I’ve mentioned in the past how the entire roguelike/roguelite genre of games are essentially incompatible with me as a person, but knowing that hasn’t stopped me from giving last year’s critically acclaimed Hades another shot when it released on Game Pass a few days ago. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with Hades while possibly seeing if the, “it’s a roguelike for people who don’t like roguelikes” claim had any truth to it, and possibly changing my first impression with the game last year. Ultimately, I didn’t end up falling in love with the genre or Hades at all. I think I can explain it though.
I’ve tried so many roguelikes over the years, desperately trying to find my way into enjoying anything about these games. From Spelunky to The Binding of Isaac and more, none of the games managed to grip me in any meaningful way. In the case of The Binding of Isaac, I just found the whole vibe of that game pretty gross and repugnant, which cut my playing time short way sooner than the roguelike mechanics did.
But even games that didn’t make me want to barf from just looking at them, never managed to hold my interest for too long regardless of what kind of game was wrapped around it. Games like FTL and Into the Breach are both critically acclaimed roguelikes that aren’t a side-scrolling platformers or top-down shooters, but even their unique gameplay mechanics weren’t enough to get me to actually play more than once or twice.
So what’s the deal here then? Plenty of games are repetitive and have you doing the same thing over and over, so what is it about roguelikes that stand apart? The honest answer is that I don’t really know. My theory is that when I have to do something repetitive in a linear game, it’s in service of moving forward. Sure that sequence sucked, but I’ll never have to do it again unless I feel like replaying the game at some point. But with roguelikes, that is the game. The lack of progression in roguelikes is probably what gets me the most. Sure you’ll unlock new weapons or powers or whatever, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still have to trudge through painfully familiar levels with the same enemies as I did before.
I’m sure there are plenty of people that would take umbrage with that previous paragraph, but roguelikes always felt like a slower burn to me when it comes to progressing. It reminds me a bit of those factory games, where you have make everything run as efficiently as possible. The fun there is in optimizing every piece of the assembly line so that you’re getting the most of out your time and production. Roguelikes have a similar thing where you’re making progress to help you better make progress next time. Maybe it’s experience doublers, or better weapons, higher HP, or level shortcuts, but it all feels like a lot of micromanaging, which is something I truly do not enjoy in video games.
Games like Hades, Risk of Rain 2 and Dead Cells, managed to make a compelling argument for why I should actually keep playing, both of which have to do with their excellent gameplay. But that only can keep me interested for so long before I feel the repetitive grind start to wear me down.
These gripes and issues are entirely on me though and I recognize that. It’s my impatience and unwillingness to learn and commit these patterns to memory that’s holding me back from actually engaging with this genre in a meaningful way. Roguelikes seem like a pretty long-term commitment that requires you to play them with some regularity, and that’s the complete opposite of what I’m looking for in a video game these days. Give me something shorter with well-defined and clear goals that I can blaze through in a few hours, not a new craft for me to master.
I know plenty of people who are head-over-heels for roguelikes, and in some cases have built a considerable following around streaming them, but I just cannot muster any modicum of enthusiasm for the genre. It sucks to have to basically shut myself off from an entire genre, but if the “best roguelike around” can’t change my opinion, then it’s time to cut my losses and walk away from the genre entirely. I hope that we get more great roguelike games for the people who can actually enjoy them, but at this point I need to stop trying and just save my money.