I’m in Love With Streamlined Roguelike RPG Path of Achra

Path of Achra is a game that came seemingly out of nowhere and immediately consumed and monopolized my free time in a way few games can these days. Tearing myself away from actually playing to do some research revealed that it did not in fact come out of nowhere. At this point, it already spent roughly a year in early access on Steam, fostering its own dedicated community that follows the singular vision of the one they call Ulfsire – the game’s sole developer with a background in making WarCraft III custom maps. But now that Path of Achra is officially released, that community only deserves to grow, as more and more pilgrims set out on the Path in pursuit of the mysterious Obelisk.

path of achra battle screen
I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to sleep, I only want Achra one more time.

So, what even is Path of Achra? Well, the game’s Steam page lists Tales of Maj Eyal and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup among its inspirations. And this is an apt comparison. Those games took the classic roguelike formula pioneered by Rogue and then carried forward by stuff like NetHack and Angband, and streamlined it a bit while retaining most of its original DNA. Path of Achra then does to those games what they did to their predecessors and streamlines the formula a bit more. When the dust of all this streamlining settles, another comparison comes to mind – Desktop Dungeons, a bite-sized beer-and-pretzels game that eschews the labyrinthine design of most roguelikes in favor of densely-packed screens you can clear whenever you have just a few minutes of spare time, getting your rewards and moving on.

path of achra character creation
Character creation. Looks complicated. Isn’t.

Whether you’re a roguelike aficionado or someone who’s been curious about the genre but found it too daunting to get into, Path of Achra has got you covered. It retains a lot of the classic roguelike DNA in that it’s turn and tile-based with a high degree of randomization. You attack enemies by essentially just moving into them and then letting the game figure out if your build is strong enough to deal with the challenge at hand. And it has that somewhat esoteric quality where the more you keep playing – and dying – your understanding of the game and its systems grows, allowing you to get further and face tougher and tougher opponents.

If you’re more of a fan of the more modern “roguelite” games, Path of Achra also has a layer of meta-progression, where the more runs you do, the more stuff you unlock. And before the previous group of traditionalists gets a heart attack from such a betrayal, these unlocks don’t actually increase your character’s power, they merely open up new options at the start of the game, unlocking new Cultures, Classes, and Religions for your characters. The release version (unless there are some well-hidden extra options) has 24 of each, all offering various powerful bonuses. You can freely combine them to create your unique character.

Another thing that makes the game so easy to pick up is that just about everything in the game has a tooltip, so if you’re ever confused about this or that mechanic, you can just hover your mouse over it and the game will tell you just what it does. Going a step further, clicking the right mouse button or pressing TAB makes your character perform an action automatically. These tend to be pretty smart, allowing you not to bother too much during the easier early stages. And if you manage to break the game with some ultra-powerful build, you can then just hold your button of choice down while laughing maniacally as you’re clearing screen after screen without breaking a sweat.

path of achra skills
The game’s many skills.

Even if you’re a big fan of the abovementioned automation, you will still need to stop from time to time and develop your character. You do it by leveling up and raising your attributes, picking new skills for your characters, and equipping them with new loot. The game’s progression system adds another addicting element into the mix, one reminiscent of games like Diablo where you’re picking synergistic skills, hunting for specific bits of loot that can help you break the game wide open, and even choosing a prestige class whenever you qualify for one.

path of achra prestige classes
Combine skills or special items to qualify for a Prestige Class.

The game has an impressively satisfying amount of depth to it. Its 90 individual skills are spread between a martial tree and nine elemental trees. And you can freely combine skills between these trees (a single character can grab skills from up to three trees). Once you invest enough skill points, you can choose a prestige class that hopefully helps you realize your build idea even better. You will then need to equip your character with gear that will work well with your build. The fun thing there is that you can see what loot awaits you in any particular area. As your game knowledge grows, you will learn to recognize those items, what they do, and how they can help this or that build. Add to this the various racial and class bonuses, and the prayers inherent to the game’s many gods, and you get a very deep and satisfying system that still plays really fast and doesn’t feel overly complicated.

path of achra inventory
Sacrifice excess gear to upgrade your weapons and armor, and raise your HP.

At the time of writing this, I was able to complete a run just once. I did it with a Phoenix-worshipping fire Priest who later became a Flame Knight. That character combined Martial and Fire skills with a splash of Life for some extra healing. Whenever the Priest dealt fire damage, which was all the time, enemies were blinded and received a DoT debuff, while the Priest received a buff to his combat attributes and buffed his pet dragon. On top of that, dealing fire damage also healed my character, and in his off-hand, he had a dagger that allowed him to ignore physical armor for those enemies with 90% fire resistance. And this is merely one of what feels like near-infinite combinations of skills and traits that can lead you to victory.

When you complete a run, you unlock a new “Cycle” that makes the game more difficult for your subsequent characters (you can freely toggle between the available Cycles). You can even revisit your retired characters and take them out for a spin on the Path of Dust and face progressively harder challenges. The game is generally designed with a lot of elegance and love. This ranges from the tight interplay of its systems to the little dynamic poems you get when you start a run, based on your current character’s attributes. Those poems, combined with the game’s simplistic but evocative visuals, somber soundtrack, and the bits of lore you find scattered along the Path, make the game’s world feel alive and mysterious.

path of achra poem

If Clark Ashton Smith were to design a video game, this would be it. And if that alone isn’t enough to make you want to give Path of Achra a shot, its Steam page has a free demo you can try and see for yourself if this is something you’ll enjoy.

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Val Hull
Val Hull

Resident role-playing RPG game expert. Knows where trolls and paladins come from. You must fight for your right to gather your party before venturing forth.

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