The pre-alpha build of Rogue Wizards for PC demonstrates Spellbind Studios understands the building blocks of roguelike dungeon exploration. The turn-based combat is simple, but allows enough equipment-based options to hint at future complexity. Item creation encourages exploration through the procedurally generated halls: junk items can be combined to create useful goodies or enhance a favorite piece of gear. Treasure, which is named with familiar, Diablo-style suffixes, provides useful stat bonuses. There's enough variation among the equipment that mixing and matching is the key to success. Higher numbers are always better, but the distribution of those numbers is also important. HP restores on level-up.
"It's easy to fall into a rhythm slapping down monsters and picking up treasure."
The game starts in a field of tiles. All start out empty except three: your tower, the tavern, and the dungeon portal. After accepting a mission at the tavern, the portal leads to where the killing needs to be done. Defeating a unique monster and escaping the dungeon results in a reward, of which building plans are the most interesting. The game's story is practically non-existent, but constructing a town throughout the game could provide worthwhile moments of emergent narrative. Building plans allow the construction of shops, magic-boosting altars, and towers to expand your territory. The demo contained plans for a weapon shop, an armory, and an item shop. Some shops can be upgraded; the cost goes down as you sell off excess gear.
After playing the first two dungeons, I was disappointed I couldn't immediately dig in to the next levels. It's easy to fall into a rhythm slapping down monsters and picking up treasure. The mini-map is clear, and dungeon navigation is simple and low-stress. Clicking on a distant tile moves the unnamed wizard along without a need for extraneous clicking, although single-click movement and keyboard are available for more delicate maneuvers. It's easy to explore too deep and get into fatal trouble, especially since enemies fire the same turn you're first able to see them. Luckily, death is only a temporary setback. Dying fails the mission and sends you back to town wiser and unbroken. Overall, the interface is slick and easy. About the only thing it's missing at this point is an auto pickup feature for gold and a way to tell an item's name without picking it up.
Combat centers on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. The taskbar contains eight slots for weapons, items, or spells. Juggling the ideal load-out looks like it will require a lot of time as the game progresses, since every enemy has an elemental affinity and an elemental weakness. Loading up on wands and spells that deal cosmic damage isn't going to do a lot of good against enemies who're weak against sky damage. Six types of magic are available, each of which will eventually have plenty of spells. Presently, the one spell available per type of magic suggests each type will have its own specialties and encourage different play styles. For example, Quake (an earth spell) deals area damage while Root (a nature spell) has a chance to immobilize enemies. Each type of magic is powered by its own reagent. Although reagents are physical items that can be purchased or found in chests, they function as magic points.
Even if the Rogue Wizards Kickstarter campaign doesn't succeed, I'd be surprised if a publisher doesn't snap the game up. The cartoony graphics and simple controls lend themselves to the current mobile market, while the accumulation of power and land appeal to anyone with dreams of becoming a wizard/19th-century cattle baron. If all goes well, Rogue Wizards will be available March 2016. The demo already shows a solid base, so the game's success depends on how well the Spellbind Studios team arranges the blocks already in place.