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The Best Roguelike Games

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Ask three different video game fans to define what a “Roguelike” is, and chances are, you’re likely to get three very different responses: One might say "Oh yeah, those are like that game with the sexy greek gods!" Another might reply "No, you idiot, Hades is a Rogue-LITE. A rogueLIKE is a game like Spelunky." And another still might slam their hands on the table and shout, "The reason why they're called rogueLIKES is because they're LIKE the 1980s dungeon crawler rogue. None of those games are roguelikes at all!"

The 10 Best Roguelike Games

All this to say, that this is a genre with a hotly contested definition, which is why making a list of the top 10 best roguelikes is a bit tricky, but we feel like its still worth doing because the games within it are honestly among the most influential of the past few decades. So, we’re going to simplify the definition to simply be:

A game that features both procedural generation and permadeath as core elements of gameplay (ie: It's not just a mode that you have the option of turning on or off.)

So, whether it's a Roguelike, a Roguelite, or a “game that’s like Rogue,” we’re just gonna bundle them all together for our picks of the top 10 best Roguelikes of all time.

10. Enter the Gungeon

Enter the Gungeon may be at the number ten spot on our list, but it's number ten with a bullet! Or a thousand. This top-down bullet hell roguelike from Dodge Roll sees an assortment of cheery pixel-art characters descending through chambers of increasing difficulty and besting epic boss-battles to try and find a gun capable of killing their past — literallty unwriting their greatest regret. To do so, they'll have to collect a near-bottomless assortment of different guns, and the armory is where this game really shines. Never before has a game been so gun-themed, with the entire concept of a gungeon carried through to a level of detail we didn't think possible. Like all of the best roguelikes, each run feels different, because the many different guns fundamentally change the way you play, and there are more of them than you can shake a joystick at. Between the excellent bullet hell dodgy gameplay, the plethora of weapons, and the dozens of cheeky reference and easter eggs, Enter the Gungeon more than earns its place on a list of the best roguelikes.

9. Into the Breach

The follow-up to FTL from developer Subset Games doesn’t fly quite as high up on this list as its predecessor, but Into the Breach is undoubtedly one of the most nuanced and strategic roguelikes around. Its particular flavor of time traveling tactics combat plays out more like a careful game of chess than a hard-hitting warzone – only all the chess pieces are replaced by giant mechs fighting back a city destroying kaiju threat. Each encounter could only be a handful of turns long, but the amount of choice you have during those turns is staggering. Enemies are satisfyingly consistent and dastardly destructive at the same time, forcing you to plan moves far into the future in order to address both what they’re doing now and what they could do down the line. Learning that depth from run to run can be incredibly rewarding, especially as you start to realize when sacrificing a rocket-wielding pawn might hurt in the short term but be better in the long run. Into the Breach is a strategy roguelike packed with hard choices, but it’s also one that still lets you taste the sweet reward of making them right.

8. Rogue Legacy

Prior to 2013, no one would have ever imagined that the roguelike genre would fit so snuggly with a metroidvania style of design, but then Rogue Legacy came along and flung the doors wide open by adding permanent progression that carried over from run to run, allowing players to supplement the skill that they gained through the experience of repeated runs, with stat upgrades, new pieces of gear, and new abilities that would make the dramatic difficulty spike of later biomes much more manageable. This proved to be quite groundbreaking, and would be something that many other games within the genre, several of which also wound up on this list, would also add to their games. Apart from being influential though, Rogue Legacy was also just a great game, with the aforementioned excellent progression, a fantastic blend of difficult bullet hell’ish combat with intense platforming challenges, and really clever procedural generation that made sure no two runs ever felt alike.

7. Nethack

Nethack could be the deepest PC game ever made. Sound like hyperbole? Consider that there are well over 1000 ways to die, from being petrified while swallowing a Cockatrice whole, to falling into a sink (it's a long story). Without a graphics engine to worry about, Nethack players are limited only by their imagination in solving problems. Worried about eels dragging you into a body of water? Just grease up your armor, or maybe teleport the eel on to dry land, or wear an amulet of magical breathing. Winning isn't so much the point as exploring its many, many systems. Nethack is a direct descendant of Rogue, and retains the same basic rules, but 30 years of development has made it far, far more complex. It's perhaps the ultimate expression of the traditional "roguelike," one that retains a loyal following to this day. If you want to understand where Spelunky, Hades, and Returnal came from, then look to Nethack.

6. Dead Cells

Dead Cells accentuates the “just one more round” philosophy of a great roguelike by empowering you with lightning fast movement and twitchy combat in a 2D sidescrolling space, making life or death decisions happen in the blink of an eye. Dashing through increasingly hostile biomes and utilizing your ever-expanding arsenal of unlocked weapons and attributes against armies of enemies – all while mastering your platforming reflexes – makes for an incredibly satisfying loop. Throw in some large, devastating bosses and the ability to branch your own custom path through unlocked areas in the order of your choosing and you have a recipe for near infinite replayability and customization, creating one of the best games in its class.

5. FTL

As one of sci-fi’s greatest spaceship captains once said, “Never tell me the odds.” Pursued by evil rebels and faced with hostile aliens and tough life-and-death decisions at nearly every turn, your dinky spaceship doesn’t have much of a chance of accomplishing its mission – but that hint of a chance is all you need. FTL is a thrilling, repeatable adventure: all sorts of tension comes from both decision-based story events ripped from sci-fi shows that can have game-changing consequences and pausable real-time combat that requires a smart strategy for taking down enemies' shields and disabling their systems – and a little bit of luck when it comes to dodging incoming missiles. Building up your ship with the best crew, weapons, and upgrades you can get your hands on in the hopes of surviving going toe-to-toe against a massive enemy mothership is a fantastically repeatable challenge, especially once you’ve unlocked some additional ships with new configurations.

4. Slay the Spire

Every roguelike asks you to play the hand you’re dealt as it deals out all manner of unpredictable upgrades to work with, but Slay the Spire’s deck-building design takes that idiom much more literally than most. It’s simply amazing how willing this game is to throw caution into the wind and let you completely upend its smartly constructed and orderly rules. If you happen into the right combination of character class, modifying relics, and powerful cards, all bets are off: the Defect, whose apparent strength is summonable orbs that automatically attack or defend every turn, can be transformed into a melee powerhouse with almost unlimited attacks; or the Ironclad warrior can turn into a vampiric powerhouse who sacrifices his own health to do damage. More than that, the fundamentals can go out the window. This run you don’t discard your hand at the end of a turn! Next time you can gain cards from any character’s deck! Or maybe every card’s casting cost is randomized? It’s all over the place and the one thing you can count on is not knowing for sure where your build will end up.

3. Spelunky 2

Both the original freeware version of Spelunky, and its 2012 HD remake had such a monumental impact on this genre of Roguelikes that, without its influence, it’s honestly tough to even imagine most of the games on this list even existing. Spelunky 2, released 12 years later, somehow managed to take all of the elements of that genre defining game and improve upon them without ever sacrificing any of the procedurally generated magic that made Spelunky so special. There are more secrets to discover, more biomes to explore, and most importantly, more stories to tell. Spelunky 2, like its predecessors before it, is quite simply one of the most shining examples of emergent gameplay throughout all of video games, and the stories of both glorious triumph and heartbreaking failure are what make it unforgettable.

2. Hades

Success in spite of a failure is where Hades shines. No matter what happens over the course of a run, you're always making progress in the form of social connections with a colorful cast of NPCs, like: Achilles, Megara, 'Dusa, and more. Or if architecture is more your speed, building out the halls of Hades with precious gems that add permanent fixtures to upcoming runs. Improving weapons through unlocking weapon aspects, transforming each base weapon in the game into unique variants with its own playstyle. With so many reward loops that the player gets to revist, even after failed attempts, Hades never feels like its wasting your time. Failed runs feel like just a part of the story. And navigating the hellish obstacles of Hades on following escape attempts is frantic, fun, and always exciting thanks to various power-ups that come in the form of godly favors called boons. And if you need anymore reason to pickup Hades, IGN staff voted it IGN's 2020 game of the year.

1. The Binding of Isaac

At first glance, one might assume that The Binding of Isaac appears to be some sort of nightmarish, abominable take on the original Legend of Zelda’s top-down dungeons. Which isn’t wrong – that’s pretty much exactly how the original game was conceived in 2011. But swap out Zelda’s peppy elf protagonist and deliberately bespoke level design in favor of a deformed child making its way through endlessly harrowing and procedurally generated grotesque caverns and you’ll start to see how Isaac stands on its own. Isaac ultimately plays like a twin-stick shooter, just with dozens of passive and active power-ups to experiment with. It’s gross, difficult, but insanely rewarding, pushing players to live, die, and repeat until they reach the finish. A decade since its release, The Binding of Isaac not only remains one of the most influential games in its genre but also the greatest.

And that’s our list! This was a hard one list to put together, and some classics like Darkest Dungeon, and even some new games like Returnal and Curse of the Dead Gods just missing the list for one reason or another. For more top 10s, make sure to check out our lists for the top 10 Soulslikes and the top 10 Metroidvanias

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