Doom, the Roguelike (DRL) Review

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It seems people are divided on the rogue genres which includes roguelike and roguelite. I know people who refuse to play games if there’s any random elements. And many games, especially indie games, over the past several years have gone down the roguelike path. Something is randomized whether it be environments, items, enemy spawns, etc. I, personally, don’t mind roguelike elements in games if it’s implemented well. I think it’s a good way of adding replay value. One of my favorite roguelites is Spelunky from Mossmouth, or Derek Yu. He was also involved with Doom, the Roguelike, abbreviated as DRL. Yes, there’s a Doom roguelike and it’s been out for quite some time apparently. From what I researched, it’s been out since 2002. Regardless, it’s a free and open source game based on classic Doom. It was developed by ChaosForge who are also responsible for Jupiter Hell, which is advertised as the successor to DRL.
I’ve played a few roguelikes over the years but I won’t pretend I’m well versed on the genre. DRL is designed to be accessible which is a good thing. There is a story here which is conveyed through text shown after completing certain levels. The goal is to descend into the moonbase complex and destroy the source of evil. If you’ve played other roguelikes, the gameplay should be pretty familiar. You start by choosing the difficulty, one of three classes that each have their own strengths, and a trait which provides you a benefit of some sort. You then name your character and off you go. The gameplay is presented in a top down or isometric perspective and the combat is turn-based but things can move quickly. You press the attack button, move, or perform an action and then the enemy or enemies will immediately do their thing, so on an so forth. You can move with the arrow keys or click on a location and your character will move there. You reveal parts of the map or level as they become visible and to progress to the next level, you need to find the stairs. Almost everything is randomly generated with the exception of boss and special levels. Random is one of the core elements of the genre and results in every playthrough feeling unique and different to some extent.

As you kill enemies, you’ll gain experience or increase your score and eventually level up. Whenever you level up, you put a point into a trait and pumping points into certain traits will make other traits become available. All the traits allow you to create different character builds. DRL is a difficult game so knowing what traits work well together is important. There is an inventory system and you can find all kinds of items littered throughout the levels like weapons, ammo, health, armor, and power-ups. Enemies will also drop items when killed. You have a limited amount of inventory space so you can’t store everything. You have to pick and choose. You can carry a ton of guns but will you have enough room for ammo? You can store plenty of ammo and weapons but will you have enough room for medpacks? You’re going to need to manage your inventory properly. There’s a good chance you’re going to die at some point. If you manage to complete specific tasks, you’ll rank up which I guess applies to your overall profile. After reaching certain ranks, you’ll unlock new game modes. There’s a lot of things to see and do in DRL and it can be quite addictive.
Almost everything but the gameplay in DRL is taken from Doom. It looks like Doom, it sounds like Doom, it just doesn’t play like Doom. The weapons are from Doom, the enemies are from Doom, most of the pick-ups are from Doom, and then some. There are new weapons like the combat knife, combat shotgun, and assault shotgun. And that’s just to name a few. But that’s not all. You can actually assemble new weapons using different modifications found throughout the levels. You can acquire and equip different types of armor, boots, and there are mod packs that can be used to modify or improve your equipment. Also, equipment can come in different what I’ll call rarities. You can acquire different suits which protect you from different things and the iconic power-ups like the Berserk Pack, Invulnerability, and Soul Sphere are present. Armor shards repair armor, Blue Potions grant health, Light Amplification Goggles increase visibility, and Phase Devices will teleport you to different locations in the levels. You can drop a thermonuclear bomb to destroy everything in the level except stairs and unique items. There are a lot of items and things to aid you during gameplay and ways to improve or enhance your character and equipment.
All of the enemies from classic Doom are present and they behave like you would expect. Former Humans wield pistols, Former Sergeants wield shotguns, Imps hurl fireballs, and Demons or Pinkies rush you. Just like classic Doom, there are monster closets and ambushes and you’re always going to be outnumbered. There are some new enemies thrown into the mix and many of the existing enemies come in different types. DRL can be very difficult and as accessible as it is, you really want to understand the traits, equipment, and what each enemy is capable of. The Marine is fragile but with the right combination of traits and equipment, it is possible to survive. If you die, it’s game over. Death is permanent. You can see your stats and then must start from the beginning with a new character. You accumulate points as you play and you can view the high scores in the Hall of Fame. Things can be frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you click wildly or try to rush through the game, you’re going to die. You can breeze through the first few levels but sooner or later you’re going to need to slow down and think. You’ll need to analyze the battlefield, be aware of your surroundings, listen for enemies nearby, know if you should move or attack, and know what items do and when to use them.

The levels are pretty basic looking but resemble what you would see in classic Doom. Boxes and/or crates are scattered around, you’ll traverse through Hellish-looking areas, parts of walls can be destroyed, you can use teleporters, and there are plenty of hazards to avoid like explosive barrels, acid, and lava. There are different types of explosive barrels, too. For example, if a barrel of acid blows up, it will leave behind acid on the ground. You’ll come across levers and/or switches that can remove walls or change something in the level. Sometimes it’s a trap. There is a radar or map on the HUD that shows whatever parts of the current level you’ve visited and any tiles you haven’t visited or seen are dark. Computer Area Maps will reveal items and objects in the level and Tracking Maps do the same thing but also reveal enemies which can be very helpful. Each level gives you plenty of reasons to explore. Furthermore, there are special levels which are accessed by traversing down red stairs. The type of Special Level is random but the Special Levels themselves are not. These are levels designed with a specific challenge if you will and you’ll be rewarded with goodies if you can survive them.
In addition to the standard game is the Challenge game modes which are unlocked by reaching certain ranks. And there are different Challenge game types if you want to call them that and they vary in difficulty. There’s one where you can only use melee attacks, another that reduces your inventory limit, and there’s one that removes all of the special levels and requires you to descend one hundred levels to win. The Dual-Angel Game Challenges mode allows you to run multiple challenge types simultaneously. And then there’s the Archangel Game Challenges mode which consists of extremely difficult challenge types. If the standard game and challenges aren’t enough the game does support mods or what the game calls modules.

I believe before Derek Yu got involved, the entire visual presentation consisted of ASCII characters. I’m assuming there were graphical tilesets that could be downloaded and installed but I really don’t know. Apparently, Derek Yu is the one who created the tileset that now comes with the game. With that said, the visuals are pretty spot-on. Everything resembles classic Doom. Like other rogulelikes, there’s not much animation but there are some neat visual effects like blood that splatters and nice looking explosion effects. I also like how the different armor colors will be reflected visually on the Marine. Most of the audio sounds like it was ripped straight from classic Doom. In fact, the weapons and enemies sound exactly like they would in the actual Doom games. On the technical side, the game runs great. I had no issues.

DRL is a lot better and more involved than I thought it would be. I had no idea it’s been around for so long and I had no idea it would be as involved as it is. It’s accessible, yet requires thinking. It’s challenging but not impossible. I had a great time with this and success will depend on patience and the time you take to actually learn everything. There’s a lot to see and do here and it’s a great recreation of classic Doom in the roguelike format. I can see players getting frustrated easily and it can suck getting really far and then having to start all over because of a stupid mistake or something you didn’t see coming. But every death should be a learning experience to some extent. It’s not the kind of game where you can memorize your way to the end because almost everything is randomized. You need to think, manage your inventory, and understand what makes a good character build.
Doom, the Roguelike is easily one of the best games in the genre I’ve ever played. It’s also a great starting point for those looking to get into the genre mainly because of how accessible it is. Best of all, it’s free. I would absolutely recommend it to fans of Doom and the roguelike genre. It may not be as fast-paced or as hectic as the legendary first-person shooters that influenced it but it does capture the charm and spirit of those games. If you don’t like the genre, you’re not going to like DRL. But if you’re at all interested, there’s no reason not to check this out.

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