The Best Roguelikes for 2020


The roguelike genre has seen an explosion in recent years, especially among indie developers. Although most roguelikes aren’t really Rogue-like, they share some common themes: Permadeath, multiple progression systems, and a core gameplay loop that keeps you coming back for more. The best roguelikes do all three well, and in this guide, we’ve rounded up our favorites.

Our picks below occupy various spectrums of the genre, from traditional roguelikes like Caves of Qud to roguelite adventure games like World of Horror. 

Further reading

Dead Cells

Available on: PC, Android, Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Dead Cells is a self-described “Roguevania,” so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it tops this list in addition to our list of the best Metroidvania games. That name already tells you most of what you need to know about Dead Cells. It’s a roguelike action platformer with tough-as-nails combat and plenty of secrets to discover. Unlike some other games on this list, however, there’s no single element of Dead Cells that stands out.

The game’s tight, responsive, and rewarding combat is what stands out most, but Dead Cells‘ level design, nonlinear progression, and long list of unlockables are all equally as impressive. Because Dead Cells has so much to offer, there isn’t an individual element to ever ruin the experience. The game’s difficulty, for example, is high. However, the difficulty isn’t the crux of the experience, so it rarely sours it.

Dead Cells is a game that you never need to play for more than an hour at a time. However, it’ll often hook you for hours on end.

Read our full Dead Cells review

Hades

Available on: PC, Switch

Supergiant Games hasn’t made a bad game — Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre are masterpieces in their own right. Although all of the studio’s previous titles have toyed with various gameplay mechanics, they’ve all been praised for their story. That’s usually at odds with the roguelike genre, but Hades manages both, and does so impressively well.

That’s because all of the individual components are excellent. Hades‘ soundtrack moves from somber ambiance to backbreaking metal riffs without batting an eye, and the environments burst off the screen — heavily stylized, but consistent with the game’s themes. In true Supergiant fashion, the story is right, too, with you playing as the illegitimate son of Hades, battling his way out of the Underworld.

All of that, and gameplay is still the core of Hades. The loop of collecting materials to purchase upgrades between runs is still present, but the game mixes up the moment-to-moment gameplay with the Boon system. You’ll encounter different Greek Gods and Goddesses on your run, and they’ll grant you boons to upgrade your attacks, give your weapons an elemental edge, and more. Hades is what a rougelike game should be, and even among a list of the best games in the genre, it stands out.

World of Horror

Available on: PC (early access), PS4, Switch (late 2020)

World of Horror is a 1-bit throwback to text-based RPGs, with clear influences from H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito. Despite the fact that World of Horror ditches horror genre conventions, it’s one of the most terrifying games of recent memory. It’s currently in early access, and there are 12 mysteries for you to solve (the full game will have more). Each mystery is a little different, ranging from a suspicious ramen shop that people can’t get enough of to a haunted mansion that sits on the edge of town. All of them, however, tie back to cosmic horrors in one way or another.

The gameplay is reminiscent of point-and-click adventures with a few CRPG mechanics thrown into the mix. Although the catalysts for each mystery are set, most of them have multiple endings, and all of them have random encounters that change each run. If the screenshot above looks like something up your alley, save yourself the hassle and pick up World of Horror. 

Spelunky 2

Available on: PC, PS4

The original Spelunky is the key that connects Rogue and its successors in the 1980s and 90s to the modern library of roguelike games. Both the creators of The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy cite Spelunky as a key design influence, with The Binding of Isaac developer Edmund McMillen going as far as to call Spelunky “the best indie game ever made.” After 12 years of waiting, that same game now has a sequel.

Spelunky 2 expands the scope of the original game while keeping everything else intact. You’ll die a lot still, but unlike Darkest Dungeon and Dead Cells, Spelunky 2 doesn’t delight in failure. Rather, it presents you with a highly dangerous playground, not much different than an amusement park without any safety requirements, and asks you to play. Like the original, Spelunky 2 is a game that will surprise, reward, and delight you. The difference: Spelunky 2 is larger, prettier, and deeper.

Risk of Rain 2

Available on: PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Risk of Rain 2 is, like Spelunky 2, a sequel to one of the most revered indie games of all time. Developer Hopoo Games, however, couldn’t have gone in a more different direction. Although a sequel, Risk of Rain 2 is not Risk of Rain. Instead of a 2D, pixel art sidescroller, Risk of Rain 2 is a 3D, third-person shooter. Despite that, the things that made Risk of Rain so special are still present in the sequel. In addition to a roster of characters, each with different abilities, Risk of Rain 2 still has open-ended exploration, varied enemy designs, and a whole lot of loot.

However, Risk of Rain 2‘s hallmark feature is its difficulty system. You can set your difficulty at the beginning of each run, but that doesn’t determine how tough your whole run will be. No matter what level you select, the difficulty will continue to rise over time, meaning that players on the lowest difficulty can end up at the highest difficulty by the end of their run. Combined with Risk of Rain 2‘s exploration, the difficulty system sets up a nice risk/reward system in the game. You’ll find more upgrades if you spend more time in a particular zone, but that could put the rest of your run in jeopardy.

The roguelike genre is all about choices, from the branching paths in Dead Cells to card decisions in Slay the Spire. Risk of Rain 2 goes further, allowing you to make choices on the fly that will impact the rest of your run.

Slay the Spire

Available on: PC, iOS, Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Slay the Spire has only officially been on the market for two years, but it has already asserted itself as the bar by which other digital card games are measured. At the beginning of a run, you can choose between one of four characters. Each character has a starting deck, and as you battle enemies and move through the four acts of the game, you’ll acquire new cards for your deck. There are plenty of other stops along the way, too, allowing you to buy items and cards, rest and upgrade cards, and more.

It’s Slay the Spire‘s full embrace of deck archetypes that keeps the game interesting. You can add generically powerful cards to your deck, but Slay the Spire rewards you for choosing a lane and staying in it. For example, poison-themed decks are strong with Silent, and Ironclad favors a deck with a lot of defensive cards. Slay the Spire utilizes the excitement of drafting in a game like Magic: the Gathering to great effect, and with a simple yet highly tactical battle system, keeps you engaged between deck upgrades.

Darkest Dungeon

Available on: PC, iOS, Vita, Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Darkest Dungeon is the worst game you’ll probably ever play (unless you’ve subjected yourself to The Longing). It’s a loudly difficult game, but it doesn’t fuss around with any “difficult but fair” talk. Darkest Dungeon is a game that wants you to suffer. Developer Red Hook Studios, however, makes suffering not only rewarding and engaging but also a whole lot of fun.

Mechanically, Darkest Dungeon is a dungeon crawl. In dungeons, your job is to explore and take part in deeply complex turn-based battles. Between them, you can spend your time buying items, upgrading your heroes, and upgrading the shops in your town. Your party of heroes is deeply flawed, though, often disintegrating into madness as you uncover the horrors within each dungeon. The fact that you can send your stressed, manic heroes to the tavern to drink their issues away between dungeons should tell you everything you need to know.

Darkest Dungeon isn’t afraid to lean into its themes. The result is an oddly sadistic game with beautiful art and sound design. All of that, however, is just a veil for smart game design that expertly balances respecting and rewarding the player.

Cultist Simulator

Available on: PC, Android

Cultist Simulator is a game best played blind. In fact, the Steam page even warns that the game has no tutorial, and that part of the game is learning how to play it. And you’ll learn quickly. Cultist Simulator is a narrative-driven card game. When you first start a game, you’re given a single card and a single slot for that card on a barren table. From there, you’ll unlock cards, spaces, tokens, and more. The goal: Start your own Lovecraftian cult.

As the game expands, you’ll start attracting new members to your cult, and as your cult grows, police and journalists, too. Cultist Simulator feels like an ever-expanding story, with each action setting in motion another series of events that’ll pop up at some point later in your run. Maybe you’re forced to send one of your cult members to abduct a nosey police officer, or maybe you’re forced to sacrifice a member to keep the gods satisfied. These events are frequent, and you’ll die a lot. Cultist Simulator, however, maintains enough mystery to keep you coming back for more.

FTL: Faster Than Light

Available on: PC, iOS

FTL: Faster Than Light is a notoriously difficult game. Developer Subset Games has a knack for creating extremely tactical and anxiety-inducing gameplay moments, and FTL shows that at full tilt. Each playthrough, you’re given a randomized galaxy to explore. You pilot a ship for the Galactic Federation that’s capable of jumping between star systems faster than light, fighting a losing battle against a group simply known as the Rebellion.

The story is interesting, but that’s not what FTL is about. It’s a game of micromanagement. You’re tasked with keeping track of your ship’s power, how that power is distributed across various systems in your ship, what stations your crewmembers are piloting, and more. Keeping track of everything is stressful, but Subset manages to make it fun, too. Like Into the Breach — Subset’s sophomore title, and an excellent tactics game — FTL always feels like you’re on the brink of destruction, and that’s a surprisingly enjoyable place to be.

Crypt of the NecroDancer

Crypt of the Necrodancer

Available on: PC, iOS, Vita, Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Genre mashups are tricky, but Crypt of the NecroDancer shows that they can work. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler mixed with a rhythm game. You move to the beat throughout each stage of the dungeon, encountering new enemies while picking up new upgrades. Each run starts simple enough, with a steady, medium tempo pulse guiding you along and few enemies. As you continue, the pulse gets more involved and the enemies more challenging, forcing you to stay aggressive and tactical, but most importantly, on the beat.

Prey: Mooncrash

Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One

Prey: Mooncrash is a great time if you forget that it’s an expansion to 2017’s Prey. Mooncrash throws the slow sci-fi world-building and immersive sim mechanics out the window. Mooncrash is a shooter. Although the expansion has a story to tell, it takes a backseat to running around the moon and shooting Mimics. Among a list of the best roguelike games, however, it’s the only one that comes from a triple-A developer.

Mooncrash feels like a proof of concept for Arkane’s upcoming Deathloop. It works as long as you’re a fan of action, but the slow, methodical storytelling of Prey doesn’t translate. If you didn’t enjoy Prey, give Mooncrash a shot. The expansion includes Typhon Hunter — a multiplayer expansion — as well as a VR experience that takes place days before the events of Prey, so there’s plenty to like.

Noita

Available on: PC

Noita just finished a run in early access, brought to market by a superstar roster of three indie developers behind games like Baba Is You and The Swapper. Noita, unlike those games, is a 2D action title with a procedurally generated world. As you dig deeper into a vast network of caverns, you’ll craft spells that you can use to progress further. Of course, when you die, you lose everything and have to start over. Simple enough, but Noita goes further. Every pixel in the game is physically simulated.

Calling Noita “physics-based” doesn’t fully capture what simulating each pixel does. Everything in the world reacts to what you and any enemies you encounter do. Explosions burst out into fire and expand across sections of wood, while acid slowly decays the world around you. Roguelike games are exciting because they’re dynamic, and Noita fully embraces that. Each run is not only about exploring but also seeing how you can impact the world around you.

Gunfire Reborn

Available on: PC

There isn’t much to Gunfire Reborn, and that’s why it’s so fun. It’s a level-based roguelike shooter where you pass down linear corridors, defeating baddies to earn coins, ammo, and new weapons. Along each semi-randomized run, you’ll also work toward completing achievements — which unlock new weapons that enemies can drop — and stocking up on Soul Essence. Between runs, you can use your Soul Essence to buy Talents, permanents upgrades that offer stat buffs for future runs.

As a roguelike, Gunfire Reborn doesn’t pull any punches, and it doesn’t need to. Like Dead Cells and Hades, the core gameplay loop is strong enough on its own, and the upgrades simply reinforce it. Gunfire Reborn is fast-paced, but not in the same way as Borderlands 3 or Doom EternalIt brushes up against pure mayhem but never fully embraces it, making combat encounters feel visceral and tactical at the same time. Gunfire Reborn is great fun on your own, but you can also team up with up to three other players.

Caves of Qud

Available on: PC

Caves of Qud is the most Rogue-like of any of the roguelikes on this list. It’s an ethereal sci-fi epic where you anything you could want to do, you can do. Everything is fully simulated, from the limbs on monsters you encounter to walls blocking your path. Although Caves of Qud has a story — and an excellent one, at that — it’s never in a rush to tell you that story. It’s a game that asks you to get lost in its world, and with vivid, imaginative writing, that’s easy to do.

That’s not to say Caves of Qud is easy. With the size of the game, you’ll constantly encounter new threats that you’re not equipped to deal with, and in true roguelike fashion, you lose everything when you die. Thankfully, Caves of Qud is a little more inviting than the games of yesteryear. You can turn off permadeath if you want, allowing you to explore without the threat of losing everything. However, Caves of Qud is best experienced with its Rogue mechanics intact.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Available on: PC, iOS, 3DS, Wii U, Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Spelunky was the catalyst to the modern wave of roguelikes, but the current market owes a lot to The Binding of Isaac, too. If The Binding of Isaac proves anything, it’s that there really isn’t an upper limit to how much you can include in a roguelike game. The breadth of items and unlockables in The Binding of Isaac is staggering. Even after spending dozens of hours with Isaac, you’ll still find items that you’ve never seen before.

Like Spelunky, the surprise in The Binding of Isaac is what has stood the test of time. That’s not to take away from the core gameplay, though. It’s a tight dungeon crawler in the vein of classic Zelda games, dressed up in Edmund McMillen’s twisted and hilarious imagination. Although you can still pick up The Binding of Isaac, make sure you pick up Rebirth instead. It’s a re-creation of the same game with more content, and all of the since released DLC is compatible with it. That includes the upcoming Repentance DLC, which, according to McMillen, is “basically a sequel.”

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