Rogue-like games often come from indie developers, and we can agree that non-AAA studios are focusing more on quality, and less on micro-transactions.
So, while the genre doesn’t feature the best stories, the fuel of their gameplay is refined, smooth, and addictive.
However, finding rogue-like games depends on understanding the genre. In general terms, it means “running” through a series of maps to reach a goal. If you die during the journey, you go back to the beginning and lose all or most of the upgrades you have found.
The simple formula combines isometric action, dungeon-crawling, tough combat, and procedurally-generated levels. Let’s see which games have blended or twisted these elements to great results.
Hades is a hit title with amazing hand-drawn art, outstanding voice-acting, and stellar original music. You play as Zagreus, Hades’ son, on an endless isometric 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 a boss and several procedurally generated instances. After defeating all enemies, you can decide your next instance out of two or three options, and you know the reward you can get on each.
You play with slashes, dashes, ranged skills, power-ups, and WASD mechanics. You learn different powers on each run, and you can permanently unlock and upgrade weapons, HP, and other key stats with collectibles you find. Outside of combat, there’s a hub area s to talk to NPCs for lore.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
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 with top-down directional shooter mechanics, and “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. Additionally, there’re 100 playable characters to unlock and co-op support.
Darkest Dungeon is a 2D rogue-like dungeon-crawler with turn-based combat and RPG mechanics. You can recruit, train, and lead a 4-hero party through the decrepit mansion you inherited.
Its quirk is adding the “Affliction System.” The more you explore the area, the more stressed your character party gets. Stress produces random buffs and debuffs -even death, and you can lower it by resting or by consuming special items.
Lastly, you customize the party in the world’s hub, the town. However, party members that die on runs won’t be available anymore. Elsewhere, the game includes procedural dungeons, hero classes, and a way to permanently upgrade your characters.
Returnal is a third-person shooter rogue-like game. Compared to others, the game has two stages, so if you die at any point, you’ll go back to the beginning of the particular stage you’re playing.
The plot follows Selene Vassos, an astronaut trying to escape a time loop on an alien planet. The journey leads you across several procedurally generated levels full of fast-paced sci-fi action.
Its gameplay focuses on dodging bullets (like a bullet hell), aiming, and quick traversal. It can be very challenging, and it forces players to understand the game’s timing, upgrades, weapons, and bosses to complete the story.
Curse of the Dead Gods
Curse of the Dead Gods is a rogue-like dungeon-crawler with an isometric perspective and procedurally generated areas. In other words, it has the classic elements of the genre. Unique elements include dodge rolls, firearms, parries, and a torch to illuminate.
Another quirk is the “Corruption” meter. You gain corruption in various ways (such as healing or buying weapons), and it may give you a random Curse (a debuff). Additionally, you may find shrines to buy upgrades during your runes, as well as permanent upgrades.
Lastly, you explore dungeons with a top-down perspective. The gameplay has a WASD controller scheme, and an action bar to put your skills. Then, you unlock further skills and weapons on each run as you combat monsters and bypass traps.
Spelunky (& Spelunky 2)
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, treasures, 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.
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. And if you like the game, you can play the similar Spelunky 2, which debuted in 2022.
Risk of Rain 2
Risk of Rain 2 is about escaping an alien planet with one of the characters (classes) you choose. It’s a challenging 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. Also, you can explore these regions in co-op (up to 4 players online).
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.
Slay the Spire
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 and losing everything but the permanent deck upgrades.
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. You have dodges, light attacks, heavy attacks, ranged skills, and special abilities. Moreover, there’re over fifty weapons, each one featuring unique gameplay mechanics.
Rogue Legacy 2
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. Moreover, it is unique because it has 2.5D hand-drawn scenarios and 3D characters.
Every time you die, one of your children will succeed and continue the journey. Each child spawns with randomized character perks, builds, and classes. 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.
Loop Hero is 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. That said, the plot follows a hero on a quest to rebuild the world.
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. As you fight and place cards on the map, you’ll spawn story events like new areas and boss fights. Additionally, landscape maps alter the terrain to get combat effects.
Noita is an action rogue-like with a pixel art setting. You explore procedurally generated dungeons while using magics you craft to fight. Here, 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 magic by mixing and magic different spells you learn. You lose these combinations, as well as any power-ups, on death. By the way, you fight against 2D monsters of Finnish mythology.
Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon is a bullet-hell rogue-like game. You play as a “Gungeoneer” and traverse procedurally generated rooms to find the gun that can “kill the past.”
You play in 2D in a world that emulates a 16-bit graphics game. You move the character with one stick (or WASD) and aim with the other stick (or the mouse). You can shoot, loot guns, knock tables for cover, and dodge rolls.
Inscryption’s main gameplay is card battles on 4×4 grids and deck building. You can deplete the enemy’s HP when there’re no enemy card creatures on the field. If you lose, though, you’ll go back to the beginning of the Act you’re playing.
The story grows increasingly scary and unhinged as each of the three Acts includes new mechanics. The successful indie game follows a vlogger who found the game by the same name and now is forced to play it against a demonic entity to stay alive.
Compared to other games on the list, though, this one follows a story. It has a clear beginning, and a clear end, so it won’t offer several “runs” like the others.