On paper Rogue Islands just sounds like a list of buzzwords - Rogue-like, first-person, voxel, crafting, survival shooter - but after playing for a while it proves itself to be something more than just a combination of the top keywords in the Steam store. The game features all those things to lesser and greater degrees, but the combination works and lends the game a charm and immediacy lacking in many other Rogue-like or survival games. You’re a druid, and you must stop the Lords of Torment from doing something presumably rather tormenty by battling your way across seven procedurally generated islands, killing monsters, closing rifts, and crafting upgrades to give you the power to stop the Lords. Simple really.
The objective is basically the same on every island - close the demon portal - but how you have to approach this objective varies due to the procedurally generated environments, the type of enemies, whether there is a boss battle involved and the time of day. What may be a fairly simple jumping puzzle on one island might be a heck of a fight on another. Try and tackle a challenge at night and you’ll have to face deadly, invulnerable ghasts, but hide in your boat until the morning to try again may lead to the druid beginning to starve if you haven’t collected enough food. Having to run back to safety at night is a core strategy to any game of Rogue Islands, but the more you play and the further into each island you explore, the more dangerous that night time dash becomes.
Although the game definitely has a Minecraft look, it really is quite a different beast. Players can only “mine” a few specific things and the crafting is limited to new spells and new wands (each giving the player access to a new suite of spells). Unless you’re playing in a permadeath mode, with the right ingredients players can also craft Nightmares, special items that transform a death into a traumatising nightmare from which you awake back on your boat. It’s the game’s equivalent of lives, but in the punishing tradition of both Rogue-like and survival games, when you have a nightmare you are traumatised and don’t regenerate mana as swiftly as possible until you find one of the edible plants needed to cure the condition.
Mana is the core stat of Rogue Islands, and not having it regenerate as normal is a terrible punishment. Not only does mana power your available spells, it is also a resource you use for traversing the islands. The druid can run and jump, but a double jump spends mana and can boost the druid high into the air, or allow them to glide for a short distance. Balancing mana for attack and movement adds a nice element of simple resource management to the game, and the usefulness of mana makes finding a crop or raw mana - an element that will increase your available mana threshold - feels like a huge upgrade and incentive to play just a little while longer.