The Rogue Prince of Persia Has Potential But Isn’t Ready for the Throne

Not ready for the crown.

key art from The Rogue Prince of Persia

Dead Cells is an all-time classic roguelike, a sidescrolling action adventure with seemingly infinite variations in weapons and upgrades that still stands out against countless games of that exact description, seven years after launch. Developer Evil Empire announced earlier this year that it was wrapping up its work on the game’s updates to work on new “secret projects,” the first of which turned out to be The Rogue Prince of Persia. Combining the combat of Dead Cells, the acrobatic movement of The Prince of Persia, and the ever-captivating roguelike progression loop, it seemed to have all the markings of success. How could it possibly fail to live up to Evil Empire’s past? Well…

The Rogue Prince of Persia turned heads when it was announced at the recent Triple-I Initiative showcase with a trailer heavy on eye-catching animation but light on gameplay. With its launch in Steam Early Access, we now know how this mystery project plays, and it’s exactly what you’d expect. A roguelike that blends wall-running traversal with lightning fast combat, The Rogue Prince of Persia isn’t doing much to set itself apart from Dead Cells or other roguelikes, at least so far.

Despite stunning animation, The Rogue Prince of Persia falls flat so far.

Playing as the titular Prince, you start The Rogue Prince of Persia facing an invasion from the Huns who terrorize your kingdom with a vast army of monsters and magically enhanced soldiers. Armed with a bow and dagger, you charge into the fray with little instruction, inevitably falling before long to the onslaught of enemies, only to awaken back at the start.

In The Rogue Prince of Persia, the roguelike time loop you’re caught in has a narrative justification. The Prince carries a mystical doodad that brings him back to life every time he falls, sending him back in time to the start of the Huns’ invasion. Roguelikes don’t really need a justification for why you keep reliving the same run over and over, but it’s a nice touch when a game makes that a plot point instead of just a mechanic to hand-wave over.

Here, repeating levels also serves another purpose. As you progress through stages, you’ll meet up with NPCs who request help you can only give by revisiting earlier environments. I came across the Prince’s brother at one point locked in a dungeon that could only be opened by turning a water wheel. Fortunately, I’d visited an aqueduct earlier, and knew that another NPC there could get the water flowing to help him break out. So far, it’s a pretty light system, with NPCs just sending you on what are essentially quick fetch quests, but it could enable more complex objectives in the future. The Prince of Persia series’ long-running time manipulation premise lends it particularly well to this format, and I was eager to see how else this new entry would play with the Prince’s time-bending powers.

The Prince’s acrobatic movement feels too limited to get excited over.

Ubisoft/Evil Empire

Except it hasn’t yet. So far, with six stages currently available in Early Access, The Rogue Prince of Persia hasn’t introduced any additional time powers or made time travel into anything more than a convenient reason to keep the Prince coming back. I criticized Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown for not doing enough with the idea of time, and The Rogue Prince of Persia is worse in that regard, with time shenanigans never once coming up in actual gameplay.

What’s left is very traditional combat, made only slightly better by the Prince’s incredible parkour skills. In The Rogue Prince of Persia, you can actually run along the walls in the background at any time to dodge obstacles, evade attacks, or get the jump on enemies. Aside from that little wrinkle, though, the action feels barebones so far. You’re armed with a basic strike and a ranged attack, which change based on which weapons you’re holding, and have the ability to vault over enemies by dodging toward them or slam down on them from midair. It’s pretty standard stuff. In the heat of battle, The Rogue Prince of Persia does feel good, but it lacks any of the satisfying sense that you’re surviving by the skin of your teeth and clever use of your abilities that better roguelikes can deliver.

Combat is fun but uninspired in The Rogue Prince of Persia.

Ubisoft/Evil Empire

That’s largely because you don’t really have many interesting abilities. Instead of active skills, you can equip medallions you find on your adventure, which add modifiers to your existing moves. One might add fire damage to your ranged attacks, while another traps enemies in sticky resin when you break their shields. It’s enough to bring a little bit of life to combat, but you can only equip four at a time. Given that they’re the most important part of customizing your build, that makes your options for defining your own playstyle extremely limited.

You can swap out your daggers and bow for other weapons you find on your journey, but there are only minor differences between them. I ended up sticking with the daggers and bow almost every time I played, since every other melee weapon is slower without being much stronger, and the other ranged options are all far weaker. Daggers also come with a special move that lets you dodge through enemies, which makes combat feel much faster and more exciting, so every time I switched them out for something else, fights immediately started feeling like more of a slog.

The Rogue Prince of Persia needs a lot of work in Early Access to stand out in the roguelike crowd.

Ubisoft/Evil Empire

That special move also came in handy thanks to some quirks in the game’s movement. When you’re right next to an enemy and evade toward them with your standard dodge move, the dodge is replaced with a vault that has you jump over their heads to land behind them. The problem is that when too many enemies are standing next to each other, the vault gets unreliable, sometimes not working at all and others landing you awkwardly between enemies, halting your movement entirely. It’s the kind of jank that will almost certainly get ironed out during Early Access, but for now, it can be a life-ending annoyance.

I wouldn’t call The Rogue Prince of Persia a bad game — it’s just not really a good one either. While I had some fun with its Early Access launch, there’s not much there roguelike fans haven’t already seen enough to get sick of, and while it could be a much different game by launch, it’s hard to recommend now. Fortunately, if you want something similar to tide you over until The Rogue Prince of Persia’s 1.0 release, there’s no shortage of fun sidescrolling roguelikes to choose from already. Ever heard of Dead Cells?

The Rogue Prince of Persia is available now on PC in Steam Early Access.

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