hg_screenshot1.pngDisclosure: I backed Hero Generations on Kickstarter for a copy of the game.

Hero Generations is a roguelike in which every turn is a year of the hero's life and the player must find a mate before the character dies if they want the game to continue with a new generation. Developer Heart Shaped Games calls it a roguelike/4X strategy hybrid, but although the 4X influence is definitely there, the end product doesn't really feel like a 4X game. That doesn't, however, stop it from being interesting and unique.

The roguelike portion of the game is the overworld map. The player moves around it, piercing the fog of war in search of fame, which serves as the player's score. It's gained by victories in battle, recovering ancient treasures, and the like. The player can also pick up new character traits or items, which can be passed on to future generations, and money, which can be used to build or upgrade buildings next to the towns scattered around the map. The buildings either provide direct benefits when the player moves over them in the field or increase the quality and quantity of mates available in the towns.

Each potential mate has a requirement that must be met before they are willing to settle down with the current hero. Often, the requirement is a certain amount of fame, though there are other possibilities. Choosing a mate and settling down ends the wandering of the character in question, preventing them from further improving the state of things for the next generation. However, the exact traits and starting bonuses that the new hero gets come from card chosen by the player from a grid of face-down cards and the player gets an extra card flip for every ten years remaining on the hero's lifespan when they settle down.

The lifespan mechanics are at the core of what makes Hero Generations what it is. Each hero starts with a given number of years of their life which goes down by one with every move they make. Exactly how many years they start with is modified by card flips at conception and there are some things that can occur to extend the hero's lifespan here and there, but for the most part, the years wind down. Every so often, the hero hits a milestone in life, advancing to a new stage of maturity and gaining (or losing, if the milestone is old age) strength and getting the player a chance to choose another card out of five possibilities. Years of life remaining also serves as hit points for the hero.

Combat is a test of strength; both parties randomly roll a number between zero and their strength stat, and whoever rolls higher wins. This means that a win in combat is never guaranteed even if the hero has much higher strength than the opponent. In addition to their strength stats, the contenders also have a combat damage stat, and if they win, that's how much damage they deal unless the loser has some kind of damage reduction. Combat lasts for one round only, and if the loser is not killed, they are bounced to a random adjacent square. Multiple enemies can occupy a given square at once, which can result in a chain of single-round battles for the player.

hg_screenshot6.pngSo where a traditional roguelike is typically about learning the enemies and their abilities so you can decide how to deal with them, Hero Generations introduces more random elements to combat and uses the lifespan and generational mechanics to make the player focus more on the long term. Every decision must take the hero's remaining years and potential legacy into account. Is it worth fighting anything as a teenager, when the hero's strength is low? Should I repair that building so it will be there for the next hero at the expense of losing a card flip to get them another bonus?

4X is shorthand for explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. If I were to try to apply those to Hero Generations, I can really only make three of them work. Exploration happens not just once, but anew with every generation. Sixteen years pass between settling down and a new hero being ready to go, and although the lay of the land in a given region doesn't change much, the player is still expected to go out and rediscover everything. Then there are other regions to visit. Expansion is easy to pin down; that's inherent in buildings added to towns as the player finds them and upgraded later to provide greater benefits. Exploitation feels like a bit of a stretch, but once the player has found forests and caves and built buildings that produce things for the heroes to pick up, it makes a bit more sense. But although monsters wander the world, there doesn't seem to be a way to exterminate them. Every new generation, the monsters are back. And there's no faction directly opposed to the player as one usually expects from a 4X game.

Traits4.pngEven though I don't really buy into Hero Generations being a roguelike/4X hybrid, the 4X elements that have been woven into the game make it play differently from other roguelikes. It's turn- and grid-based in traditional roguelike fashion, but deviates far enough from the traditional mold that I'm tempted to call it a roguelite instead. I'm not sure how well die-hard fans of old-school roguelikes will like it. As a fan of both roguelikes and roguelites, I like it quite a bit.

Hero Generations is available on Windows, Mac, and OUYA at the regular price of $14.99, though it's currently 10% off for launch. A version with the soundtrack and a digital art book can be purchased for reg. $24.99, also currently 10% off.

[Hero Generations]