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Open-World Roguelikes

/ Nov 12th, 2014 No Comments


Video games tend to fall into periods much like art. If we’re being a bit more on the nose, the medium has a tendency to go headlong into fads and trends much like movies, television and music. The two current hot trends are open world and roguelike games.

The industry is still split between indie and triple-A titles, which are where the two trends localize. Triple-A games are becoming increasingly open world affairs, while indie titles are incorporating more roguelike elements into gameplay.

It is an interesting parallel between the perceived divide as both presentations serve a similar means. Adding either element to a game will extend the replay value and longevity of a game, and give gameplay more depth with complex behavioral mechanics. This is why new-gen is all about the rougelike open-world games.

Die Another Day and Another Day…

Roguelike is useful shorthand. However, it is a bit of a misnomer since many of the modern roguelikes are more roguelike-like or rogue-lite. Games don’t share all the elements of the 1980 game, Rogue, so roguelike isn’t a completely accurate term, but it is far less cumbersome. What these newer rougelikes have in common with Rogue are permadeath and procedurally generated levels.


Spelunky is one of the most addictive, compelling roguelikes of recent memory.

The style offers opportunities for deeper gameplay experiences, adding more variety thanks to the random nature of procedurally generated levels. As such, an increasing amount of indie games have favored a roguelike approach in recent years. Modern stalwarts of these rogue-lites include Spelunky, FTL: Faster Than Light and the Binding of Isaac.

Games utilizing the roguelike style offer a very immediate, visceral gameplay experience. When you first play Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain or Don’t Starve, it is essentially about learning the basic mechanics and hoping not to die immediately. However, you will die a lot in these games, even when you get better. Progress is hard won and patterns are impossible to pick up on because each time you play, levels are different.

Roguelikes are about dedication and learning a metagame. Everything from items to enemies to terrain behave a certain way, and the makeup of these things changes with every playthrough. Learning how to game the system each time is important to getting good at a roguelike. The more you play and the more time you dedicate to it, the better you get. The better you are, the further you progress into the game. A good run is half luck-half execution, but requires an underlying skill only gained through practice.


Galak-Z transitioned into a more roguelike style through development.

The genre provides a dynamic experience perfect for pick-up-and-play sessions. It is no wonder more indie games are utilizing the approach. For example, 17-Bit’s GALAK-Z went from a more traditional approach to gameplay before incorporating procedurally generated levels inspired by Spelunky and Don’t Starve.

Lemme Have You Run Me an Errand Right Quick

The other side of the coin is the growing implementation of the open world in triple-A games. For the longest time, open world games were a special occurrence. Open world meant nothing unless the game was Grand Theft Auto or some type of GTA-like title. The dawn of the PS4 and Xbox One has given rise to everyone and Ms. Pac-Man adding open-world elements into their games.

Part can be contributed to the added processing power that new-gen consoles possess. It gives big shot developers the ability to add an open-world bent to games even if it isn’t in the game’s best interest. Much like roguelikes, the open world trend can be seen as a way to create a richer gameplay experience. An open world game can give players a sense of freedom, exploration and ability to play how they want. However, making an open world title doesn’t always make the game’s concept better.

Watch Dogs online

Watch Dogs has some decent story elements, but falls apart on filling the open-world with engaging side missions.

The biggest issue with open world games is what happens in the large sandbox environment. Players need things to do aside from exploring the world, and it needs to be compelling. Some open world games forget these qualifiers. More often, open world games will have great story missions, but when it comes to capitalizing on the expansiveness of a world with side quests, they drop the ball. Some recent iterations on the open world trend include Watch Dogs and Sunset Overdrive.

In the case of Watch Dogs, the open-world presentation worked against it. Driving and exploring the open world was not much fun, and side missions weren’t so hot either. Story missions were solid, but when it came to capitalizing on the virtual, ctOS-powered Chicago, it fell to pieces.

On the other hand, Sunset Overdrive utilizes its open world in a creative way. The game takes advantage of the big world with satisfying traversal that uses every bit of the environment. Moving around a sandbox game has not been this fun since Saints Row IV.

Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive capitalizes on a big open world in spectacular ways.

Not every open world game can be Sleeping Dogs, but the style can lead to amazing gameplay experiences. The genre is full of potential and, if done right, it can give players an expansive world to explore with plenty to do in it.

Beyond the Horizon

Not every game should be a roguelike or open world title. When done wrong, these genres make for a horrible bomb. But when open world games or roguelikes are done right, they provide some of the most addictive, compelling video game experiences. You can get lost in Rouge Legacy just as much as you can in Grand Theft Auto.

What the future holds for either genre is anyone’s guess. As developers iterate on the styles, we will see bolder examples of each gameplay style. The future of games may be giant, procedurally generated worlds to explore, which would make No Man’s Sky the Neo of video games.


Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
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