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Metasystems Matter in Roguelite Games

Making sure Players don’t run out of content is a huge issue that Game Developers across PC, Console, and Mobile have.  Developers of Roguelite Games seem to have largely mitigated this content issue by having procedurally generated content as their core gameplay.  But while the problem of gameplay content seems to have been solved, many Roguelite Games either neglect or under-develop their Metasystems. Because of the RPG-nature of many Roguelite Games (Turnbased, Action, or otherwise), Game Developers can not only monetize the games better by incorporating deeper, more meaningful Metasystems, but they can also give more direction and purpose to the Gameplay grind.  

One important aspect of good game design is the idea that a player should make progress in every meaningful play session.  This means that when the Player has engaged with the core loops in the way the developer has intended, they should be better off than when they first began.  Some Roguelite games accomplish this. In Archero, Players will receive gold when they first enter the Stage at Level 1.  

The farther along they get in that Stage, the more gold they can earn along with equipment scrolls, equipment, etc.  But the point is that no matter how far they get along, Players will walk away with a minimum of Gold by spending that Energy.  Note that Archero uses an Energy mechanic whereas a lot of other Roguelite Games don’t. Because of the Energy Mechanic, Archero can afford to give away Gold at Level 1 and not worry about abuse.

Other Roguelite Games are not so generous.  

In Dream Quest, Players can unlock available Cards for Classes and improve their initial conditions through Achievements.  But the problem is that it may take Players a lot of playthroughs before completing an achievement. In many cases, losing a playthrough will get players this:

Points are useful for revives, but as a Player I don’t feel as though i’ve made any meaningful progress in the game.  

Given that many Roguelite Games are RPGs of some sort, its curious why companies haven’t pushed more on the Metasystem design.  One aspect of RPGs is that its pretty inexpensive to expand content for Elder Game players, at least balance-wise.  For Roguelite Games especially, if a Developer is worried about Players getting too strong, the easy solution is to create later levels with stronger enemies to challenge those strong Players.  Because of this, Roguelite Games should push on the design of their RPG Metasystems. Notably, the following things can be improved on:

  1. Deeper Systems per Hero

Everything systems you find in RPGs across F2P Mobile and PC/Console is fair game to be used in Roguelite Games, including:

  1. Hero Equipment (Like WoW Equipment)
  1. RNG Systems (like Runes in Summoners War)
Every RPG should have an RNG system.
  1. Hero Tiers (Like Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes)
Hero Tiers seem like a no-brainer.
  1. Talent Trees (from WoW)
Way more impressive than Archero’s Talent System
  1. The List goes on….

This is not to say that no Roguelite Games are implementing some of these features.  Archero has talents.  

Doesn’t quite have the grandeur of WoW.

Archero also has a rather basic equipment system too.  

If you wanted to develop an equipment system that would last 5 years, this is too shallow.

You might argue that the audience for Roguelite Games is too casual for deeper, more complicated Metasystems.  Not only is there little evidence that the audience will reject more complex systems, that risk is more than outweighed by the risk of running out of content.  Archer had to introduce a 7th Equipment rarity because getting to Rarity 6 was too easy.

For the long-term health of your game, its always better to err on the side of more depth rather than more simplicity.

  1. More Heroes and Hero Management

All depth effect of all these complex Hero Systems is multiplied by the number of Heroes that a Player needs to use to optimize their progression in the game.  While many RPGs utilize parties of 3-5, Roguelite Games typically will have players play 1 Hero at a time. This is not to say Roguelite Games don’t have multiple Heroes–Dream Quest, Slay the Spire, and Archero all have multiple Heroes.  But the incentive to use and optimize multiple Heroes is thin. Archero arguably does the best by giving objective stat-gains for specific Hero collection and investment.

The influence of Tencent here is clear.

It’s surprising to me that more Roguelite Games don’t deviate from the 1 Hero format.  While having more than one Hero might be difficult for Action RPGs like Archero, I don’t see why a multi-Hero gameplay format can’t work in Turn-Based gameplay.  The combat in Dream Quest, for example, can support multiple Heroes with a significant UI change.  

But even if the Gameplay can’t support using multiple Heroes at once, there are systems you can use to achieve similar effects.  For example, a Roguelite game can implement an event like that of the Arcane Labrynth in AFK Arena, where a Player can use all their Heroes, but health between Stages is persistent and a Player can only go as far as ALL of their Heroes will take them.  

These Persistent Health Systems are great for encouraging investment in multiple heroes.

Something like that would work well for Roguelite games. 

Stat-Based Gameplay doesn’t have to be Spender-Oriented.

Some people won’t like pushing Roguelite Systems deeper into RPG territory as it may make the games favor Spenders more than non-spenders more than if the gameplay was more skill-oriented.  My simple answer is that a Stat-Based system is as Pay to Win as you want to make it. You could implement a super-deep stat system, and just be very generous with rewarding players so that spenders don’t have a huge advantage.  Or you remove monetization off of stats altogether and focus monetization on gameplay (energy, keys, gameplay tokens, etc.). There are a lot of possibilities. The only concern in writing this article is that I felt that Roguelite Games could be improved if they had Metasystems that both directed the Player more as well as gave them a greater sense of Progression in an otherwise largely random Gameplay experience.

That’s it for me.  Thank you for reading!  If you want to see more Game Design posts from me, please subscribe to ggDigest here:

Until next time.  Stay safe everyone!



2 thoughts on “Metasystems Matter in Roguelite Games

    1. Thank you! I’ve just learned that Archero implemented a feature recently that attempts to address this. I’ll do a follow-up post about this soon. Thanks for reading!


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