Death is different in roguelikes. In most games, when your health hits zero, you get plopped right back at your last checkpoint. The game goes on as if you never died at all. In a roguelike, though, dying means a quick trip all the way back to the start of the game. Is it frustrating? Absolutely. Infuriating? No doubt. But that ever-present risk of losing it all is what makes roguelikes so darn appealing.
Despite their reputation for difficulty, roguelikes tend to reward you, even if you fail. Permanent upgrades that persist between runs make subsequent attempts just that tiny bit easier. Still, a well-designed roguelike always ties progression to your growth as a player, not the level of your character. After hours of attempts, it’s not the upgrades you bought that will seal your victory; you’ll beat that boss by learning his patterns and making all the right moves.
Steam has hundreds of incredible roguelike titles available right now, with countless more on the way. In fact, there are so many great games out there that it’s hard to even know where to begin! Start right here with our picks for the 10 best roguelike games on Steam.
Hades is a fast and vicious isometric hack ‘n’ slash by Supergiant in which you play the son of Hades attempting to escape his father’s domain. The road to the surface is long and dangerous, and the prince of the underworld will have to fight his way through all the zones of hell, besting mythical beasts and long-dead legends along the way.
Combat in Hades is frantic and brutal, with a focus on quick reflexes and careful movement. The “boons” that the rebellious young demigod receives from his distant family on Mount Olympus inject variety into the button-mashing mayhem.
These boons grant our hero new skills and passive stat buffs that can be mixed and matched to create all sorts of fun combinations. As with any good roguelike, half the fun of Hades is in improvising a build on the fly.
Hades uses its fight-die-repeat cycle as a narrative engine to drive the game’s plot, death after death. Characters will acknowledge your failures and praise your achievements, lending the game’s world a narrative persistence that builds immersion with every attempt at escape.
Slowly, gradually, you’re fed bits and pieces about Hades’ colorful supporting cast—tales of old flames, star-crossed lovers, and familial rivalries. As you become engrossed in the petty politics and divine dramas of Hades, dying feels less like failure and more like a chance to catch up with old friends.
The Beheaded is a shapeless, undying creature with a penchant for possessing headless corpses. It’s also the plucky protagonist of the next game on our list: Dead Cells by Motion Twin.
Dead Cells is a 2D side-scrolling action platformer that plays like Castlevania on crack. You’ll power through increasingly dangerous biomes of a ruined medieval town, from its toxic gas-filled sewers, through the town’s dilapidated streets, and up to the ominous Clock Tower at the town’s heart.
Buffs and status effects are tied to the weapons and skills you find on your journey, and these effects mix and combine in fun and fascinating ways. You can only have two weapons and two skills equipped at once, so Dead Cells quickly becomes a game of optimizing weapon synergies and skill combos (on top of tearing otherworldly fiends and mutants to pieces).
Snappy movement and responsive controls ensure there’s never a moment where you feel you’re not in the driver’s seat. Every death feels avoidable, like you could have made it work if you had just played better. That agency you have over the hero’s fate helps curb the frustration of dying, again and again. So, when you finally defeat a tough boss or escape a dangerous biome by the skin of your teeth, it feels like an achievement worth celebrating.
FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL: Faster Than Light by Subset Games tasks the player with micromanaging the crew and components of an intergalactic starship on a great escape as it hops from star system to star system, rescuing scientists, battling pirates, and chasing off rebels along the way.
The ships in FTL are each made up of several systems—O2, weapons, engines, and so on—and the player must manage and maintain these systems if they want to make it to Federation space in one piece. When a system is destroyed by enemy fire, you can assign crew members to repair it, but at a cost.
Some systems are only active when there’s someone manning them, so sending a crew member from weapons to repair your shields means you now have no way of firing at the enemy. Catching a missile can turn a routine encounter into a mad frenzy as you try to stamp out fires, get disabled systems operational, and fight off the enemy’s boarding crew all at once.
This system-based design also allows for some neat strategies. For instance, by focusing fire on the enemy’s O2 systems, you can cause their crew to suffocate to death inside of their own ship. Having trouble dealing with widespread fires? Try opening up doors to expel all the oxygen from your ship’s interior, choking the fire out in the process.
Slay the Spire
Countless copycats have tried to recreate Slay the Spire’s formula, but none have managed to replicate the madness and unpredictability of Mega Crit Game’s deck-building roguelike.
Roguelikes are all about working with what you’ve got and theorycrafting your build as you piece it together. The thing about Slay the Spire is that it doesn’t seem to care if you break the game in the process.
There’s a multitude of cards with all sorts of crazy effects that interact with other cards in surprising and satisfying ways. No matter how you build your deck, you can almost always find a way to make it work, hero classes be damned. Want to turn your melee brawler into a spell-casting warlock? If you can find the right cards, why not?
What’s even more amazing is that even with all the wacky builds that are viable in the game, Slay the Spire is still balanced to near-perfection. Over the years, Mega Crit Games has introduced new bosses and monster types that are designed to counter certain overpowered builds. You’ll never complete a full run by spamming the same “cheese” tactic.
Deckbuilding roguelikes are a dime a dozen nowadays, but even years after it was first released, Slay the Spire remains one of the best card games you’ll ever play.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
In this musical dungeon crawler by Brace Yourself Games, players must boogie and bop their way through the dungeon depths, slaying beasts and gathering treasure to the driving beat of its drum-heavy EDM soundtrack.
Every action you take must be performed in time with the music’s beat, whether it’s attacking, defending, or simple movement. Tapping to the rhythm increases your score multiplier, which allows you to rack up more coins and pick up higher-quality items. Lose the groove and you’re in for a bad time—a mistimed move causes your character to stand still, which opens up your defenses for a deadly strike.
Even once you’ve nailed the mechanics, don’t think for a moment that you can loosen your focus. Mastery in Crypt of the Necrodancer is all about consistency, and the game requires sustained concentration while you dodge demons and mutilate monsters. This gets harder as you dive deeper into the dungeon, but when you inevitably fall to a stray arrow or surprise zombie slap, the music always pulls you back in for another go.
“Hotline Miami in space” just about sums up the core of what Heat Signature is. There’s more to it than that, of course, but if those four words aren’t enough to pique your interest, just know that we’re already judging you.
Like Hotline Miami, Heat Signature is an ultra-violent ballet of bullets. In Heat Signature, you play as a mercenary who takes on violent contracts in a galaxy at war. The work you do entails tracking down targets, boarding their ships, and fulfilling the conditions of your contract (which usually involves murder, kidnapping, or thievery).
Heat Signature is sold as an action-stealth game, but you can play as loud as you want. Go in guns blazing or smash heads in silence; both methods are viable and equally satisfying. Players can slow down time at will, which provides ample time to take out groups of enemies in one fell swoop. Plotting out a plan and executing it with deadly efficiency is downright delicious.
Your actions don’t just benefit yourself; every target murdered or valuable object stolen affects the state of the galaxy, gently pushing and tugging at the balance of power across the systems.
Rogue Legacy 2
Rogue Legacy 2 builds on the classic side-scrolling dungeon-crawling action of the original, this time with more weapons, more biomes to explore, and revamped graphics.
If you loved the first game, then you’ll be more than pleased with what its sequel has to offer. The core gameplay that made number one so popular is still intact, including the highly-praised Heir system.
When your character dies, you respawn as an entirely new hero who is the offspring of the last. Some of your old hero’s traits carry on to the new generation fighter, and the biomes and areas you’ve unlocked previously remain accessible. It’s one of the best takes on persistent progress that we’ve seen in a roguelike, and it even makes you care for your characters. When a new hero feels like a handicapped version of your last, you get a genuine sense of nostalgia for heroes past.
Mega Man X is a series that’s near and dear to our hearts. In fact, we still think it’s one of the best-looking pixel art series ever, despite now being reduced to fodder for nostalgia-based anniversary compilations. No other modern series emulates the fast platforming action of X as closely as 30XX.
Batterystaple Games has picked up where Capcom left off with 30XX. All of X and Zero’s abilities are there, perfectly emulated to give you the same sense of weight and inertia as in the SNES classics.
30XX is more than a well-made tribute to a platforming classic. You can collect new weapons and armor during a run that completely transform the way you play, with effects ranging from adding a simple double jump to summoning a tiny drone to gather collectibles for you. 30XX’s randomly-generated stages are also much more vertical than any in the X series, which pushes you to constantly explore nooks and crannies in search of hidden gear and secret powerups.
In keeping with Mega Man X tradition, the soundtrack in 30XX rocks. The hard-hitting chiptune beats vibe perfectly with the game’s retro aesthetic, pumping you up as you’re blasting bots and jumping and dashing across moving platforms and spike traps.
Although at times repetitive, if you’re a fan of classic action platformers from the ’90s, 30XX (and its prequel 20XX, which is great in its own right) is worth a look.
Have you ever wondered where the stores in RPGs get the weapons and armor they sell you? Moonlighter by Digital Sun offers an answer, putting you in the boots of an RPG store clerk.
During the day, you manage your shop, arranging your wares for display and attending to the heroes and adventurers that stop in to have a look. At night the game transforms into a Zelda-like action RPG. You take up your sword and venture into nearby dungeons, fighting all manner of mobs and monsters in your search for materials and gear to sell to tomorrow’s patrons.
There’s some light town management, too. Your town at the start of the game is in bad shape, and it’s up to you to bring some much-needed tourist attention to it. Since you’re a shop owner and not a blacksmith or armorer, you can’t actually make your own items. You can, however, spend money and invest in the local craftsmen, allowing you to source weapons and armor of a higher quality.
Moonlighter provides a unique perspective on the logistics and economics behind the NPC stores in your favorite RPGs. If you like Zelda, roguelikes, and sims, Moonlighter gives you the perfect blend of all three.
Into the Breach
Subset Games secures another spot on this list with Into the Breach, a turn-based strategy game inspired by Kaiju films and real robot anime.
Instead of the blunt, all-out destruction you might expect from giants clashing, combat in Into the Breach is thoughtful and nuanced. That’s in large part due to the game’s emphasis on positioning and movement. Many attacks and skills can move other units on the board, and you can exploit this mechanic to force enemies into environmental hazards or the attack range of an ally. That same effect also applies to friendly units, though, which leads to some hilarious mishaps, like pushing a buddy straight off a cliff.
Kaiju are constantly spawning on the board, forcing short-term sacrifices for long-term survival. For instance, you can move a unit to physically block a new spawn at the cost of some armor points. This constant managing of risk and reward makes Into the Breach feel less like your typical tactical game and more like a wild variant of chess where the moves are limited and the enemy’s pieces are constantly replenishing.
And with that, our list comes to a close. There are plenty of amazing roguelikes that just missed out on making this list, so once you’re done exploring these titles, we recommend a deep dive into all the other incredible games you can find on Steam.
Need a break from the tension and intensity of roguelikes? If you’re a sucker for a good story, check out our list of the best the best story-rich games on Steam. Maybe retro Metroidvanias are what you’re into? Then, this guide to the best Metroidvania games on Steam is exactly what you need.