Rogue Lords by Leikir Studio, Cyanide Studio
Rogue Lords, for starters, is terribly named. The game’s title conjures scenes of…well…not much, really, beyond maybe some sort of generic, vaguely Medieval fantasy struggle.
Colonial Monster Mash
The reason this is a problem is that the game’s spooky, campy setting and character is perhaps its biggest draw.
Imagine an alternate history of the early American colonies, when a few witchcraft accusations were the least a village like Salem had to worry about because a super-villain team-up involving no less than Count Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Headless Horseman were stalking the land. Their leader? The devil himself, of course.
And it’s all delivered in a tone that’s halfway between the camp of the old Universal monster movies and the childlike wonder of urban myths traded on playgrounds across the country. Bloody Mary, of “Say her name three times in a dark bathroom and she’ll come out of the mirror and kill you” fame, is a starting character.
Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what I’d call such a game, but it would definitely be something more evocative than “Rogue Lords.”
Dealing from the Devil’s Deck
The “rogue” part of Rogue Lords has become video game shorthand for “procedural generation,” and that part is accurate. The basic loop here involves traversing a procedurally generated map of encounters – which range from combat to skill-based story vignettes about terrorizing the townsfolk – while accumulating and improving a set of combat skills.
While the skills in question are presented as squares on a character sheet rather than cards in a deck, the mechanics here will be familiar to everyone who’s developed an addiction to games like Monster Train (between the mechanics and the campy gruesomeness, I was also immediately reminded of Deck of Ashes in particular).
You’ve got your attacks – and in Rogue Lords, you can defeat your enemies either physically or spiritually, and knocking either points pool down to nothing counts as a win – and you’ve got your special effects for defense, extra damage, blunting your enemies’ attacks, etc.
Each character even has special skills to refresh cards that have been discarded…or rather skills that have been used.
God Doesn’t Play Dice, but Satan Does (and He Cheats)
Rogue Lords does have one thing that sets it apart from the increasingly crowded field of competitors: you can cheat. You are the devil, after all.
Drawing on a pool of “diabolic essence,” you can wreak all sorts of havoc, from improving your characters’ chances in story-based challenges to wiping out your enemies in combat. You can even rearrange status effects during fights; why not swap out the damage-over-time effect your character is suffering with an enemy’s healing effect? Run out of diabolic essence, though, and it’s game over, straight back to Hell with your forked tail between your legs.
While innovative, “Devil Mode” isn’t enough by itself to rank Rogue Lords above titans like Slay the Spire, and the game does suffer from some of the genre’s common complaints, like a certain repetitiveness and occasional imbalances with the random number generator.
But between some clever twists to established mechanics, a distinctive setting, and its over-the-top sense of sinister camp, Rogue Lords makes for a fun new face in the crowd: a face with devil horns and an exaggerated scary expression.
Rogue Lords is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Rogue Lords below: