The term ‘roguelike’ is pretty ubiquitous these days, conjuring images of randomly generated levels, Frankensteinian character builds, and screams of anguish as one foolish slip-up causes a promising run to end in inglorious permadeath. But the reality is that there are few games in this hippest of modern-day genres that are really like the 80s dungeon crawler from which it takes its name. Likewise, there are few gamers out there who have played the original Rogue.
The 1994 roguelike Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM) however, is as much a Rogue successor as a roguelike, recognised in the ‘Berlin Interpretation’ of roguelikes alongside NetHack, Angband and (of course) Rogue as one of the games against which all other roguelikes should be gauged. ADOM would evolve over the following decades, amassing a community drawn to the adventures its deep procedural engine offered. Its long development journey culminated in a Steam release in 2015.
Now, nearly two decades after ADOM’s release, the same team is bringing a sequel to Steam Early Access. Ultimate ADOM revamps the endearing but aged art style of the original ADOM to modernise its classic formula for today’s gamers. Crucially, it sacrifices none of the depth that’s been drawing series fans into its dungeons over and over again.
So what kind of depth are we talking about here? Vast procedural dungeons; over 26 skill-trees and more than 300 individual skills (with a lot more to follow during Early Access) that you’ll combine to create character builds you could never imagine; NPCs and quests; seven factions for you to ally or antagonise, with your actions having significant impact on the metagame and procedurally generated stories.
Smash all that together, and the opportunities for emergent adventure are endless.
As any fan of popular roguelikes like Binding of Isaac and Dead Cells will tell you, part of the genre’s magic is in its unpredictability. It’s a genre where the well-calculated vagaries of procedural generation are always pushing you to improvise and experiment with your builds, strategies and decisions. Fail to adapt, and you’ll find no respawns or resurrections here. Permadeath is a vital part of the intense and addictive learning process of a good roguelike.
One of the reasons you hear more people talking about roguelikes like Spelunky and FTL than the golden oldies is a matter of presentation. Unless you’re an 80s nostalgic or have a code-oriented mind, the ASCII characters that constituted games like Angband and Rogue would put many a graphically-spoilt gamer from playing these classics after a single glance.
ADOM was one of the first roguelikes to make itself more palatable thanks to actual graphics, and now Ultimate ADOM is building on that to try and become a true Rogue successor for the modern era. To that end, it has a bold, punchy art style with a graphical interface, full gamepad support and streamlined controls that will be easy to grasp, and a fair difficulty curve that will help new players learn the ropes, while still providing challenging gameplay for genre veterans.
While Ultimate ADOM owes a lot to the original Rogue, it’s coming from a developer that’s spent the past 24 years forging an identity for the series. ADOM is filled with unique idea and unique humour, so expect to see strange systems like grafting, which lets you stitch enemy body parts to your character to bolster your stats. In a world where you can do this kind of devilry, you get the feeling that anything - no matter how weird - is possible.
Ultimate ADOM is out to bridge the gap between the modern roguelike and the venerable, arcane games the genre is based on. If you want to join it on its quest, you can wishlist Ultimate ADOM on Steam or grab it in Early Access now. You can also get your voice heard on the developer’s Facebook and Twitter pages.