Rogue-like & Souls-like: Commons and Differences
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
Before we start,
I need to justify these two concepts first. In this document, the term "Rogue-like" refers to the "roguelike-like" game, which is a concept that is most familiar with today's players.? The term "Souls-like" refers to games that similar to games developed by FromSoftware. (Click the link to know more about them. )
So here comes the question: What make these two kinds of games successful in attracting players to play them again and again though they all have high difficulty? Maybe we can start by analyzing the common places between them.
They are all based on player's death.
When I say "based", I mean the game loop is based on player's death. Every time the player dies and the player will be sent back to a "Safe Place" (I'll talk about it later) where he can start the level again. Unlike traditional RPG, roguelikes and soulslikes are willing to kill their players over and over again. There are multiple ways to cause their death: traps, ambushes, being surrounded, and falling down from high place.
The interesting thing is, instead of feeling frustrated (I have to admit that some players do feel frustrated after several failures, then they just quit the game and never open it again), roguelikes & soulslikes players will adjust themselves quickly and be ready for the next try (death maybe). Why? Maybe as experienced players, they already know repetitive death is one part of roguelikes or soulslikes. Maybe they are surprised by the different ways they can die in the game. Or maybe they just want to challenge the difficult levels and themselves.
They all have challenging battles.
As I mentioned before, both of them have difficult battles. And that's the direct cause of player's death. The battle is hard, but what makes it hard? On the one hand, though a single enemy is super easy to defeat without getting hurt. However, some combination of them can be very fatal. You just cannot even get close to them. On the other hand, characters of roguelikes and soulslikes always get limited supplies, which forces players to get as less damage as they can.
Because of this, players "die a lot" in these games. They struggle a lot. Since they still don't give up, there must be some attracting goals that make them think it worth. In my opinion, that's the most critical part of roguelikes and soulslikes that creates high engagement for players. They learn and practice their skills during the "death loop" (get killed - respawn- try another tactic - get killed). When they finally made it, there will be a strong feeling of achievement. It's not about their characters but players themselves. That's another commonplace I want to talk about.
Players all can feel the strong sense of accomplishment.
“Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavour, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
This quote from Charlotte Brontë perfectly describes what I was feeling when I win a tough battle in roguelikes and soulslikes. That moment, the victory gained by themselves, is what players are seeking in these games. That means they are getting stronger; they defeated what seems like unbeatable at first. By winning this, they've just exceeded themselves! They can feel that they are getting more skillful than they used to be! That's the "LEVEL UP" of players themselves instead of the characters in the game.
The achievement system also helped a lot during this process. It helps to record players' every epic victory in their journey. What's more, the achievement system is related to a kind of cross-title score of one player. In this way, by gathering soulslikes and roguelikes' achievements (or trophies), this sense of accomplishment can be strengthened.
However, from my perspective, these two games must have their unique points that can keep players engaged. So let's dig deeper into the differences between roguelikes and soulslike games.
Different respawn place
What does it mean? It means players will restart at places with different distance to their last progress. As we all know, the closer we are to the place our characters died last time, the easier it will be for us to get there. So are roguelikes more difficult than soulslikes? Not really. From my perspective, I think it depends on their significantly different game mechanic.
For soulslikes, even though players are closer to their latest progress, the strength of the level (enemies, traps, and terrain) can be harder than roguelikes. If we take the soulslikes' character's upgrades into consideration, we will find that actual difficulty of respawning place between these two games are very similar.
And another important reason for this difference is roguelikes reset character's status and let it restart at the same place to encourage players to explore more possible (powerful, even interesting) combinations of skills and gears. At the same time, soulslikes' character cannot change its build easily because of the persistent upgrade (I'll discuss that later). As the result, there is no need to expect the character to make the huge change on its build (unless by using some item or NPC to reset the character's status manually).
Besides, to an experienced player, the time to clear one new soulslike game is much longer than to clear one new roguelike game because there are more scenes and chapters in soulslikes than roguelikes. It's clear that the longer time the game loop is, the more frustrated players will be when they are killed and respawned again. So as you can see, the actual time length of one death loop in soulslikes is also close to that in roguelikes.
Finally, we can find an interesting truth: because of the mechanic difference, these two games using different respawn rules to make sure their death loop's difficulty and duration are in a reasonable interval.
Different randomness settings
Like the first entry of the Berlin Interpretation (this entry can be applied in both "roguelike" and "roguelike-like"), the game world of roguelikes is "randomly generated in a way that increases replayability". Because of the special respawn rules in roguelikes, players can encounter a bunch of random events and try different build (both skills and gears) every time when they play and start a new character. By doing this, players can have new experience each time they play a new game and explore the game from a different perspective. Randomness helps a lot in roguelikes because roguelike players will never know what is waiting for them behind the next door. Unpredictable things increase engagement in roguelikes.
Things can be unpredictable in soulslikes for the players who play this game for the first time. However, with the time they explore this level increase, they will know more details about this level. This is because the map of each level in soulslikes is fixed, as well as the pickable items and switches in the environment. What's more, if you are using the in-game network function, you can also receive some messages from other players which alert you the danger waiting ahead. In conclusion, unlike roguelikes, soulslikes relies on players memory and experience to explore than on luck.
Is that means there is no randomness in soulslikes? Of course no. The items dropped by normal enemies in soulslikes is totally random. The weapon they are using, the armor they are wearing, you can get them all if you are willing to slay enough of them (and lucky enough). Besides, if you are an achievement hunter, some of these items are related to achievements. So maybe you have to slay them (or from other players) to get the items required. Is that fun? Ummmm... kind of. I mean, it makes me feel good when I finally gathered all of the items or gears. But I swear I won't touch these guys anymore after that!
Like what I've discussed in the previous post, though roguelikes emphasis "Permadeath" (characters will be totally reset after being killed), there are still some well-designed roguelikes with the persistent upgrade while all of the soulslikes have persistent upgrade. In this part, I'd like to compare soulslikes with traditional roguelikes that without any form of persistent upgrade.
As we all know, one function of the upgrade in game is reducing the difficulty. Players from both roguelikes and soulslikes can get upgrade during the game process for sure. But after being killed, roguelike characters will lose all of the upgrades while soulslike characters will still keep the gears, skills, and attributes. Is that unfair to the roguelike players? It seems so, but the truth is "NO". Like what I mentioned above, roguelikes encourage players to explore different combinations of skills and gears in an unpredictable environment. The Randomness make this (totally reset) more enjoyable than punishment. When my character starts over from the first level, instead of feeling frustrated about the last death, I wonder more about what kind of equipment and buffs I can get in this round. Maybe one critical item in the next room will completely reverse the current unfavorable situation.
To soulslike players, the persistent upgrade is proof of their character's growth. Any single upgrade of soulslike is not as obvious as roguelikes (e.g., damage + 4 v.s. damage + 20%), but it can be accumulated into a significant perk. Soulslike players can feel the gradual progress of their character as well as of their own skills. Players can collect as many skills and gears as they want and enjoy the process. These slight but accumulative upgrades can also help them to pass the critical threshold they meet.
I like roguelikes and soulslikes because as a player, I love exploring unknown and challenging myself. What's more from these games, I learned to face my failure instead of escaping from it.
Instead of saying "Oh the game is so hard for me!" I'd like to say: "Maybe I can push further next time if I use this tactic..."
Hope this article helped you~!