Counting Down The Best Roguelite Video Games of 2021

4. Loop Hero AND Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos

These two tied for the #4 spot on our list, yet each one offers an entirely unique experience. Loop Hero takes the roguelite formula and strangely blends it with the idle combat genre. The hero is set on a generated looping path and continuously moves forward, doing battle with whatever monsters it may encounter and interacting with features that appear along the path. Everything to do with combat is automated, relying on your stats to win the day for you, however successful battles, leveling up, and completing loops will give players the chance to equip better loot and unlock features like forests, mountains, towns, and more to place on the map around the loop. You’ll build the world out around the loop itself, finding the best combinations to make for an effective running engine. Players can also decide to rest when reaching their camp to bank points and unlock more features, but should the hero fall you’ll lose most of your earned resources. It’s a nuanced strategy of push-your-luck and engine building around the boiled-down essence of what it means to be a roguelite.

Loop Hero

Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos takes heavy inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and seamlessly blends it into the roguelite format. Players will select from a variety of unlockable classes to play as and venture out into the wilds and procedurally generated dungeons to defeat the bosses and save Tasos. The game’s beginning town is in shambles, but loot earned from scouring the dungeons can be used to build and improve buildings with limited customization options on how the town is built. All the loot earned, however, is not banked for use until the player dies and is resurrected, creating a gameplay loop of necessary defeats to dive deeper into the game. There are a ton of hidden secrets, neat tricks to discover, puzzles to solve, and classic LoZ inspired details ripe with nostalgia. Rogue Heroes can even be played with online and local co-op to go adventuring as a party.

Rogue Heroes

3. Inscryption

Combining roguelite mechanics with psychological horror, Inscryption is a dark and unsettling deck-building card game in which the player competes against a nefarious entity in the darkness. Players are able to leave the table and explore the small cabin in the woods within which they find themselves trapped. There are puzzles to solve and dark corners to explore, with each no completed puzzle unlocking new cards for your deck in the hopes you can finally defeat the darkness and escape. It’s a beautiful and haunting game to play – both the card game and Inscryption itself – with each failure bringing you closer to finally defeating your opponent. Roguelites naturally lend themselves to dark and brooding narratives given the nature of the genre; to die over and over and try again. Inscryption leans heavily into this idea from an aesthetic and narrative standpoint, but the gameplay isn’t about swinging a sword or dodging a boulder. It’s about sitting face to face with the creeping creature in the darkness and trying to outwit it while looking deep into its eyes. It’s a beautiful experience from top to bottom.


2. Deathloop

Despite being peppered with over-enthusiastic marketing, Deathloop has proven to be really fun. Centered around the story of Colt, a mercenary on Blackreef island, he is trying to kill eight specific targets in one night. The only problem is that Colt is stuck in a time loop. Blackreef is crawling with goons at an island-wide party, and any time Colt is killed, the loop resets and he has to start over. Add to that the fact there is a fellow assassin on the island gunning for him at all times… well, he has been at this for a while. Deathloop is an action FPS, giving Colt unique time-based powers and an arsenal of cool guns to get the job done. Each target has a set path of things they do throughout the loop, so patient players will learn their patterns and when is best to strike. Bethesda Studios and Arkane made what feels like a natural progression of Dishonoured and – despite the heavy barrage of marketing we were drowned in – Deathloop has turned out to be an incredibly engaging and addictive experience.

1. Returnal

Developer Housemarque made a modest reputation for themselves with beautiful shooters in a variety of genres. 2016’s Alienation is an epic sci-fi dungeon crawler and 2017’s Matterfall is a beautiful side-scrolling platformer. With the launch of the PlayStation 5, Housemarque pushed themselves and elevated their product in a new, experimental way for their studio. The result of that hard work is Returnal.

A third-person roguelite, Returnal sees protagonist Selene crash land on the alien world of Atropos in pursuit of the White Shadow signal. Selene is trapped in a cycle: each time she dies she awakens mid-crash. What proceeds is a haunting, creepy narrative through a dark and twisted Lovecraftian world. Each rebirth sees Atropos shift and change. Each creature the player faces is a writhing terror. Housemarque took an even greater chance and made this third-person title a bullet-hell – something more often reserved for top-down shooters – but pulled it off in a satisfying and challenging way. At no point in Returnal do you feel as if the game has cheated you.

Every death is a learning experience, and more importantly, one that is actually easy to learn. No one quite expected Returnal to be as good as it is, and the journey of both Housemarque and the game to get here will be remembered for years to come. It’s a game that doesn’t just feature roguelite mechanics, it has built its entire narrative around the necessity of death and has made the genre more accessible and inviting to those who are hesitant to try it.


Returnal is COGconnected’s Roguelite of the Year, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for Housemarque and Selene.