If you are someone who wants to heroically (or not-so-heroically) vanquish various bad guys, the market is full of video games allowing you to go on a Crusade against demonic or undead hordes, alone or with friends. But what if your desires lie far from the holy light and utopia for all? What if you’d rather play by your own rules, bringing terror into the hearts of the righteous and rigging the dice before the game even begins?
Enter Rogue Lords, a dark fantasy roguelike developed by Leikir and Cyanide and published by Nacon. The game allows you to play The Devil, no more and no less, with all the things it entails. Such as leading various dark disciples, using your evil powers to transform the battlefield to your liking, making the righteous lose their way and taking revenge against those who slighted you – or those you don’t like, just because you can.
Rig the dice and play by your own rules – this is our Rogue Lords Steam review!
Of course, it won’t be much fun if you could destroy everyone with a snap of fingers from the very beginning, Thanos-style. And so the game explains The Devil’s weakened state in the following way:
Led by one and only Van Helsing, the forces of good and Demon Hunters have managed to defeat the Devil and hoard the precious artifacts for themselves. However, evil is always one step ahead. Even weakened, our antagonistic protagonist managed to return decades later to a disgustingly peaceful world that embraced a new religion, the Sanctua Lumen, which in turn robs you of the souls of the deceased that could be used as fuel for greatness.
Your enemies have become extremely powerful and, in their arrogance, have forgotten all about their nefarious enemy and his dark Disciples. To get your revenge against the disgusting Demon Hunters, you first need to strengthen your followers, restore some of your own powers, reinstate the hold over the world of humans and re-acquire the artifacts that belonged to you to begin with.
Assemble a team of three Disciples – in the very beginning represented by Dracula, Headless Horseman and Bloody Mary – and send them forth to enforce your will on the population of the world. As you progress through the game, you will be able to unlock more characters such as the White Lady, Lilith, Hecate, Baron Samedi, and Frankenstein and his Creature. Each of them possesses their own unique abilities, story beats, gameplay and even social interactions.
For the best result, you want to combine their abilities in such a way that they would complement each other, being further empowered by relics you can get by defeating elite armies met on your way.
You can also empower your Disciples in a variety of ways: by exchanging the souls to strengthen their abilities, upgrading their abilities to a greater rarity, equipping relics, using certain characters for social interactions, picking difficulties of your battles for the greatest reward, etc.
Of course, a large amount of your time in-game will be spent battling against the forces of good: various Demon Hunters, Priestesses and other do-gooders. The battles are happening in turn-based mode, with the entirety of one team having a go and then swapping to the other one.
Characters have two bars: the usual Health Points (HP) and the Spiritual Points (SP). Attacking abilities usually damage only one of those, but there are some that can deal damage to both. Once the particular number reaches zero, the character becomes vulnerable. At this point, you need to make another attack against the corresponding characteristic to finish them off.
You control all three Disciples at once but there are certain limitations to the way you can go about it: you have a certain number of Action Points (AP) that can be used per turn. Any ability used by a Disciple subtracts its cost from the overall AP, which tightly controls the number of actions you can take in turn. It is up to you whether you want to have just one Disciple use multiple attacks and exhaust APs or spread the actions across your entire group of three.
Additionally, Disciples abilities need recharging – usually, it is an ability that uses 2 AP and immediately resets all abilities. However, they can also be blocked by enemies and go on cooldown.
Of particular interest is the fact that you can see what the enemy characters intend to do once it’s their turn to act much like in Black Book, allowing you to set up the actions of your own Disciples accordingly. Does the enemy plan to use a relatively weak AoE attack? Put shields on your characters for it to fizzle out harmlessly against your dark magic. Is there a powerful attack being prepared against a weaker Disciple? Buff them up or use Taunt on a tankier character of yours to soak it for them.
But the MOST interesting feature is that the game allows you to basically cheat the system using your Devil powers. Why should a Devil be stopped by rules imposed on the mortals, after all?
Some of the things you can do:
- force Disciples’ abilities off cooldown
- increase or decrease HP/SP of your followers or enemies as you see fit
- swap buffs and debuffs
- open portals on the map
- increase the likelihood of success in various events
… provided you have enough of the special currency to do so.
It feels awesome to tip the scales in your favor, especially with the narrator sagely stating that the dice was loaded right from the start. If there was ever a feature that made me feel like I am in control of the way things are going, this is the one. Add in the unique artistic style of the game, smooth animations, atmospheric soundtrack and voice acting… and it had never felt so good to be bad.
Now onto the less flattering side of things.
Like many roguelikes out there, Rogue Lords suffers from one thing in particular: repetitiveness. Due to the small variativity in enemies and the length of any particular chapter you undertake, the game very quickly starts feeling repetitive.
Throw in that enemies also quickly learn how to AoE heal to offset your awesome Devil powers, extending any fight you encounter to a dozen turns at least, and it quickly gets boring. And I’m not even talking about Elite battles!
Double that if you wipe and have to replay the chapter from scratch. Even throwing in another combination of Disciples or choosing a different route through the map does not help the issue much.
In particular, the game lacks unusual fights: horde mode, boss fights, etc. At one point, the combats’ same-ness just catches up to you. Hopefully, the developers can spice it up by adding more variety: keeping NPCs alive, having to kill a certain enemy in a certain number of turns, killing somebody last, holding out a certain number of turns to complete a ritual or something, etc.
Another big issue is balance and RNG. The success rate of your run depends on the skills and artifacts you get from the shop or by finishing the events. With the power discrepancy between the offered choices being off the charts, RNG gods blessing or cursing you can make or break a particular run.
Considering the point above about a playthrough of a chapter lasting an extraordinary amount of time, bad RNG can amount to a drowned-out agony.
Note: the Steam key was provided for the purposes of this review.