[Be sure to read my introduction to roguelikes, and check out my first roguelike highlight here. Also, you can click the images for larger versions.]

Brogue is a more traditional roguelike than Dungeons of Dredmor, but it’s still pretty easy to learn, and it has some really nice features. It’s a good starting point if you want to become acclimated to a typical “keyboard shortcut” control scheme, and it will provide some decent training before trying to tackle the most hardcore roguelikes. Plus it’s enough fun to appeal to veteran players too, and it’s completely free!

It’s also a fairly recent roguelike, with the first version released in 2009, and the most recent update arriving earlier this month. While traditional in its gameplay, it definitely has a modern aesthetic in its design, which makes a great mix.

Brogue features ASCII graphics, as most traditional roguelikes do, but they are some of the best I’ve seen. The excellent use of color and motion does wonders in effectively communicating environmental details to the player. Different levels of lighting can be seen through subtle color changes, and spell effects and other events can cast their own light over the surroundings. The dungeon gets noticeably darker as you descend, with light sources often coming from dim, greenish algae instead of the shafts of sunlight seen on the upper levels. Water tiles are animated to produce convincing ripples and eddies, and lava pools give off a reddish glow.

A lot of thought has gone into streamlining the controls as well. Many traditional roguelikes get bogged down with too many commands: you (W)ear and (T)ake off armor, (w)ield weapons, (P)ut on and (R)emove jewelry, (e)at food, (q)uaff potions, (z)ap wands, (t)hrow javelins, and so on. In Brogue, these are greatly simplified. Any wearable item is (e)quipped and (r)emoved, whether it be a piece of armor, jewelry, or a weapon. Any item that can be used is simply (a)pplied. This includes food, potions, magic scrolls, wands, and wizard staves. While still responding to the most basic keyboard commands that roguelike players are used to, it keeps the number small and provides an in-game help screen in case you forget any.

Then there are other convenience features, like fast-travel and auto-explore. Auto-explore is great; no longer do you have to manually walk your character around one tile at a time to explore the dungeon (although you can if you like). Simply hit the auto-explore key and your character will automatically explore areas that you haven’t been to, stopping if an enemy or item is spotted. This lets you quickly bypass the boring parts and gets you straight into the action. Fast-travel is great too; you can send your character automatically to the upward or downward stairs with a keypress (if you’ve found those stairs, that is), or to any arbitrary tile simply by clicking on it. This makes backtracking through areas you’ve already explored much less tedious.

Brogue also has some pretty cool features that I haven’t seen in other roguelikes. The main one is the scroll of enchantment. These magical scrolls are used to improve specific items and are the main way to customize your character. Since powerful weapons and armor have a strength requirement, and you can only gain strength by finding potions as you explore, you might want to start enchanting a particularly nice piece of equipment because this will lower the strength requirement (in addition to making the item more powerful). Or maybe you have a nice wizard’s staff; enchanting that will make it more powerful, let it hold more charges, and let it recharge faster. It’s a cool way to tailor your character based on the types of loot you happen to find on a given playthrough.

There are other nice touches too. Rather than simply having a potion that poisons you and another one that paralyzes you, in Brogue these potions actually release poison gas and paralyzing gas. These gas clouds expand and dissipate in a realistic manner, and can be trapped in rooms by shutting doors. This means that these potions, once you’ve discovered them, become potent weapons you can throw at enemies. Then there’s swamp gas. Swampy areas will slowly release swamp gas that will fill up the dungeon, but any flames that hit this gas will ignite it, causing a massive explosion and setting enemies (and you) on fire.

Oh yeah: fire. That’s another great feature in Brogue. With some incendiary darts or a staff of firebolt, you can start igniting all sorts of things. Grassy areas will catch fire, spreading flames over large areas of the dungeon and often setting several enemies alight. The aforementioned poison and paralysis gas clouds can be burned away, although much less violently than swamp gas. Strategic use of fire can provide some clever solutions to tricky problems, but you have to be careful you don’t ignite yourself as well.

The latest v1.5 update adds some cool things too, including a whole bunch of new weapons that play quite differently (one can attack an enemy and the enemy behind it, another hits all adjacent enemies, etc.). There are also special new treasure rooms, complete with a key that must be found to open the door and some truly devious specialized traps to keep you out. And the game already had captive monsters you could free and turn into allies, who then learn new skills and resistances as they fight alongside you. Add a small but varied cast of enemies that behave quite differently from one another, and you have a solid roguelike.

If you enjoyed Dungeons of Dredmor, or you’re just looking for a roguelike to try out that’s not too hard to learn, Brogue is an excellent choice, and there’s enough fun to be had playing with fire to please veteran players too. And I definitely recommend getting some training with Brogue before moving on to the more complex roguelikes that will be the subject of the next Highlight. I’ll briefly cover a few of the most popular “hardcore” roguelikes and then go into more depth on my personal favorite pick. Stay tuned!