July 24, 2015 10:30 AM | John Bridgman
The term roguelike gets used so much that it's hard to recall its roots. Rogue, Nethack, and the like were a different cut of role-playing game that attracted their player base through deep mechanics and often unforgiving situations. Each run was different, something special. And while the modern influx of roguelikes (or roguelites if you prefer) have those elements, it's not as often we see something as similar to the original concepts. That's where Freehold Games' massive Early Access undertaking, Caves of Qud, comes into play. It's a roguelike that's like Rogue, even with its science fiction and tech aspects.
First of all, the talented people at Freehold have definitely nailed what it's like to sink yourself into a roguelike. The game presents you with a lot of options for character builds, and the amount of actions you can perform as a result of your character decisions might be overwhelming until you get a handle on things. With mutations and class abilities, melee and ranged weapons, and the freedom to do nearly anything imaginable when confronted with a character, creature, or situation, it's easy to get lost. But getting lost is part of the fun, as you figure out what solutions work best for the character you've chosen. Whether it's charming a being to fight for you, going in aggressively swinging your bludgeon or sword, or tunneling through a rock wall for the element of surprise, you will learn the tricks available to you to survive in the harsh world of Qud.
It is as barebones as you might expect; there's no music or sound yet, and visually the game has the retro look and feel that the genre is generally known for at its roots. The complexity is not from its aesthetics, but from the game mechanics themselves. Though the Steam version is not in ASCII, instead it has a tileset that has a sort of old CRT feel to it. Complete with scanlines. In a very interesting decision, you can get an ASCII version on the Freehold website for free. I really like this decision, and for what it's worth, I think the game benefits greatly from having the tileset, but if you're interested in seeing what it's like before buying, it's a solid option.
Being still in Beta, the game is not yet complete. The developers still have to finish out the main storyline, as well as having more elements to add to it such as the aforementioned audio. I know that they've been working hard at Freehold and have pushed out more bugfixes since I started writing this article and will no doubt continue to do so. Caves of Qud is clearly a work they are very passionate about and it shows in their dedication.
Keep in mind this isn't a fantasy game. There are guns and mutants, and one of the classes starts with a water recycling suit that reminds me of Dune. Trade is done in dollars, and it's nice to have a basic understanding of the values you're dealing with as you barter. Though the tech level seems to be overall low for the most part, especially starting off, as you'll primarily be dealing with primitive weapons and torches rather than fancy technology. In one of my playthroughs I wound up using a defeated enemy body as a thrown weapon. Not the most effective, but it's something the game lets you do anyways.
Caves of Qud is a massive undertaking for the studio. The current state has a great amount of content just through its procedural generation, and the intention is to add even more content as development continues. Without a current timeline for development, some folks may be turned off this game, as Early Access titles can leave people uneasy about buying in, but since there's a playable free version, you can decide without risk if this is the game for you. I am absolutely hooked on it, and I think anyone who likes roguelikes, or wants to try a more traditional take on the genre, is going to sink a lot of time into this gem.