The Roguelike – randomly generated dungeon crawl survival RPGs, to those new to the term – has a long and complex history. From the original Rogue, we’ve seen things expand into adventures based around arcane meta-knowledge such as Nethack, and sprawling open-world adventures like ADOM. We’ve even seen a fair amount of comedy, with Dungeons Of Dredmor holding the crown of silliest roguelike on the scene. Brogue (for Windows, Mac & Linux) is a little different, in that it’s a return to genre basics, while taking all the modern knowledge the genre has accrued back to the source.
Essentially, Brogue is a remake of the great grand-daddy of all dungeon crawls. You – a scurrilous sort with no class (ha) – are venturing into a deep, monster-filled dungeon on a quest to retrieve the magical Amulet of Yendor, then return to the surface. The graphics are ASCII (text-based) once again, but use colour to great effect, making it quickly obvious whether you’re walking on hard stone or wading through a shallow, plant-filled marsh, and your line of sight is clearly defined at all times. Character development is kept minimalist and simple, with your attributes slowly growing over time through use, and many heavier pieces of equipment needing enchantments to become light enough to wear. You really only have to worry about your moment-to-moment choices, and early decisions very seldom cripple you later on.
While character growth is simple, the dungeon isn’t. Brogue expands massively on the old room-corridor-room formula by making the dungeon into a complex, convincingly active environment, while still keeping each floor limited to a single screen. Monsters have dens that they sleep in, and can fight and hunt each other. Whole floors may be dominated by natural ravines and chasms rather than tunnels, and pits can be descended at the risk of injury if you need a quick way out of your current floor. Visibility is also a major issue, and some environments, such as thick overgrowth, will block your view of enemies, and vice versa. Such environments can be interacted with, too. A heavily overgrown chamber full of monsters becomes easily traversed after you torch it all, cooking the creatures within. A maddened, burning animal can set you on fire if it collides with you, though, so everything needs to be considered.
Having the game set in a more organic environment does wonders for the feel of exploring the procedurally generated caverns. Enemy AI is also smarter than you might expect, with more intelligent monster species being quite capable of taking you in a fight, and using the tools they have to hand. Spellcasters will try to keep their distance whenever possible, and if they escape, they’ll heal and return to harrass you later. Predatory creatures may prioritize easier meals than you, allowing you to bypass fighting if you wish, too. Not everything is hostile, either. Some animals may treat you as a friend. Having a wild monkey bouncing around distracting your enemies is always handy, and you can recruit some fairly powerful friends later on.
Despite the ASCII presentation of the game, it has a surprisingly modern and intuitive interface. The leftmost edge of the screen is used as an overview of what creatures are within sight and what their status is, and you can use your mouse to perform almost all actions via a menu bar at the bottom of the screen. Mousing over a target gives you a huge amount of information via tooltips, all presented in plain English form. If you’re strong enough to gain a damage bonus when throwing projectile weapons, then it’ll tell you exactly that when it gives you the damage potentials on a throwing dart. You can learn a lot about each new enemy type just by reading the description. While random chance plays a strong part in the game, you’re always told the odds in the most coherent way possible.
Brogue doesn’t fall into the key traps of Nethack and other ‘high end’ Roguelikes, and requires little in the way of meta-knowledge. You won’t know what potions and scrolls do until you try them, and there’s not much in the way of ‘hidden’ uses for things that aren’t spelled out by the instructive tooltips, so exploration and experimentation are recommended. There’s no shops or economy to concern yourself with, and any gold found is purely for post-death (or victory) bragging rights a the end. If you’re really stumped and can’t see an obvious solution to a problem, the game even offers a full AI-controlled autopilot mode. It’s quite capable, although a bit conservative in it’s item usage. It’s interesting to see how far it can get without any human input.
Brogue is really an excellent little dungeon crawl, and it still being actively developed, so check back with the official regularly for new builds and updates. It’s accessible and intuitive, has a good UI, excellent plain-text descriptions of what you’re seeing, and ASCII graphics that use the full range of colours and brightnesses to make a much more vivid and lively environment than you’d expect possible in pure text. Due to the graphics-free nature, it’ll run on just about anything with a monitor, and there are Windows, Linux and Mac builds available. Easily recommendable both to fans of the genre, looking for a more complex dungeon to conquer, and for newcomers wanting something with less stats to crunch and rules to remember.