CRPG Addict’s Final Rating of NetHack

Chester Bolingbroke, aka CRPG Addict, has posted his “final rating” of NetHack, after 262 hours (spread over a year) of gameplay:

While I was doing pushups, every time I hit a new record–10, say–my mind interpreted it as “the most I’m able to do right now, and perhaps the most I’ll ever be able to do.” But when I hit that goal of 20, 10 just became “the halfway point.” Essentially the same thing happened in NetHack. My brain rendered every new achievement as, “Okay, I’ve reached the highest level I’ve ever achieved. Now when am I going to die?” But now that I’ve won, and I can “see” the game in its totality, it doesn’t seem that hard.

NetHack is probably the most well regarded roguelike, having received constant updates since its original release in 1987, with new gameplay features added until around 2003, but patches for compatibility allowing it to work on (amongst others) Mac OS 10.6 onwards.

As a traditional roguelike, it has a number of key features:

  1. ASCII-based graphics
  2. Permadeath
  3. Randomness

Interestingly, although he’s currently focusing on CRPGs that pre-date the sort of graphics we’ve come to take for granted in 2013, the CRPG Addict is quick to point out that the lack of sound and visuals are to the detriment of the game:

I’ve said this before, but I don’t see anything particularly appealing or noble about the “raw purity” of a soundless ASCII game, and everything I liked about the game, I would have liked better with a proper tile set and sounds.

He then goes on to criticise the permadeath system:

With respect to legions of fans who feel otherwise, permadeath just sucks. I wouldn’t mind limited save points–even extremely limited save points, like once every 4 hours or something. I wouldn’t mind deaths that cost you dearly and take a long time to recover from. But you have to be extremely masochistic to burn through 262 hours and a few dozen characters in your effort to win the game without “save-scumming,” and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

As for the randomness, he sees it as the game’s great strength:

The nature of randomness in NetHack can’t be overstated. I think everybody understands that the levels are random, so they never look the same from game to game, and the distribution of equipment is random, but simply stating that doesn’t convey how this randomness fundamentally changes the game from character to character.

Overall, it’s a fascinating post-mortem of a terrifyingly impenetrable, but utterly marvellous game that I’ll probably experience to such a degree (though I am currently testing the waters of its friendlier cousin, ToME), and I’d recommend reading through more of his entries on the subject, not least of all his belated ascension within the game:

Then came Jo’Ash. By the time he got to the castle level, he had a near-perfect ascension kit. He’d received wishes from both a fountain and a throne, which had granted him a Ring of Teleport Control and a Cloak of Magic Resistance. He had found two Scrolls of Genocide, which were blessed and ready to go. He had every possible intrinsic except for teleportitis. The wand of wishes awaited him in the castle. He was on his way.
While trying to fight the sea monsters in the castle’s moat, he blundered into the water and drowned.