I’ve kinda been falling off of roguelikes lately. For one thing, I have so many games to finish and roguelikes are pretty much designed to be time sinks, so I need to step away from that stuff. Secondly, I just feel fatigued by the genre? I dunno, it feels like one of those things where once you have the best, you don’t need the rest, especially with that time sink thing. Like, why pursue more roguelike deckbuilders when Slay the Spire already exists?
I feel that for me to get into roguelikes nowadays, it’d have to do something novel. Like, there’s Inscryption, which seems like a cardbuilder roguelike, but it is also much more than that. I think maybe roguelikes can stand to be mixed into more genres, like the battle royale genre, which has enjoyed fun mixes like Tetris 99 and Squabble beyond its shooter origins.
So, I’m pleased to talk about a roguelike with a nice mix I haven’t really tried before – even if it has one glaring flaw that drags the experience down.
Rogue Tower is a game by Die of Death Games, which crosses roguelikes over with tower defense. Now, it isn’t exactly a new genre mix, but it’s something that hasn’t been done a lot.
As with any tower defense, you got a base and you have to buy a bunch of towers to defend it from a bunch of whatevers walking down a path. When you start out, the play area is small – until you expand. A new tile of land is added and the round properly starts, with monsters walking out of the void. The round ends, you get some peace, and you go on to expand some more.
One of the roguelike conceits of Rogue Tower is that the enemy paths and the terrain you can place towers on are random. You’re required to build out to start each round, taking you to who knows where. While randomly generated, you’ll get a choice when the path reaches a crossroads, where you can choose to build the path out in a fixed direction. If possible, you can try to steer the enemy path to be adjacent to pre-existing ones so you can place towers in between them for efficient coverage. When building out, it’s also possible to find a portal where enemies spawn from, so that you can maybe get an early edge on a wave by getting a killbox going at its entrance.
A second roguelike conceit is that you can get upgrades and new towers at certain points. Outside of the main game, you can spend the experience points you get to buy new towers and upgrades to choose from in a session. Ideally, you should focus down on everything that improves card draw and choice selection as soon as possible.
As for the towers, there’s a nice basic variety of stuff. You start out with ballistas, which are basic but are optimal for builds that rely on spam. You got a good ol’ mortar that fires slow but hits multiple things. You got a tower that tosses out sawblades that zip down the path to rip enemies up (my fave stylistically). Several towers rely on using mana, and while you have to micromanage mana generation, most of the magic towers are generally useful, so it’s worth it.
There’s also some towers that’s more aimed toward supporting, like the mana generating ones. Though, I think the most important of the support towers toward the endgame are universities – they rely a bit on RNG, but they’re a massive help for general stat increases across all your towers. Also, don’t use haunted houses. Their benefits are too small to justify the mana cost that could be used for setting people on fire.
Personally, my favored playstyle is the stuff that stacks DOT. Get a tunnel of flamethrowers and poison sprayers going while sawblades get hurled down the path. Get some good ballista spam in there with upgrades that do extra damage against stuff suffering from DOTs and boy does it make for a satisfying time. I love any playstyle that lets me tear things apart this way.
Before starting a game, you get the difficulty options of playing a single-path, double-path and triple-path game, which uh, sets the number of paths that lead toward your base. The difficulty comes in with the fact that you’re only allowed to expand one path at the start of each round – neglect one pathway for too long and you’ll have tougher monsters spawning at your doorstep immediately. So, you have to juggle which paths to expand to keep the play field in your favor in these modes, which I think emphasizes the strength of the game’s roguelike elements – there’s definitely randomness, but you gotta do your best to play within that randomness to your advantage.
Trying to figure out a good combination of towers to use is fun. Wrangling with the pathing RNG to create optimal playfields for towers is fun. It’s rather easygoing – which is strongly contrasted with the game’s music. While the core experience of Rogue Tower feels easygoing to play and the visuals are bright voxels, the game’s soundtrack is surprisingly intense. Start a proper game going and the instrumentals of a drummer just going apeshit gets added to the preparation music. It might be a bit ill-fitting, but it rules, so who’s to say what’s good or bad?
I clearly like Rogue Tower, but surely, it’s not all pleasant, right?
So, that leads me into my biggest point of contention with Rogue Tower: a good session just takes too damn long. Roguelike sessions are typically long, sure, but with good skill and luck, you could drastically cut down on the length of an average session. But that’s not the case here. You will have to go through every wave, and you will have to kill every enemy (or let them pass, whatever), and there are a lot of them. God help you if you have most of your towers clustered toward one area and lack the long-range to deal with slow enemies like zombies, because they sure do take their time to walk on over and fucking die.
You ever watch a platformer get played on AGDQ or something and the runner complains about autoscrollers since the speed is largely fixed and dependent on external factors? Rogue Tower feels like the autoscrollers of roguelikes. A decent run – one that might not even win, mind you – could potentially last an hour, and at best you can probably just save a few minutes with good planning.
I have not properly won a game of Rogue Tower yet, and a big factor of that is that I’m not eager to go through multiple sessions. If I lose, well, I ain’t gonna spend another half hour on this. It can be a time sink, which is something I wanted to avoid.
And the thing is, I could justify doing multiple Binding of Isaac runs or something like that, but the thing with Isaac is that play sessions could be drastically different from each other depending on what you take. But with Rogue Tower, it’s still a tower defense game at its core. Like, yeah, you can try different tower combinations and maybe the land generation could be more generous, but the experience will always feel the same. And as much as I enjoy that experience, I do think it gets tiring on multiple runs.
Surely, you can just save and quit in the middle of the run, right? As it stands, no, you can’t. It will just instantly end the game. So hey, if you actually want to see a run through to the end, you better have an hour clear!
What Rogue Tower desperately needs is to respect the player’s time. A fast forward button like in Bloons Tower Defense is my biggest wish for the game. Because I like playing the game, I like its structure, but dear god, do I not want to play it for “that” long.
Rogue Tower! I mostly like it, but goddamn is it slow. If you have the free time – and something to do while the slow enemies lumber toward their deaths – it’s a good time.