Roguelike design is incredibly popular amongst indie and lower-budget game development. Roguelikes pack a huge amount of content that’s both efficient from a developer’s perspective and addictive and nearly endlessly replayable from a player’s perspective.
While platformer, role-playing, and action games make up the majority of quality roguelikes, the strategy genre has seen an increased presence in the roguelike market. Here’s our list of the best roguelike strategy games of all time that will challenge you like no other.
Developer: Massive DamagePublisher: Raw FuryPlatform(s): PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X & S
In terms of raw graphical power, few indie and lower budget games will ever match big budgets developers such as Bethesda Softworks or Creative Assembly, but where they can really shine is distinct art design and excellent world building. Every game on this list stands out in the visual department to some degree and Star Renegades is the first of these gems to show off its great sense of style.
Star Renegades’ core standout features are its deep combat system, centered around manipulating enemy initiative and their ability to act, and an impactful camping feature where players can develop character relationships and prepare for future engagements. Many games try to make camping more than just about resting and healing and Star Renegades succeeds in ensuring that rest, preparation, and planning are essential components to succeeding within a playthrough.
Massive Damage also included an interesting boss system, where stage bosses evolve over the course of a playthrough, however, this is where some of the game’s weakness comes into play – balance. Roguelikes are known for the high level of challenge that consistently ramp up the difficulty level to really test the player, but Star Renegades doesn’t quite pace out difficulty perfectly, which may lead to some frustration and some strategies or builds not up to snuff. Nevertheless, Star Renegades gets the core roguelike gameplay down well and even throws in some interesting features for good measure, making it one awesome roguelike strategy game.
Developer: Daniel Mullins GamesPublisher: Devolver DigitalPlatform(s): PC
Arguably the most unique roguelike strategy entry on the list, Inscryption is a game like no other. Ultimately it feels more like a crazy fever dream dark role-playing adventure that happens to have a card game with roguelike adventuring mechanics in it, but it’s oh so captivating and creative in its design.
The first act of the game is a masterpiece in atmosphere, sound design, and mystery, which will both haunt and grip you, as you play a gruesome card game to entertain a captor, shrouded in darkness and uncertainty. The game is far more than it seems, and the hidden clues, secrets, and puzzles will keep you guessing about Inscryption’s true story, themes, and messages.
Unfortunately, the second and third acts don’t quite stick the landing and leave the overall experience feeling unbalanced, as some of the mystery lifts and repetitive mechanics leave a sour taste. Inscryption’s sheer creativity and impeccable vision in its design alone make it a standout game that should be experienced at least once.
Developer: Konstantin KoshutinPublisher: MicroProse SoftwarePlatform(s): PC
It may have lighter roguelike mechanics than its brethren on this list, yet HighFleet flies onto this list for its world-building and unique diegetic UI, which shoots the game’s immersion through the roof. Also, in terms of world-building, HighFleet easily stands out with its lengthy story inspired by Dune set in a desert world inspired by Russian and Persian culture and history with mighty airships acting as this setting’s navy.
In fact, HighFleet goes so hardcore in its representation of naval combat with radar, ballistic missiles, fuel management, and radio interception that once could easily call this one of the first roguelike simulation wargames. The deep strategic gameplay layers on top of an exciting and challenging action tactics mode where players will have to put their piloting skills to the test across a wide array of airships, ranging from swift and nimble corvettes, to hulking light and heavy cruisers.
The game also includes a ship builder, where you can try yourself out as a veteran shipwright and build all sorts of crazy vessels. On paper this mode is great, but if abused it can completely break the game’s balance, challenge level, and, in turn, immersion within this meticulously crafted world. It’s when you fully immerse in HighFleet’s world and approach each playthrough as an admiral tasked with reaching a critical objective against all odds is where the game truly shines as a great roguelike strategy game.
Developer: Subset GamesPublisher: Subset GamesPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, Switch, Stadia
Subset Games have really made a name for themselves as the leader in indie roguelike strategy game development, and this isn’t the last time you will see them on the list. Into the Breach sees players take command of a squad of sci-fi mech pilots a la Pacific Rim with the goal of going back in time and saving humanity from an unstoppable horde of kaiju.
Most roguelike combat systems center around combos, random number generation, and precision targeting. Into the Breach goes for a more chesslike approach where positioning and predictability matter more than crazy abilities or carrying an entire engagement with a single dice roll. Coupled with a wide cast of mechs, a simple, but effective upgrade system, and evolving terrain, Into the Breach has some of the most varied and cerebral tactical missions that are as challenging as they are rewarding.
Because it’s so focused on its premise and does little to expand on its own design, it can end up feeling repetitive, as it does lack some of the mechanical complexity of a Star Renegades or a HighFleet. Tactically though, Into the Breach can’t be beat, so players looking for a cerebral roguelike strategy experience, look no further.
Developer: Lightbulb CrewPublisher: Focus EntertainmentPlatform(s): PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Now if you’re looking for even more challenge in your strategy game, Othercide has you covered in spades and is likely the most punishing and harrowing roguelike experience on the list. The difficulty level is reflected perfectly in the absolutely stunning and horrifying one-of-a-kind visual design, which only accents the helplessness players will feel after their umpteenth lost run.
Initially, Othercide doesn’t actually offer much for the player to work with, only three classes of characters to do battle against a multitude of terrifying enemies. This initial simplicity quickly makes way for a highly impactful character development system, as each character learns unique skills that can unlock new tactical possibilities. Altogether, the character management system provides plenty of decision-making challenge on top of the difficult missions, as players will need to make tough calls on how to keep their units in fighting condition.
The difficulty is Othercide’s greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness where it’s almost guaranteed that players will get stuck and frustrated with the only path to success is to grind and endure failure after failure. This setup does feed into Othercide’s simple, but thematically rich narrative making it a wholly unique experience that’s worth the grind.
Developer: Shiny ShoePublisher: Good Shepherd EntertainmentPlatform(s): PC, Switch, Xbox One
Typically, you’ll be playing the good side in the roguelike strategy games, as your cause will be righteous, true, and moral in every way. Monster Train flips this on its head, as players will be taking command of the traditionally “evil” forces to relight the fires of the underworld and fend off pesky do-gooders in the process.
Monster Train takes after Slay the Spire in its focus on deck-building, instead focusing on unit summoning, minion command, and executing powerful combos to expunge the invaders. It certainly helps the game’s case in replayability that there’s a great amount of variety in the minion clans they can choose from, each with their own playstyles, advantages, and weaknesses. If players want to take their knowledge of the game to a competitive level, they can play in multiplayer (generally uncommon in roguelikes) time challenges to see who can defend the titular train the best.
The exciting and complex combo-oriented card gameplay does have a blemish in that tactical success is so predicated on understanding and executing successful combos that poor RNG or a more casual approach can unfairly punish players who aren’t ready for such intricacies. The sheer amount of content and the snappy card play and deck-building gives Monster Train an undeniably high level of energy and plenty of addictive gameplay to sink your teeth into.
Developer: Four QuartersPublisher: Devolver DigitalPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Nintendo Switch
Many roguelike strategy puzzles and adventures have the player move through vibrant and established worlds to discover secrets, improve, and tackle roadblocks. Loop Hero throws a curveball and instead has players focus more on building the environment around their chosen character. In a way, the player becomes the game designer or game master with the goal of crafting a fantasy world for their hero to traverse, level up, and finally defeat the evil Lich.
This innovative approach gives Loop Hero almost a logistics or management bent to it. Character or resource management is quite common on roguelike strategy games, especially if they hybridize with role-playing elements, but a leveling system that’s based on the player’s interaction with geography and building out a world for their character to traverse is quite original.
The drawback of this approach is that players don’t necessarily actively participate in combat due to the auto-battler system, something your hero will be doing a lot, which can be a bit disappointing given how interactive the world-building is. It isn’t enough to drag Loop Hero down into obscurity and instead the game’s virtues in its innovative take on the typical roguelike strategy scheme make it one of the best of all time.
Developer: Klei EntertainmentPublisher: Klei EntertainmentPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
A component that often gets left to the wayside in roguelike strategy and role-playing games is negotiation. Griftlands makes its way to remedy this deficit by pairing a robust negotiation system with a deep combat encounter feature.
Negotiation in Griftlands presents itself like a combat system in its appearance, but in its execution there’s quite a bit more nuance and thematic gameplay mechanics that set it apart from simply bashing the other person in the face. Players will need to carefully track time and play the right cards to break apart their opponent’s negotiating arguments down to finally convince them that the player’s character is right and needs to proceed. This system breaks up and freshens the narrative so that it isn’t just slice-and-dice all the time, which can certainly get repetitive.
Where Griftlands lags a bit is in replayability, even compared to some of the other games on this list, as the hand-crafted narratives for each of the three main characters don’t offer too much room for experimentation and unique paths. The character’s narratives are, at the very least, structurally and thematically well-defined with Klei’s signature animation and arty style breathing so much life and personality into every frame of gameplay, making Griftlands a solid and engaging thrillride.
Developer: Mega Crit GamesPublisher: Mega Crit Games, Humble BundlePlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, PS4, Switch, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Deck-building card games are almost just as common as roguelikes, so it only makes for both of them to crossover and create something amazing. Enter Slay the Spire, an incredible roguelike that draws its inspiration from Darkest Dungeon, itself not quite a full-on roguelike, by tightening up the gameplay loop and finding its footing in a charming sense of humour, while maintaining the impactful action and gripping visual feedback.
Just like Monster Train, Slay the Spire’s gameplay centers around clever and planned card play, executing powerful combos and activating devastating abilities. But Slay the Spire’s system is far more flexible and not quite so punishing with combo execution, so players can still have a lot of fun and succeed even if the RNG goes against the player. It also helps that there’s a huge amount of content, be it cards, classes, or enemy types that will ensure no playthrough is the same and that there’s unique strategic and tactical challenges at every turn.
The only real issue with Slay the Spire is that there are some minor balancing issues where some card combinations and strategies are clearly better than other paths, which can go against the game’s incredible amount of content. Slay the Spire is by all counts a momentous game due to its synergetic symphony of systems that will surely influence future roguelike strategy games for years to come.
Developer: Subset GamesPublisher: Subset GamesPlatform(s): PC, macOS, Linux, iOS
We can’t talk about influential strategy games without mentioning the one of the OG roguelike strategy games that essentially led to the birth of all the previous games on this list. FTL is a landmark game on multiple levels: kickstarting the indie boom of the 2010s, which made Steam quite the household client, and setting a high bar for future roguelike strategy games to follow. In fact, this measure of quality set by FTL is so palpable that even lower quality games of this type are still very much enjoyable – a testament to the dev teams’ dedication to quality gameplay and art.
FTLs simple sci-fi presence of surviving an unstoppable armada of hostile ships focuses the narrative on the constant tension of being tracked, while also heightening the viscera of every random encounter. In addition, Subset’s flagpole game has so much content for replayability, including ship layouts, unlocks, and crew complements that you’ll easily need to spend hundreds if not thousands of hours just to see everything and try all kinds of builds.
It’s also an incredibly challenging game, which will do more to keep players hooked and coming back for more rather than leaving in frustration, even after a tense close defeat or tight victory. FTL is undoubtedly the best roguelike strategy game of all time that needs to be in every gamer’s library.
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