While on the surface Rogue Empire looks like your standard rogue-like game, there’s a lot to unpack if players are willing to see past some underwhelming flaws. The game is still in early access alpha, so it’s hard to judge without its being a complete product. However, what does exist is an experience that is both promising and slightly nostalgic.
Set in a high fantasy world reminiscent of a D&D campaign, Rogue Empire’s storyline is simple: during a time of prosperity for the world, an evil force known as the First Shadow invades. It seizes control of several capital cities, and after a military alliance sets out in battle, the player character ostensible becomes tasked with taking up the torch. It’s a very familiar set-up, one to be found in numerous fantasy RPG’s and MMO’s, and it’s bit of a shame that the game treads the territory of evil invaders taking over the world.
But Rogue Empire is a game that I found wanted to serve as an homage to these kinds of games and stories. It’s almost a tabletop game in rogue-like form. Other players may find this to be disappointing or underwhelming, but as a fan of RPG’s and sword-and-sorcery fantasy, I really appreciated the familiarity, even if it did disappoint me at times. For example, the game boasts an expansive character stat sheet in the pause menu, but it wasn’t really inherent to the how I enjoyed the game. It seemed to me that it was just one of those touches made to make the experience feel more like Dungeons and Dragons. I certainly wasn’t paying attention to what my character’s age and height were during my time exploring the dungeons.
Even the artwork reminded me of the Dragonlance book series. Depending on preference and taste, players may either find this charming or forgettable. Certainly after playing through Rogue Empire’s largest available campaign for a solid three hours, I started to find the repetitive design a little tepid.
Players can expect to find an overworld made of the same seven or eight trees and nothing but grass for a good while. The tutorial did little to help explain how I was meant to progress to the next screen, although this might have been due to my own flaws as a gamer rather than the design of Rogue Empire. Still, wandering around the same overworld for a solid twenty minutes with nothing but a day-and-night system to keep things interesting was frustrating. Once I finally entered the dungeons, I was pleased to find that the developers had chosen to shake things up a little. Certain levels of the dungeon have elements such as random screen shakes and falling rocks added to prevent things from being too boring. But once I got used to the pattern, the necessity to watch where I stepped felt a little flat.
There are two gameplay modes available so far: Eghoss’s Tale and Dawn of Shadows. The former is the version with the most depth in terms of progression. Here, players take control of a pre-made human warrior and venture through a twenty level dungeon with two available boss fights. Dawn of Shadows, meanwhile, serves as an introduction to the customization aspect of the game’s campaign. As of the alpha, Dawn of Shadows only has five main dungeons, which I found a little disappointing, as the chance to explore the game’s classes and races is diminished by this lack of depth.
It was in Dawn of Shadows that I found what I considered to be the more promising features of the game. Players can choose from seven races and five different classes. While the arch-typical races of Human, Elf and Dwarf are available, Rogue Empire also contains four underused fantasy species: Trolls, snakelike Naga, the tree-people race known as Otwoks and, my personal favourite, the cat-people Vinscian’s Base stat differences between the races are balanced enough that there wasn’t really any need to agonized over choosing one above the other. In addition, the option to choose to play as either a male or female character had no bearing on character stats either, which made my socially conscious heart jump for joy.
When it came to choosing the classes, though, I was a little disappointed to find that they were typical fantasy RPG jobs: the warrior class is melee oriented, hunters specialize in ranged combat, mages use, well, magic, assassins are masters of stealth and druids can shapeshift. I had hoped that, with the addition of uncommon races, that the class system would have been a bit more diverse as well. Due to the game still being in its early stages, I found that choosing between classes didn’t do a great deal to change the experience, either.
The controls for the game were pretty basic. Due to its turnbased, tabletop feel, players have but to pick a direction and move. The addition of a hotkey bar was useful in times when I needed to access items and abilities in a pinch. Combat can either be utilized by clicking in nearby enemy mobs or simply running into them until either they die or the player character dies. As the premade Eghoss’s Tale campaign was the longest portion of the game, it was here that I found that enemy difficult can spike from being a cakewalk to a sudden struggle for survival, which kept things interesting. The addition of hidden traps along the dungeon’s floor also kept me on my toes, although after the seventh or eighth time being set on fire, I did get a little irritated.
Fortunately if players choose Easy Mode from one of the game’s difficulty settings, they’ll be aided against permadeath by a single use of the Ring of Resurrection. I went nine levels without needing to rely on it. However, I did find the need to stop and eat whenever my character got hungry to be frustrating, and after I while I was looking for something else to do aside from hunt for rations or rotten apples. Once I started playing Dawn of Shadows and had my own characters to choose from, the game’s middling depth didn’t make me fear permadeath very much, like any good rogue-like’s should do.
Levelling up occurs pretty quickly. In the Dawn of Shadows campaign, the only of the two to actually include an overworld map, players can level up by simply walking around enough and not starving to death. Upon gaining a level, you’ll be able to choose a stat to increase. Every two or three levels, you’ll be given the option of choosing an ability via a deck-building system. Really though, this card-based levelling opportunity seemed to be more of an aesthetic choice than inherent to the overall gameplay.
At the end of the day, I found Rogue Empire to be quite middle-of-the road. There’s a lot of potential, given that it still isn’t entirely complete yet. Fans of old-school style dungeon crawling and fantasy as a genre will find many things about it to enjoy. There are enough unique features, such as the diversity of classes and a steep challenge curve in the dungeon aspect of the game, to keep it from being too cookie-cutter to anything else available under the rogue-like umbrella. But anyone looking for something mind-blowingly different in the rogue-like genre will probably give this one a pass. A tedious overworld will keep anyone looking for an immediate experience from enjoying more of what the game has to offer, and the simplistic controls are nothing to write home about either. As Rogue Empire is still in alpha, I’m hopeful that Portal Entertainment will flesh out more of what’s being offered.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this Preview. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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