The past two decades in video games have done much to distinguish 'roguelite' from 'roguelike'.
Roguelikes are the purest form of preserving the classic age of arcade dungeon crawls. Their defining trait is the short runs and the tense grip of impending permadeath until the player hits the finish line.
Roguelites, as the name implies, break away from other classic traits of roguelike, those of the original Rogue (1980). This opens the genre up to opportunities and flexibilities that perhaps no other genre of gaming can provide at the outset.
A litany of roguelites, variable in their merit and originality, line the stores of every gaming platform. Here are the 5 roguelites that arguably capture the genre at its peak in the current era of gaming.
5 Best Roguelite games that fans should try this year
1) Hades (Official release in 2020)
Developer/Publisher: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
Hades is probably the most well-known and most obvious entry on this list. Its accolades of several GOTY awards in 2020 are well-earned, as it captures everything great about an action roguelike game.
Its fast-paced combat makes for a high skill ceiling, while its many weapon aspects and boons hit the perfect balance between strategic preparation and roguelike RNG. To top it off, Hades also hits the right notes with its content-packed narrative and superb voice-acting.
2) Risk of Rain 2 (2020)
Developer/Publisher: Hopoo Games/Gearbox Software
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Stadia
Risk of Rain 2, much like the first game in the series, completely embraces the randomization aspect of roguelite, and allows for insanely powerful builds and 'god runs' just with luck.
That being said, player mastery still has its place - with its diverse classes, the relevance of manual evasion, and target-based ranged weapons. The melee classes themselves have their separate learning curve. The presence of these segregators reinforces the idea that Risk of Rain 2 is supposed to be replayed ad infinitum to expand its drops table for the fabled 'god run.'
3) Griftlands (2021)
Developer/Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
From the makers of Oxygen Not Included, Mark of The Ninja, and Don't Starve, Griftlands is their second roguelite offering after the lesser-known Invisible Inc. There are no reservations about Griftlands being a deck-building roguelite from the get-go. While many games of different scales and forms have tried to chase the success of Slay The Spire, Klei's angle is somewhat unique. Griftlands, unlike the average deck-building roguelike, focuses greatly on an intricately told narrative. This is sometimes at the cost of greater gameplay goodies, as the deck-building is not as diverse as Slay The Spire. All in all, its three playable characters thus far provide enough storytelling bandwidth to bolster replayability on its own.
4) Curse of The Dead Gods (2021)
Developer/Publisher: Passtech Games/Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Curse of The Dead Gods has clear souls-like elements in its combat. There are two things that set this game apart qualitatively: the tight and punishing combat system, and the light-and-dark mechanic that takes a page out of the Darkest Dungeon playbook.
In terms of weapon variety, Curse of The Dead Gods leaves more to be desired for a full release, but its responsive combat is perhaps second-to-none in any souls-like roguelite, save for Dead Cells.
5) Darkest Dungeons 2 (2021)
Developer/Publisher: Red Hook Studios
Darkest Dungeon had become a beloved icon of the entire roguelite genre in the years around 2010. Now with the sequel, out on early access, Red Hook Studios has managed to switch up the pace and structure in ways which warrant the sequel's own distinct identity.
While Darkest Dungeon was heavier on the party management side at the hub with more disposable mercs, Darkest Dungeon 2 is a tighter wagon ride through its plague-ridden world.
Furthermore, the ride still promises glimmers of what made the original so popular: a beautifully-narrated, tense, dark, and brutal dungeon crawl.