death decisions in the blink of an eye. Running through biomes that are getting more dangerous and using your ever-growing arsenal of unlocked weapons and abilities to fight armies of enemies, all while mastering your platforming skills, is a very satisfying loop. Throw in some big, powerful bosses and the ability to go through unlocked areas in any order you want, and you have a recipe for almost infinite replayability and customization, making this one of the best games in its category.
Nethack might be the most complicated PC game ever. Sound like hyperbole? Think about the fact that there are more than a thousand ways to die, like getting scared and choking on a cockatrice or falling into a sink (it’s a long story). Since Nethack players don’t have to worry about a graphics engine, they can solve problems in any way they want. Are you afraid that eels will pull you into a body of water? Just grease up your armour, teleport the eel to dry land, or put on an amulet that lets you breathe magically. The point isn’t so much to win as to figure out how all the different systems work. Nethack is a direct descendant of Rogue. It has the same basic rules, but 30 years of development have made it much, much more complicated. It may be the best example of a traditional “roguelike,” a type of game that still has a lot of fans. Look at Nethack if you want to know where Spelunky, Hades, and Returnal came from.
- Rogue Legacy
Before 2013, no one would have thought that a roguelike would fit so well with a Metroidvania style, but then Rogue Legacy came along and blew the doors off by adding permanent progression that carried over from run to run, allowing players to add to the skill they gained from repeated runs with stat upgrades, new pieces of gear, and new abilities that would make the sudden difficulty spikes of later runs more bearable. This turned out to be pretty groundbreaking, and many other games in the same genre, including a few on this list, would add something similar. Rogue Legacy wasn’t just influential, though. It was also a great game, with great progression, a great mix of difficult bullet hell-style combat and intense platforming challenges, and the brilliant procedural generation that made sure no two runs felt the same.
- Into the Breach
Subset Games’ follow-up to FTL, Into the Breach, doesn’t rank quite as high on this list as FTL did, but it’s still one of the most nuanced and strategic roguelikes out there. Its style of time-travelling tactics combat is more like a careful game of chess than a hard-hitting warzone, except that all the chess pieces are giant mechs fighting back against a kaiju threat that could destroy a city. Even though each encounter might only last a few turns, you have a huge number of options during those turns. Enemies are both reliable and destructive, so you have to plan moves a long time in advance to deal with what they’re doing now and what they might do in the future. Learning depth from run to run can be very rewarding, especially when you start to understand that sacrificing a rocket-wielding pawn might hurt in the short term but be better in the long term. Into the Breach is a strategy roguelike with a lot of tough decisions, but you can still feel good about making the right ones.
- Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon may be number ten on our list, but it’s number ten with a bullet! Or one hundred. In this top-down bullet hell roguelike from Dodge Roll, pixel-art characters try to find a gun that can kill their past and erase their biggest regret by going down chambers with increasing difficulty and beating epic boss fights. To do this, they will have to collect a huge number of different guns. The best part of this game is the armoury. We had never seen a game with such a strong gun theme. The whole idea of a gungeon was carried out in a way we didn’t think was possible. Like the best roguelikes, each run feels different because the different guns change the way you play, and there are more of them than you can shake a joystick at. Enter the Gungeon deserves to be on a list of the best roguelikes. It has great bullet hell gameplay, a tonne of weapons, and dozens of references and easter eggs that are fun to find.