Ever since Dungeon Keeper taught me that being evil in a video game can be fun, I’ve had no problems being the bad guy. I mean, in most role-playing games I always take the “good” morality choice, but if a game encourages me to be evil, there’s nothing wrong with doing just that. Rogue Lords doesn’t just ask you to play a villain, however, it wants you to play THE villain: the devil himself.
Rogue Lords is a turn-based roguelike that plays similar to a deck builder. In it, you play as the devil guiding fiendish Disciples on a campaign of terror across the countryside. While it’s technically not a deck builder, it will be familiar to those who enjoy deck building roguelikes. In it, you control your disciples as they travel from location to location hunting the forces of good. After taking a sound beating from Van Helsing and the Santua Lumen—an order devoted to hunting down the Disciples of the devil—you have to rally your forces to defeat the dominion of men. To do this, you have to gather several artifacts of power. The devil doesn’t fight his foes himself, however, his Disciples do all of the fighting. And these Disciples are familiar with Dracula, the Headless Horseman, and Bloody Mary—and more.
Anyone who has played a modern deckbuilding roguelike will find Rogue Lords extremely familiar. Each run consists of a series of combat encounters and events. As you progress through your run, you will acquire new skills and powerful artifacts. Artifacts work a lot like they do in games like Slay the Spire, and can carry a negative effect along with a powerful benefit that stays with you through your run. Abilities work a little differently than they do in other games, however. Each character has a set of their own abilities, these abilities can be upgraded by getting three copies of that same ability. While that may sound strange, each ability used in combat must be reset to be used again.
Combat in Rogue Lords is its main draw, and one of my least favorite parts of the game. At first, I was a little overwhelmed with how combat works. I’m no stranger to these games, yet finding fun and powerful synergy eluded me through many runs. Rogue Lords’ style of turn-based combat isn’t snappy enough for me. In fact, it feels like a slog. Your minions and your foes have two main gauges: health and soul points. If either one of these drops to zero, the character is not dead—but has to be hit again to take fatal damage. In your case, your minions don’t die, instead, any hits take away from the devil’s essence—and if that reaches zero, your run is over.
The devil’s essence isn’t just used as health, however. In a really clever and fun mechanic, you can spend devil’s essence to actually change the outcome of the game, and in really significant ways. Do you want to have better odds for that event? You can go into devil mode, and crank the odds up to 100 percent—it’ll just cost you essence. An enemy in combat full heals? You can spend your essence to remove their health—all of it if you want. You can even remove debuffs from your character and add it to an enemy—devious! There’s a lot of possibility for devilish manipulation, but sadly, it didn’t add as much enjoyment for me as I hoped—though I love the concept.
While your disciples are evil creatures, the foes they fight are strangely evil looking, too. Sure, they’re zealots and “good” aligned creatures, but they’re still creatures—mask wearing, or grotesque, or even smiling slyly. Despite the terror you spread, your foes rarely seem very terrorized, and it takes away a bit from the feeling of being evil.
Even if I never felt appropriately evil in contrast to my foes, I still really enjoy Rogue Lord’s presentation and art style. It’s a pretty game, with smooth and appealing animations. The Disciples all have unique looks and new takes on familiar monster.
As with similar roguelikes, choosing events is done on an overworld map. In the case of Rogue Lords you control one of your disciples down branching paths, choosing between combat, and events that yield items or skills. I appreciate the work that was put into Rogue Lords overworld, and it ends up being a mixture of conventional roguelike deck builder and something more interactive like what’s seen in Tainted Grail.
I really like everything about Rogue Lords—except for its combat. It has great art, smooth animations, a fun premise, and an excellently novel system with the devil mode manipulation. It’s really too bad that I found combat to be a slog—though that might not be your experience with it.
A Steam key was provided to us for the purpose of this review.
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