Dungeon-crawling, isometric action, limited progression, tough combat, and permadeath mechanics are key aspects of rogue-like games.
Rogue-like is an RPG sub-genre, but it’s more difficult than any RPG. Still, it’s one of the video-game descendants of the original tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.
But to find the best rogue-like games you can play right now, we need to understand what the genre means.
Selecting Rogue-Like Games
Gamers unconsciously know what rogue-like games are, but the definition is flimsy. So, I’m displaying the common genre elements. It will help us determine the best alternatives.
- Setting: The genre uses fantastical or mythical settings. As an RPG sub-genre, seeing medieval fantasies is common for rogue-like settings.
- Runs: You run through a series of levels, chapters, or maps to escape or reach a goal. If you die during the journey, you go back to the beginning.
- Dungeon-crawling: These maps are anything and closed areas like rooms, dungeons, castles, caves, and similar.
- Hub Area: There’s a set area, like a town or a village, where you can trade and interact with other NPCs in-between runs.
- Procedural Generation: The system randomly generates the maps and the enemies on the maps. No run will be the same.
- Isometric Visuals: Commonly, you play with a 3D character in 2D scenarios.
- Action: Combat is the main part of the experience. It’s punishing as it features many enemies, boss fights, and tough enemy AIs.
- Combat: Combat may be hack & slash, real-time action-RPG, turn-based, or turn-based with grids.
- Run Progression: During the run, you encounter randomized items and power-ups to improve your character in many ways. You lose the progress on death.
- Permadeath: Depending on how the game’s story explains it, you may have to start over with a new character after death or try again.
- Save Files: You can save the game before or after a run, but not in the middle of a journey.
- Permanent Progression: “Rogue-Like” games offer permanent progression. It works by finding collectibles that pay for passive upgrades, like more HP.
- Scarce Items: Items that help you survive during the run are limited. It forces you to micro-manage what you find in the maps or dungeons.
- Character Customization: You may get options to customize your character’s class, race, skills, gender, appearance, and attributes at the start of the game.
- Non-modality: Lastly, you can do every in-game action at any moment. It allows you to bypass obstacles and solve puzzles.
Modern Rogue-like games take elements from many other genres to keep expanding the genre. Rather than having a stagnant formula, the category keeps growing in creative ways.
Still, we believe rogue-like fans would like games featuring a mix or a twist of the elements below. Of course, we need to keep dungeon-crawling, hack & slash, procedural generation, and permadeath.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
- Developer: Nicalis
- Publisher: Nicalis
- Release Date: November 2014
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS, PS4, PSVita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the most popular and top-rated rogue-like title on Steam. The developers describe it as an action RPG top-down directional shooter with “heavy rogue-like” elements.
You play as Isaac, a young kid. Like the Bible’s legend, the mother thinks Isaac’s purpose is to become a sacrifice for God. Your goal is to escape the house in a series of interconnected and procedurally generated rooms and corridors.
During each run, you’ll find items that grant Isaac super-human abilities. Your enemies, though, are plentiful and monstrous. You’ll have to fight them with ranged weapons, special skills, and items.
The experience offers over 500 hours of gameplay. That includes hundreds of items to find, over 100 playable characters to unlock, and many upgradable shops and runes. Moreover, you can play the entire game in co-op with a friend.
Lastly, the game is a remake of the 2011 Binding of Isaac title. The new version features new hand-drawn pixel art, polished effects, new soundtrack and audio, character redesigns, and 60 fps performance.
- Developer: Supergiant Games
- Publisher: Supergiant Games
- Release Date: December 2018(Early access)
- Platform: Windows, macOS, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Nintendo Switch
Hades is a hit title with amazing hand-drawn art, outstanding voice-acting, and stellar original music. You play as Zagreus, Hades’ son, on the endless dungeon-crawling to escape the Underworld and find his missing mother. Yet, neither the gameplay nor the story ends after finding your mother.
You go through 4 regions representing distinct areas in Greek mythology’s Underworld. Each area has several procedurally generated instances. Moreover, after defeating all enemies, you can decide your next instance out of two or three options, according to the reward.
On each run, you receive randomized power-ups from the Greek gods. It allows you to customize your character in multiple ways. You can also unlock five weapons that further alter gameplay or find items to buy permanent upgrades.
The gameplay happens with isometric graphics and real-time action-RPG mechanics. You move with WASD mechanics (or thumbstick), and you can attack, dash, use skills, and use a ranged ability. Each region features a final boss, and the last enemy is Hades himself.
Lastly, the world’s hub is where many Underworld figures live. You can interact almost endlessly with NPCs, and they will always have something to say. They even react to how far you go on your runs, what you achieve, and what you give them. You can also improve the hub to enable new features for the runs.
- Developer: Mossmouth, LLC
- Publisher: Mossmouth, LLC
- Release Date: December 2008
- Platform: Windows, Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Spelunky is a classic rogue-like featuring the classic genre elements. You fight and dig through a system of procedurally generated caverns in 2D. These environments are fully destructive and full of secrets, enemies, treasure, and traps.
There’re also significant RPG elements. You can choose how to interact with enemies or NPCs at any point. You can flee, fight, rescue, kill, steal, shop, etc. Naturally, there’s a camp, a hub where you can interact with NPCs and check your progress.
Aside from exploring caves, the additional Daily Challenge mode generates randomized missions. You can play them for a reward with one of the 16 unlockable explorers.
You can play the entire adventure online with three additional players. They may help you or hinder you. Similarly, you can play on death, catch arenas against your friends, bots, or both.
Lastly, if you like the game, you can try Spelunky 2. The 2022 game follows similar formulas, but the characters are exploring the Moon rather than exploring caves. Moreover, it leans heavily into a story-driven narrative, as the explorers are finding their missing family.
Risk of Rain 2
- Developer: Hopoo Games
- Publisher: Gearbox Software
- Release Date: August 2020
- Platform: Windows, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Google Stadia
Risk of Rain 2 is about escaping an alien planet with one of the characters (classes) you choose. It’s a rogue-like but also a third-person super-powered shooter.
You play through 9 procedurally randomized areas, and the ultimate goal is defeating the final enemy. These areas are hand-crafted and pack challenging enemies and bosses at the end of each region.
It may take over 50 runs to reach the mechanical mastery you need to defeat the game. Death means starting over, which makes you lose any of the hundreds of items you’ve found on any given run.
You can combine the loot you find on runs in surprising and creative ways for progression. Moreover, your character levels up indefinitely, but enemies will also level up simultaneously. It means runs and difficulty scaling are both endless.
Lastly, the game has eleven playable survivors, some of which you need to unlock. Each packs different guns, skills, and perks. On top of that, you can play with up to three friends in an online co-op or participate in the randomized Prismatic Trials challenges.
Slay the Spire
- Developer: MegaCrit
- Publisher: Humble Bundle
- Release Date: January 2019
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS
Slay The Spire is a rogue-like title and a card collector game with turn-based combat. In essence, you fight your way to the top of the tower while crafting a unique deck.
Combat happens in 2D. Your character takes turns employing the cards on your deck against a group of enemies or a boss. Defeating the enemies rewards new cards, you can add to your deck. Losing a fight means going back to the beginning.
Gameplay happens in three parts. The map interface lets you choose where to go after defeating an instance. Then, there’s the turn-based combat mode. And lastly, there’s the deck-building mode.
You can play with one of the four classes featuring a unique deck. Then, you can mix and match hundreds of cards to create a powerful arsenal. Combat, enemies, instances, and cards are randomized.
Lastly, you can find relics as you explore the Spire. These give permanent effects to your deck and cards. Obtaining the relics requires defeating powerful and optional bosses.
- Developer: Motion Twin, Evil Empire
- Publisher: Motion Twin, Playdigious
- Release Date: August 2018
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, Steam OS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, iOS, Android
Dead Cells is a rogue-like game with Metroidvania elements and action-platformer 2D combat. The developers call it a “roguevania” title, but the ingredients are familiar.
You kill, explore procedurally generated areas, unlock power-ups, learn new combat mechanics, die, and repeat. The unique element is how the entire map is connected, and some items and skills may open previously inaccessible areas.
The action is akin to Souls-like games. The combat is tough, and it relies on dodges, light attacks, heavy attacks, ranged skills, and special abilities. Moreover, there’re over fifty weapons, each one featuring unique gameplay mechanics.
The game also encourages exploration. There’re many hidden passages, secret rooms, and extra loot. Moreover, the title uses gorgeous pixel art, so you can find great-looking landscapes by exploring the world.
Lastly, you lose all power-ups on death, but there’re permanent upgrades. These are weapon upgrades you find on each run, and these items are mostly hidden throughout the world.
Rogue Legacy 2
- Developer: Cellar Door Games
- Publisher: Cellar Door Games
- Release Date: August 2020
- Platform: Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series
Rogue Legacy 2 is an action-platformer with rogue-like mechanics and Metroidvania elements. You control characters in procedurally generated dungeons searching for enemies and treasures.
Every time you die, one of your children will succeed and continue the journey. Each child spawns with randomized character perks, builds, and class. Also, dead characters leave an inheritance you can spend to permanently upgrade combat skills.
There’re various classes in the game, most of which feature unique gameplay. Then, you can find Relics on each run, which modify and upgrade characters in different ways. Lastly, you can play various game modes and enjoy a New Game+ feature after defeating the final boss.
As you explore the dungeons, you can collect Heirlooms. These are special items offering permanent skill upgrades, and they are hidden in secret rooms. Aside from these items, you lose all progress on death and start over with a new character.
Lastly, the game has 2.5D hand-drawn scenarios and 3D characters. Then, the story goes across six biomes. These areas feature areas you can unlock by backtracking with newly-found Heirlooms.
- Developer: Four Quarters
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Release Date: March 2021
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Loop Hero is hard to explain. It’s a card collector and a rogue-like title on an endless loop. However, combat is automatic, as you see your character duke it out with the enemy without your help.
Then, you explore a 2D pixelated world, moving around as if you were moving on a tabletop board. As you explore each area, you’ll encounter enemies, and winning battles rewards landscape cards. Alternatively, they may drop items that upgrade your character permanently.
You make repetitive trips around the world as a loop. At first, only a few monsters will spawn. But as you fight and place cards on the map, you’ll find different meters to spawn the events the story needs you to spam. Some of these are new areas; others are tough boss fights.
Additionally, landscape cards allow you to alter the terrain around you by placing meadows, forests, and buildings. Terrain features give different effects, such as healing, speed boosts, or extra enemy spawns.
Lastly, the story follows a hero on a quest to rebuild the world after evil destroyed reality. So, one of the main mechanics is upgrading and expanding a camp with the resources you find. It grants passive upgrades for your runs.
FTL: Faster Than Light
- Developer: Subset Games
- Publisher: Subset Games
- Release Date: September 2012
- Platform: Windows, macOS, Linux, SteamOS, iOS
FTL is a spaceship simulation with rogue-like elements. You control a ship and its crew across a randomly generated galaxy. The entire experience happens in 2D, and there’re three core mechanics.
First, you buy upgrades for your ship, build your ship modules, and fight against other ships. Then, each one of your crewmates controls different modules or rooms on your spaceship during combat, or they can board the enemy ship for close action.
I would say it’s the hardest game on the list. Winning a battle feels like a heroic deed. In comparison, losing is common, and seeing your ship blow up or run out of oxygen is as sad as starting over.
Visually, the game looks simple. However, the 16-bit art allows the game’s system to run multiple events to happen at the same time. It’s a full-on simulation that takes many things into account. That means your ship’s shields, air, fuel, and crewmates’ perks and expertise.
Lastly, FTL follows a story of rebels vs. a ruling power. The story fleshes out each side of the conflict. Moreover, the mechanics allow each faction, and even each ship, to have its unique perks. Your enemies can do exactly what you do, which includes actions like fleeing, asking for mercy, or boarding your vessel.
- Developer: Nolla Games
- Publisher: Nolla Games
- Release Date: October 2020
- Platform: Windows
Noita is an action rogue-like with a pixel art setting. You explore procedurally generated dungeons while using magics you craft to fight. You play as a sorcerer in a story that emulates a Finnish legend, Kalevala.
Particularly, the game physically simulates every pixel in the world. That makes the scenarios highly interactive, randomized, and smart. You can destroy, burn, melt, and freeze almost anything.
Then, you can craft your own magic by mixing and magic different spells you learn. As you explore deeper and deeper, your magic grows increasingly complex and powerful. You lose these combinations, as well as any power-ups, on death.
Monsters come from Finnish mythologies and have 2D models upon 2D settings. The enemy variety is fair, and enemy AI makes foes tough, vicious, and capable of working together to defeat you.
Lastly, the game features no permanent upgrades. Instead, completing a run relies on players mastering its mechanics and learning about the spell combinations you can create.
- Developer: Red Nexus Games Inc.
- Publisher: Red Nexus Games Inc., IndieArk
- Release Date: April 2022 (Early Access)
- Platform: Windows, macOS
Peglin is, as developers say, a “Pachinko Roguelike.” Like other games on the list, it’s hard to explain, as it mixes 2D combat, “Pinball”-mechanics, and text-based desition making.
You explore a randomly generated world from a map interface by selecting where to go. Then, you face enemies on the surface but fight with Pinball mechanics. It means you collect orbs, which you later use to gain “points” as they hit targets and these points transfer as damage to your enemies.
You would also know its mechanics as “Pachinko.” You hit pegs with an orb, and each peg you hit sums up your damage and your crits. The orbs you collect interact with these pegs in different ways, which means adding up extra damage and buffs.
If you don’t defeat the enemies, your run is over, and you lose all of the orbs you have collected. However, you can keep some progress as relics that influence enemies and yourself.
The story follows dragons who have been stealing gold for many years. You’re a little goblin, venturing into the woods to defeat the dragons in their lair and take back what’s yours.
- Developer: Daniel Mullins Games
- Publisher: Developer Digital
- Release Date: October 2021
- Platform: Windows
We left the best title for last. Maybe not the best, but certainly the most unique. If you’re familiar, it comes from Pony Island’s creator, a game we included on our games like Undertale list.
And like Pony Island, it features a creepy trailer, a demonic world, and a story-driven focus. The start starts when a demonic being forces you to play a card game for your life.
In essence, there’re three core gameplay features. The main experience is playing on 4X4 card grinds. You place the cards from your deck to defeat your opponent’s cards and drain the enemy’s HP bar. Then, you build your deck and move across a tabletop board.
The story grows increasingly scary and unhinged as each of the three Acts includes new mechanics. In fact, a later act overhauls the mechanics to deliver turn-based combat more akin to Pokemon games.
Inscryption has been wildly popular. For example, an indie game with over 64K reviews on Steam. Ultimately, though, it’s not for everyone, as its horror, evolving mechanics, and lack of straight storytelling may deter some players.