If you play Rezrog, you’ll have regrets
I’ve written before about the difficulties one encounters in reviewing roguelikes. The Steam storefront has so crowded as of late with roguelikes, roguelites, and just about every variation of “rogue” you can think of that a game can be a technically excellent example of the genre and still feel like a dull waste of time. It’s a currently relevant example of question reviewers of all media often encounter – should I evaluate this product solely on its own merits, or should I evaluate its place in a larger cultural context, comparing it to the quality of similar products on the market.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem I’m going to have with reviewing Rezrog. Even if this game had been the first roguelike I’d ever played in my life, I have no qualms saying it’s not worth your time. As much as I like the idea of a dungeon crawler styled like a real-life tabletop RPG, pretty graphics can’t change the fact that Rezrog is a bug-riddled mess of bad design decisions.
Okay Fluff, Lousy Crunch
Rezrog is a procedurally-generated dungeon crawler with permadeath taking place in the titular fantasy world. Battle evil wizards, beholder knock-offs, orcs…blah, blah, blah. There’s not much here that you haven’t seen before, except for the conceit that the whole thing takes place on a tabletop board, complete with a party of cardboard miniatures with customizable names. When your entire party gets captured – what else? You have to roll new characters, with new names and level 1 starting gear.
As a huge fan of tabletop RPGs – anyone who’s listened to the Hey Poor Podcast has heard tales of my ongoing endless sci-fi campaign – I always appreciate when videogames try to emulate their pizza-stained paper character sheet roots, even if it’s a purely aesthetic choice. And to its credit, Rezrog looks pretty nice. I like the little touches, like giant cola cans next to the game board, or the Hero Quest-like crappy paper furniture. Unfortunately, the distinction is merely graphical, and even that idea is not particularly original – the Knights of Pen and Paper series comes most immediately to mind, among others. As I said before – as cute an idea as it is, it can’t save an otherwise pretty terrible videogame.
Okay, onto the bad stuff. First of all, Rezrog just doesn’t work very well on a technical level. The opening cutscene sputters and spurts like the engine of a car long past its prime, even with the graphics turned all the way down on my relatively high-end gaming PC. It also crashes. A lot. By my count, it crashed six times just in my first three hours of playing. Sometimes it crashed behind loading screens (which are painfully slow even when they do work), sometimes it crashed when it was trying to render too many things on the screen at once, and sometimes it just crashed for no reason in the middle of an otherwise functional scene. I encountered other glitches, too, like when I would restart the game and items I previously had would just cease to exist, or when a dialogue box helpfully telling me to “Click on the dungeon entrance to start!” got stuck on the screen and refused to leave until – you guessed it – I restarted the game and sat through the broken opening cutscene and multiple long loading screens to get back where I was.
So even if the game was good, playing it is painful. Fortunately, you’re not missing much. The big gimmick here is the party mechanic – rather than playing as one powerful hero, there are seven playable characters, each taken from a standard RPG class (Mage, Warrior, Paladin, Rogue, etc.) You play as one of these characters at a time, and if they drop to zero HP, they get captured. The only way to free them is to play through the same dungeon again as a different character and win. When all of your characters are captured, they’re discarded, and you get to start the whole game over again with new characters with no equipment and starting stats.
I’m not sure why exactly this feature is Rezrog’s main selling point, since it doesn’t sound good in theory and is even worse in practice. The problem is that each hero isn’t built like a separate character (as in The Binding of Isaac or Crypt of the Necrodancer), but like one member of an RPG party. That is, they’re all only good at one specific thing, which both makes the game very difficult to complete and makes each character not very fun to play. There’s the potential for a game here about using different abilities to solve different parts of the dungeon – using the Rogue to bypass traps, then when he gets captured switching to the Warrior to take out enemies, etc. – but the dungeon resets every time a character gets captured, so instead it becomes a game of trying to do everything with your two very situational abilities. Imagine if you had to spend a whole week eating every meal with a plastic spoon, whether it was soup, cake, or steak, only less whimsical and fun than that sounds.
The worst part is that equipment isn’t shared – eventually you can buy a 1000 gold storage unit, but its capacity is limited and it can only be used between dungeons, which doesn’t help you if your Rogue just got captured with the Staff Of Awesome Summoning. Added to the fact that the game is very hard (mainly for the reasons described above), and the only way one character is going to save another from the 5th level of the dungeon is by playing the first four. Best of all: the only way to get starting equipment and abilities is by completing the first level, which is the same every time, and which you’re going to become intimately familiar with if you play with multiple characters (and if you experience the not-uncommon party wipe, you get to do it again seven more times!)
In the end, I found I had the best success by just playing with one character (the Paladin, not that I think it much matters) and over-leveling/equipping them so much that they never got captured. It wasn’t particularly fun playing the game with the same set of limited boring abilities, but it was a lot more fun than playing the same levels over and over again.
As for the rest of the actual gameplay, it’s an extremely standard RPG – kill monsters, take their stuff, complete levels by performing some action a certain number of times or finding a certain number of some things. All the thrill of watching numbers go up or down, tied to an extremely clunky menu system and with nothing much to make it stand out from the crowd. Combat is turn-based, involving a certain number of movement actions and one standard action in class D&D style. But since none of your abilities offer significant tactical advantages and even the rats in the starting area seem capable of outrunning every you’re mostly just gonna run up to every enemy and take turns clicking on each other until one of you dies (I highly recommend spending most of your money on health potions and dumping a lot of stat points into Endurance.)
Other than that, the only thing that really makes the game stand out is its length, though I would actually consider that a point against it. Sure, there’s 100 levels and more than 200 achievements to collect, but since you’ll get tired of it by level 3, the amount of content on offer serves only to turn a fairly dull game into a torturously drawn-out experience. Also: this is very much one of those games that substitutes procedural generation for actual variety, as though having hallways that go in different directions every time you play was actually a substitute for varied and interesting monster design or having lots of varied environments (though to be fair to Rezrog, sometimes the brown cubes that make up every level are orange or purple instead.)
While not the worst game I’ve ever played, I truly can’t fathom why anyone would put up with Rezrog when there are a few zillion other games just like it, many of which are much, much better.
Final Verdict: 1.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Kasedo Games; Developer: Soaphog; Players: 1; Released: May 31, 2017
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Rezrog given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.