I was disappointed when Spellbind Studios decided not to follow its initial pitch to include a town-building portion in Rogue Wizards. The world could use another "turn-based, rogue-like, dungeon-crawling, town-building RPG." However, it would be churlish to ignore the vision the designers are building over the untested, imaginary game of my dreams. As a backer of the Kickstarter, I've had the chance to play the beta and experience the vision as it solidifies. Rogue Wizards has a strong core that could grow into a serious contender if it doubles down on its unique flourishes and develops its variety.
Rogue Wizards starts with a hungry rogue being spellnapped into a mysterious dungeon and discovering how to cast magic. Members of the rogue's culture aren't supposed to be wizards, but the times are changing. For one, the leader of the Guild, a group of Dumbledores with a monopoly on magic, has gone mad with power and started stealing brazenly from the elemental realms. The Guild's heel turn and the blossoming of new wizards are probably related: the rogue is quickly recruited into a secret society hoping to stop the nasty Guild before it makes any more mistakes.
The Guild's supporters have hidden themselves in dungeons filled with traps, monsters, and treasure. The first several dungeons are simple exercises in healing when necessary and equipping the weapons that deal the most damage. The challenge ramps up as the game continues, but several dungeons in still hasn't reached the sweet spot that creates sleepless nights and gaming legends. Success is either assured or impossible until after a spot of gentle grinding. Grinding is a no-risk activity, as death just bumps the hero back to town with whatever loot was acquired on the most recent delve.
Loot is plentiful, but most of it is trash. Potions and keys are good finds, since they're consumable and stack in the limited inventory. Mana stones, which fuel spellcasting, are the best of all. Any wizard worth their salt is going to learn how to make the mana last. On the other hand, when treasure is good, it's a game-changer. The high point of one of my delves was finding an Assassin's Chakram of the Valley. The throwing weapon bounces from enemy to enemy, Xena-style, damaging several targets in a single turn. The base damage wasn't so hot, but loading it up with a permanent boost to its critical hit chance at a shrine unlocked the ability to get brutal critical strikes against entire mobs of enemies. It still wasn't the best weapon for every situation, but for a time it made success a matter of smiling and clicking.
No happy situation lasts forever, except for the classic roguelike dopamine drip of discovery. On level up, the player distributes points between Strength, Dexterity, or Stamina. These statistics provide flat bonuses and allow the character to equip more powerful equipment. Advancement also provides spell points, which can be spent to unlock spells or enhance existing ones. Rogue Wizards's titular wizardry exists in six flavors, each of which has three spells. Eighteen spells doesn't seem like a lot, but each one provides unique effects. The highlights so far are Sentry, which provides a temporary turret that draws enemy attacks, and Singularity, which smashes all nearby enemies into the target for massive damage.
As the hero levels, so does the loot. Equipment powers up as it's used, slowly advancing to its maximum potential. Later in the game, this could create an interesting tension between gradually developing old favorites and seeking out new gear. So far, equipment-crafting has been more useful for extending the lifespan of my old stalwarts for a little longer rather than creating a one-of-a-kind unstoppable killamajig. Some equipment is also slottable, allowing further customization. Special runes found throughout the game can be crafted into the weapons, providing some control over the fickle random treasure generation.
The types of monsters who fell before my legendary chakram weren't as numerous as in classic roguelikes with alphanumeric graphics, but their abilities were varied. Each monster type has its own elemental strength and weakness and a special power of some sort. Overseers create stone barricades, dryads teleport, and yetis move twice and freeze with a touch. The limited variety of monsters makes dungeons seem samey in spite of their varied tilesets, but I'm confident future iterations of the game will unveil more nasties to challenge my battle strategies. I'm surprised I haven't encountered any pallete swaps yet, given their rich history of bulking up rogues' galleries. Random prefixes, the other favored son of the monstrous, is present in a limited capacity. I've met "Weak" and "Strong" versions of rank-and-file monsters, but anything else seems relegated to boss monsters for the time being. My character may not appreciate encountering an Electric Yeti or a Zealous Harpy, but the novelty would be welcome.
My search for novelty in Rogue Wizards has provided some tantalizing crumbs. The monster design is bright and cartoony, and the engine has the capacity for beautiful moments of synchronicity and planning. I want to keep playing, but I also want to see more: more monsters, more gear, more potions, and more unique dungeon elements with which to interact. The adventure is already underway, and I hope the final results will leave me spellbound.