• Xiangyu (Shawn) Sun

Is it OK for Roguelike Games to Have Persistent Upgrades?

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

As we all know, one of roguelike games' features is that characters die forever during the game process. Which means you cannot get your equipment and level back when you start again. As a result, there are common complains that one sudden death can make player's hours' hard work paid in vain. So do we need to add some persistent upgrades in roguelikes? If we do so, is this game still a roguelike game?

Let's think about the key features of roguelike games. First, roguelikes have random map generation, which means everytime you start a new game, you will face a completely new stage and monsters. Memory about maps no longer plays an important role in clearing the stages. Second, characters in roguelike games have permadeath, which means that your character has to be reset when you start a new game. Many players love tangible progress when playing games because they can get the feeling of achievement more easily from this progress. So sometimes roguelike games can be a waste of time for them.

That thoughts are clearly not correct. Players can learn from their death in roguelikes. For example, they can explore more powerful combination of skills and equipment. When facing different selections, experienced roguelike player knows which one selection can help his character gain more benefit. Besides, they will learn and apply different tactics when fighting with different bosses.

Actually, there are roguelike games with persistent upgrades. In Rogue Legacy, the player can spend money to upgrade the castle permanently. These upgrades can boost characters' health and attack power at the very beginning. As player unlock more and more upgrades of the castle, the difficulty of the game goes lower. After multiple runs in the game, the player can even defeat the boss with several single hits!

Even this goes against roguelike game's features, however, Rogue Legacy is a successful roguelike game. The designer controls the time gap between each upgrade by increasing the price of each upgrade. In Rogue legacy, all of the money that character has will set zero after entering the new level. As the consequence, in order to gather enough money for the next upgrade, the player has to dig into the higher level to earn more bonus from them. Higher the upgrade is, more money it will cost, the deeper level are players required to explore. From this perspective, players are forced by the upgrade system to get familiar with the game world and become more skillful while they can still feel the tangible progress during the game process.

In conclusion, even though persistent upgrades can limit players' skill in the game, it can help beginner players build confidence more easily. Besides, this setting can also help more players enjoy the fun of roguelikes. However, because this can interrupt roguelike games' original core gameplay, designers should be careful about keeping the balance between upgrades and the game's difficulty.

Special thanks to Kai Kuehner, my classmate in Game Design class, he provided me a relevant video made by GMTK (Here is the link:, which surprised me a lot because that video's view is very similar to my points. In that video, the GMTK also takes Hades and Dead Cell for examples. Among these three games, I've already played two of them except Hades. Then I took a look at the Hades game and found out something in common among these three:

1. The upgrades are enabled at each beginning of the game

2. With the upgrade level rises, the cost of them also rises in an index increase. (As what I mentioned before, this setting forces players explore deeper into the dungeon to accumulate score to pay for the next upgrade)

3. Since the character with higher upgrades can explore the dungeon deeper, these three games all do a good job on the data designing, which is about how much one upgrade can boost the character and how much the next upgrade's cost should be. These two kinds of data play an important role in designing a roguelike with persistent upgrades.

#Roguelikes #SystemDesign

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