There are two kinds of people: people who have heard the term “roguelike” and people who argue long into the night about what the term actually means.
Literally, the term roguelike means “like Rogue,” a game developed in 1980, using ASCII text characters to help the player imagine the dungeon they were traversing.
The games we’re looking at are all descendants of that game in one way or another, but some stay closer to the original formula than others.
While it draws not only from Rogue, but later games like Hack and Moria, Nethack is probably the game most often brought up when people mention roguelikes.
The game is arcane and punishing, but also quirky and fun, with a strange sense of humor. You’ll die. A lot. But you’ll have fun doing it.
Nethack is free and open source, plus it’s available on tons of different platforms. You can play with the original ASCII graphics, or use an optional tileset to bump up the graphical fidelity.
If you’re a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, the name Angband might ring a bell. While Nethack lets you play as a tourist, Angband is a more serious fantasy dungeon-crawling experience, with roots datings back to Moria.
This game was originally released in 1990, but is still updated frequently and is available for all major operating systems. Like Nethack, it is available in the original ASCII or with tile-based graphics.
Another popular roguelike with roots dating back pretty far, ADOM (or Ancient Domains of Mystery) was first released in 1994.
While many of the original roguelikes are known for being complex, ADOM can be more so. It also has a deeper focus on story than many of its peers.
This one is a little strange in that it’s available for free, but is also available commercially on both Steam and GOG. Both ASCII and graphical versions are available.
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup may look like it was released alongside Nethack or Angband, but it’s actually much newer.
This game was first released in 2006 as a successor of the 1997 roguelike Linley’s Dungeon Crawl. While still punishing when it comes to careless decisions, this is more accessible than some older roguelikes.
This game is open source, and has both graphical and ASCII modes. Unlike the other games on this list, you can also play it online without downloading it first.
5. Caves of Qud
Many roguelikes have settings that are rooted firmly in the past. Caves of Qud may have a name that evokes that same feeling, but this game is set far in the future. That’s not the only way this game is unlike many of the other games on this list.
For example, Caves of Qud isn’t even officially out yet. It’s in Early Access and currently has a release date of later in 2020. The game is planned for several platforms including PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.
Ask around for roguelike recommendations, and it likely won’t be too long before someone mentions Tales of Maj’Eyal.
This is a relatively recent release, as it was first released in 2012. While it eschews ASCII in favor of primitive tile art, it’s just as deep and complex as the games it draws inspiration from.
Tales of Maj’Eyal is freeware, supported by donations, but it is also available for purchase on Steam and GOG.
Much more accessible than many of the other games on this list, Tangledeep is a blend of roguelike and 16-bit RPGs.
While it can be plenty punishing and offers a mode not unlike traditional roguelikes, it also has an Adventure mode that isn’t as punishing should you meet your untimely end.
While Tangledeep is available for the PC, it’s also available on the Nintendo Switch should you feel the need for roguelike action on the go or on your TV.
While it’s more roguelike than not, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead describes itself as a turn-based survival game.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, so if you’ve always wanted a little more Fallout or Wasteland in your roguelikes, this one may be for you.
This is a recent game, but the hardware requirements are extremely minimal. People have played it on netbooks and even LEGO robotic kits, but you’ll need more RAM if you want to use a graphical tileset.
Roguelikes Are Super Retro
As I mentioned at the top, there are people who care very much about what is and isn’t a proper roguelike.
Those people will find fault with some of the games I’ve listed here, especially the last one. That’s largely on purpose, as roguelikes can be tough on newcomers.