True Roguelikes Like This Are For Sick People, Drink From My Poison Chalice

True Roguelikes Like This Are For Sick People, Drink From My Poison Chalice
Image: Dylan White

There are over 40 blood wolves around me, and they are absolutely kicking vampire arse. Those are wolves made of blood, in case you weren’t sure that’s what I meant. You’d think the vampires would be drinking that blood, but no, there are just too many blood wolves. They’re getting owned. I am a terrible wizard, but a great dog trainer. Which is why I love Rift Wizard.

The term “roguelike” is thrown around a lot. It has come to mean a run-based game with procedural generation, and a significant amount of opportunities for player expression or experimentation. However (I’m shaking my cane as I say this), traditionally the term roguelike is a bit more specific. A “true roguelike,” as some nerds would call it, refers to a game with a top-down sprite or ASCII-based design, that focuses on dungeon crawling, chaos, and player experimentation. They are games for people with very sick brains.

Dear Reader, I have a very sick brain.

Rift Wizard is a game for people with sick brains. It’s got all the classic roguelike shit: wacky spells and systems-driven interactions, ridiculous builds that turn you into a goofy demi-god, and some really difficult combat. This is all mostly par for the course. Rift Wizard, however, is more approachable than most roguelikes, because unlike most other games in the genre, where there are classes to choose from and stats to assign, there is only one class in Rift Wizard. Spoilers, it’s Wizard. There’s also only one stat, which is health, and health only increases when you pick up the big floating hearts in some levels, so it isn’t even like you have to worry about allocating enough skill points into it or whatever.

Instead, all of your precious skill points go to buying and upgrading the game’s several dozen spells, all of which are unlocked from the start. Rift Wizard’s procedural generation comes from its level design, not your character’s build. Each level has three skill points to collect, many enemies to defeat, and other goodies to pick up along the way. To beat a level, you kill all the guys with your magic. Simple.

And wow is it fun to blow up a lot of guys with magic. Spells in Rift Wizard are broken up into over a dozen different categories. Sorceries are things like magic missiles and fireballs. Spells that shoot shit. Conjuration is making anything, which includes summoning wolves, but also producing fire from your hands; conjuration does a lot of shit. Each of these spells can be upgraded to become stronger (and more unwieldy) as you go. Your build emerges from what spells you choose and upgrade, and what magic circles the game puts in front of you.

Screenshot: Dylan White Screenshot: Dylan White

Magic circles are Rift Wizard’s way of encouraging you to try new builds. When standing in a magic circle, spells and skills of that category cost one less skill point than normal. So if the damage upgrade for my summoned wolves normally costs two skill points, when standing in a nature circle that cost is reduced to one. Which means you can get a lot of bang for your buck by leaning into whatever magic circle is on any given level. This can lead to some truly silly shit.

I, for example, love Nature builds. Nature covers a lot of things in Rift Wizard including weather, animals, poison, minion buffs — the list goes on. My favourite build so far left me with only one damage-dealing spell, poison strike, and three different summoning abilities, each of which were fully upgraded. The level seven wolf upgrade Wolf Pack spawns four wolves for the price of two. Combine that with the Blood Hound upgrade, which turns your wolves into demons made of blood who get a stacking attack buff every time they land a hit, and a spell modifier I earned by visiting a shrine that boosts their health by 50%, and you have an army of nigh-unkillable demonic dogs who can put out some wild damage.

But oh, the wolves were just the beginning. I also had a skill which spawns a spider every time an enemy dies to poison damage, and another that gives all of my minions a ranged poison attack. You can see where this is going.

Having successfully raised my army of wolves and spiders, the next logical conclusion was to get a venom bear. “What’s a venom bear?” you ask, foolishly. A venom bear is a poisonous bear. You may also be thinking to yourself, “Hey Ren, with all of these poison-spitting Blood Wolves, does the bear really add that much to the build?” And the answer to that question is no. No it doesn’t, but it was silly, so I spent like six skill points on it.

By the end of the run, the sheer volume of wolves onscreen were causing the game to take multiple seconds to get through a single turn of sprite-based combat. We are talking like thirty wolves and about as many enemies, all trying to move and attack at the same time. And it was glorious. At least, it was until I came up against an enemy with a chaining spell that eliminated my precious wolves by the dozens, and I was all but instantly killed.

Screenshot: Dylan White Screenshot: Dylan White

But I didn’t care that I had been instantly killed, because the dumb fun of the build had been taken to its logical conclusion. Which is the true joy of roguelikes. Looking at a character you’ve built and going, “Surely they wouldn’t let this actually work in-game,” only to realise that the developers have, in fact, let whatever stupid bullshit you’re doing be viable, is what these silly video games are all about.

Are true roguelikes too hard? Yes. Do they often hurt your eyes to look at? Yes. Are they incredibly funny, but in a way that is very difficult to explain to someone with an untainted brain? God yes. They are weird, fucked-up little gems and I will never stop playing them.

If any of this appeals to you, I genuinely recommend Rift Wizard. It is $US15 ($20) dollars and more than worth it if you want to poison your mind like I have.

Log in to comment on this story!