Three Outstanding Roguelite Games You Have to Try Out

by in General | Mar, 29th 2021

We’re all about esports here, I reckon that’s quite obvious! But, from time to time, we like to drift away into the endless seas of singleplayer games that captivate our attention with intriguing gameplay, unique mechanics, or other innovative setups, be it of casual or mechanically-demanding nature.

Roguelite games are one of my favorites – it’s the go-to genre for when I’m too tired of multiplayer competitiveness but still want something that’ll challenge me! I’ve discovered the genre with The Binding of Isaac back in 2012 without even knowing much about it at the time. I’ve rediscovered it again with Dead Cells a few years later, and it just stuck with me. Shortly after finishing Dead Cells, I was on the lookout for the very best roguelite games out there… and my oh my, was my mission successful!

Since then, I’ve played through and finished roughly a dozen high-quality (but relatively unknown) roguelites, most of which I can (and will) recommend.

In fact, this piece is all about the best roguelite games out there. More precisely, it’s about bringing beginners to a rapidly-growing genre – the noblest cause of them all!

A good portion of gamers still doesn’t know what roguelite games are. That’s because roguelike games still haven’t found their way into the mainstream echelons of gaming. Heck, you probably haven’t even noticed that I’ve referred to them as both roguelike and roguelite in the last sentence.

What’s up with that?

Well, if you came here looking for an introduction to the genre as well as the best specimens to try out, you’ve come to the right place! The introduction is coming right up, addressing the elephant in the room right away – what’s the difference between roguelites and roguelikes.

Roguelites vs. Roguelikes

First things first, let’s settle the difference between the two most commonly used terms to define these types of games, roguelite vs. roguelike. First off, they both refer to the 1980 dungeon crawler called Rogue which formed the genre and greatly changed the perception of video games at the time.

Even though people seem to differentiate them based on the post-mortem persistency of gold, perks, and other unlockables, the actual difference is actually something completely different. You see, the difference between roguelites and roguelikes is in their gameplay… though you’re still bound to get different answers, depending on who you ask, so take everything with a pinch of salt!

RogueLIKES are more concentrated on the strategy elements of dungeon crawlers and feature a turn-based gameplay system. RogueLITES, on the other hand, are more focused on action, have deep battle/movement mechanics, and generally a much higher skill ceiling mechanics-wise.

If you ask me, roguelites and roguelikes should be the same thing as they’re way too small to be differentiated like that. The market percentage of games in these two genres (combined) is way too small, and further chops will just confuse potential players even more.

There, I had to get that out of my system. Now we can focus on the three best roguelite games you need to try out… if you haven’t already, of course.

For a deeper look into the key difference between Roguelites and Roguelikes, please refer to this video.

Keep in mind, though, many people will still argue what’s what! There are many different sources out there pointing towards different conclusions. I honestly don’t know who to trust anymore, so I’m just sticking with the explanation from the above-featured video. It makes the most sense, really.

What Are Roguelite Games Like?

Now that we’ve agreed that the key difference between the two lies in focus on strategy on one end and mechanics on the other, it’s time to say a few words about their similarities. Among other things, these games all have randomness in the form of procedurally generated levels, and a permadeath system that makes you play the whole game again from the start.

However, it’s not vanilla permadeath – you do get to keep some goodies from your ventures, though the quantity and quality greatly vary from game to game. These goodies generally help you reach further into the dungeon, but some games offer unique spins on the mechanics.

Why are roguelite games so popular?

Well, they possess engaging gameplay; are mechanically demanding; typically have a high skill ceiling and a great sense of reward after finally getting a good run! Combine that with bedazzling art styles, unique characters, and a vast pallet of environments, and you’ll have the perfect old-school gaming recipe!

Looking for a different list? Looking for casual singleplayer games you can chill with? Check out our list of short singleplayer experiences for busy folks!

Best Roguelite Games in 2021

The start of 2021 was pretty good for roguelite fans! Curse of the Dead Gods was the first big game this year, and it’s safe to say it fulfilled peoples’ expectations. That said, it definitely deserves a spot on our list.

But, last year’s GOTY nominee, Hades, and 2017’s runner-up for best action game, Dead Cells, still rule the roguelite genre with an iron fist. Let’s take a closer look at the best roguelites you can play in 2021!

1. Hades

Hades is definitely the best roguelite game that was released in the last two years. It’s not even a competition – Supergiant Games’ roguelite masterpiece belongs in the upper echelons of the entire gaming industry, not just the roguelite category.

With one of the best stories ever told in the genre, tons of dialog, and an intricate progression system, we’re talking about one of the most immersive and tactically-complex roguelite games out there.

A quick story 101 – Hades lets you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, and puts you in an ever-repeating quest of escaping the Underworld and reaching Mount Olympus. We’re looking at an isometric game here; one focusing on rapid movements, joyful combos, and brilliant, upgradeable weapons. Even though you’re trying to escape the Underworld on your own, you’re constantly being helped by various gods from the Greek Mythology. It’s following the mythology consistently throughout the story, though it’s not the most authentic depiction.

As for the gameplay, it’s rather explosive! You can play the game in tons of different styles, melee, ranged, aoe, debuffs, etc. Each run will be different, no matter how hard you try to force the playstyle that suits you. The whole upgrade system, both persistent and run-based, is impressively balanced with just the right dose of complexity… and don’t even get me started on the combat mechanics. Some say it’s repetitive, but I guess it all depends on how many times it takes you to beat it.

Everything is repetitive when you’re 60 runs in and still can’t beat Minotaur, Jerry!

Why is Hades so popular; what makes it stand out among other good roguelite games out there?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question right there. I don’t think that one single element makes Hades such a remarkable game. In my books, it’s the combination of everything we’ve mentioned earlier. The mesmerizing art style, excellent storytelling, and above everything else – addictive gameplay coupled with well-balanced and perfectly complex post-mortem persistency… I know it’s a mouthful, but that’s exactly what makes Hades such a damn good game!

2. Dead Cells

I reckon Dead Cells is one of the most mainstream roguelites out there. Developed and published by Motion Twin, Dead Cells is a pixel-perfect 2D roguelite with a massive list of weapons, skills, and mutations. It’s got a well-developed system of persistency, a complex map of rooms, and several boss fights that’ll test both your wits and mechanical abilities.

Dead Cells is a game in which you will die… a lot! And I’m not even exaggerating here, you will DIE A LOT in Dead Cells. It’s an essential part of the game, nothing more and nothing less.

Story-wise, Dead Cells is rather mysterious. The game lets players figure stuff out and connect the dots on their own. You’ll frequently stumble upon weird rooms with pop-up text. They’re both witty, interesting, and outright mysterious.

The sense of mystery completely disappears once the game’s combat and upgrade systems come into play. Dead Cells is based on two in-game currencies – runes and gold. You lose both after dying, though you spend cells on weapons, skills, and other permanent upgrades in between the levels. You can get a permanent upgrade for gold persistency too, but the amounts won’t sweep you off your feet.

All in all, Dead Cells offers an artistically charming, yet rather challenging and mysterious experience, definitely worth being labeled as one of the best roguelite games to play in 2021!

Curse of the Dead Gods

Curse of the Dead Gods is the newest game on this list! It’s slightly more than a month old now, but it’s already getting all sorts of labels out there. The reception has been pretty good so far, and if you haven’t tried it out, I warmly advise you to do so right now.

I’m not even kidding here, boys – stop reading this piece and try out the game. It’s available on Steam for 20€, but you can get a refund within two hours of gameplay if you don’t like it… though I reckon that’s a highly unlikely scenario.

Once we got our hands on the first gameplay videos, we all thought it was going to be a Hades copy. But, it’s safe to say the boys over at Passtech Games pulled a fast one on us! Hades and CotDG are both isometric roguelites… but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

The combat is executed differently, though some similarities do exist. However, the biggest differences lie in CotDG’s unique little quirks. I’m referring to the curse and corruption elements that bring out a cool new system that we might see more of in upcoming roguelite games.

The storytelling elements aren’t up to par with those of Hades, though, Curse of the Dead Gods throws you into the fight right away and you’re supposed to figure stuff out on your own. Don’t worry, you will be guided through the basic gameplay elements.

The art style is awesome, though a bit on the darker side of things. It’s sort of like a slightly jollier version of The Darkest Dungeon’s gothic art style. it fits perfectly with other gameplay elements. All in all, Curse of the Dead Gods offers a marvelous experience and could be the best roguelite game this year!

Honorable Mentions

There are a few honorable mentions we have to emphasize here. If you’re looking for good starting points here, Spelunky 2 and Slay the Spire might be excellent options. Each brings forth not just a unique art style but completely different game mechanics.

Slay the Spire offers an innovative combination of card games and roguelike mechanics. Yessir, this game is more of a roguelike representative here, focusing around tactics and experience more than anything else. It still makes for a fun entrance into the world of roguelikes/roguelikes.

Spelunky 2, on the other hand, is your typical mixture of 2D platformer+combat type of game. It’s challenging, has gorgeous cartoony graphics, and various environments you’ll absolutely adore. It’s worth checking out, that’s for sure!

There are many more excellent indie games out there with roguelike/roguelite elements. A simple Google search and a couple of YouTube entries later and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of stuff that is right up your alley, both art and mechanics-wise.

Upcoming Roguelite Games in 2021

But, 2021 promises a lot of things for the roguelite community. Here’s a quick look at the five upcoming titles that could make waves later this year:

  • Duil
  • The Unliving
  • Mystiqa
  • Tombstar
  • Blade Assault

This short list brings us to the end of this piece. Hope you’ve enjoyed the show; please take your time and try out the three above-featured titles. No matter what sort of gaming background you’re coming from, give CotDG, Hades, or Dead Cells a test – you might get hooked!



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