One Way Heroics holds two things in tension: progress and annihilation.
That’s not surprising given that the game exists somewhere within the family resemblance of the roguelike genre. Procedural generation of terrain, item drops, and enemies sets the boundaries for the kind of experience that you can have with One Way Heroics, and in that we it is very familiar to anyone who has played an indie darling on the PC platform over the past couple years.
On the other hand, One Way Heroics has several unique properties that make it a very special enterprise. One is the time limit. Instead of navigating a maze or traveling ever-downward in a dungeon, the player makes their way toward the right side of the screen. As the player moves, things scroll off the left side. When something disappears, it dies to the evil forces that are warping the land behind you. One Way Heroics is putting you in the position to run away from the end of the world.
Another special property that makes this game so unique is that you can play with other people. You and several others wander around this almost-JRPG roguelike attempting to kill a Demon Lord and dispel the darkness that is destroy the world. Even more interesting is that the time I’ve of “multiplayer” I put into the game never produced a single other player. I was assured by the game that there were people here, and sometimes I could hear them dying or fighting off screen somewhere. But maybe they were kilometers away. Or maybe the game requires that you be a little more intentional than I was being. Either way, I played in this giant world that I knew was populated by other people, and yet I couldn’t ever have access to them.
Progress and annihilation. Always moving forward but questioning what the value of moving forward really is. No other roguelike or -light has that kind of feeling to it. When you play Caves of Qud, you feel a particular inevitability, but there’s also this pure joy of knowing that you are creating your own story. When I gave a talk at the International Roguelike Developer Conference last year, a lot of comments and questions I had were centered around games that afforded your ability to tell stories about what happens.
For some reason, the inevitability of annihilation, that scrolling screen and total isolation, doesn’t suggest to me a storytelling function. I find it hard to imagine a way of talking through a One Way Heroics that turns it into something more than a scraping, scuttling set of encounters with death. The left side of the screen, fading into blackness, keeps you from investing too much creativity into it. One Way Heroics destroys the future.