I love it when a rogue-like sets itself a part from the competition. Whether it be in gimmicky mechanics, combat or the item economy of the game, the genre is so oversaturated at this point that it’s difficult to actually find those that go above and beyond.
Yet when one does come along…hoo boy, is it a struggle to tear myself away from it. Quite frankly, when I sat down to play Risk of Rain 2, I was…somewhat unimpressed. Sure, it had a cool third-person point of view, something most games in the genre don’t attempt, with some stunning 3D environments but…was this really it?
I kept finding the same items, fighting the same creatures, visiting the same locations and none of it felt meaningful. Repetitive to some extent is the point of a rogue-like yet I found there to be nothing fulfilling about any of the runs I was attempting. Considering the hype surrounding the game, I was somewhat confused.
Then, I accidentally fell off a map and found a hidden tunnel. There was a skeleton perched inside, suspended in a patch of roots that was somehow keeping it from falling into the aether below. I shot it, because what else was I supposed to do? And then I heard a strange noise from the other side of the map and a pop-up told me that I’d unlocked a new item.
It was at that point I realised I’d been judging this game way to prematurely. I suppose that’s a lesson for budding reviewers and critics: Sometimes, your gut instinct is just wrong.
For me, one of the best parts about the rogue-like genre is its capacity to hide secrets. It’s something that feels almost synonymous with games of that nature yet has been sorely unexplored in recent iteration. Risk of Rain 2 doubles down on this philosophy, adding in so much secret content that every new run holds the potential for genuine discovery. Once I knew that nugget of design, my view of the game changed as the purpose of my runs wasn’t to merely “get to the end” it was more driven by the pursuit of some new secret hidden either plainly in sight or in the bowels of some pit that looks more intimidating than it actually is. That was the thing that sucked me into the game’s loop, opening my eyes to a rogue-like shooter that just gets better the more you play.
Risk of Rain 2 is an addictive game, one that digs its strange pastel colour claws into your flesh without you even noticing. That initial response of boredom waned when I learned to start building my characters in certain ways, often resulting in runs that made me feel unstoppable. I think that’s the key to a good rogue-like: A game that makes you feel like you’re cheating it, but that’s just how it’s designed.
This only becomes better with friends, each communicating which items they’ve discovered and coordinating their pulls to create a team dynamic that very quickly turns into an unstoppable force, even though the game is set on a constantly growing difficulty scale. I suppose that’s the “risk” in the game’s title, balancing up how long you want to spend in area, either farming XP or looking for items, balanced against the gradually increasing difficulty. It’s a smart design decision, forcing players to leverage their own growth with that of the game’s toughness that more often than not leads to either extremely broken builds or short-lived runs that somehow still retain their satisfaction.
It’s difficult to really balance player satisfaction in a genre that’s designed to punish players so severely yet Risk of Rain 2 pulls it off. Whether it be the unlocking of a new secret, character, item, log entry or mechanical knowledge about the enemies and the world, no run ever feels like a wasted opportunity to grow. Which isn’t to say the game doesn’t have it’s issues that often result in runs that feel more frustrating than anything else. The final boss feels not necessarily unbalanced but features several abilities that make him very unfun to fight and the lack of a respawn mechanic while playing with friends means that if you’re playing with someone new to the game, or just a partner who gets rather unlucky, they’re forced to just watch as you finish the stage without them and respawn on the next level.
It’s a rogue-like so death must be punished, that I understand. Yet there has to be a better solution than, “Watch your friend have fun while you can’t.” Perhaps revival is wildly expensive, increasing in funds the more deaths happen, or triggering a revive spawns a wave of tough enemies. I don’t know, I’m not a game designer. All I know, “Stop playing and wait” just feels like a poor solution to the problem.
To wrap this up, I feel like I need to clarify something about Risk of Rain 2: It’s not revolutionary or innovative in the slightest. The only fresh ideas it’s brought to the genre it’s playing in is a camera angle that’s not traditionally used in rogue-likes. What Risk of Rain 2 is though is act as an exceptional example of a rogue-like, taking the formula and just tweaking it enough that the game plays like a lushly-coloured dream.
Push past the initial dreariness of the gameplay and you’ll find a game stuffed with content, all stitched together with a combat system that, again, starts off unremarkable but grows into this robust, wildly satisfying beast to tame and understand the deeper you get into it, which is really just the case for the game as a whole. Risk of Rain 2 is very quickly becoming my go to time-killer game as well as the thing I enjoy playing with my friends above all else.
Don’t be fooled by first impressions, this might be one of the best rogue-likes made in the past decade.
Last Updated: August 24, 2020