In recent years, there has been an almost endless list of roguelikes pushed out to the gaming masses. We’ve seen a fair amount of hits like Spelunky, but the genre’s key design points (procedural generation, permadeath) have also been shoehorned into games–almost like how every new big release was inadvertently an Action RPG for the last five years. Unfortunately, this trend has created roguelikes released with a certain sense of “sameness” that’s taken away a lot of the genre’s unique luster. This is not the case with Risk of Rain 2 (2019).
Taking place on a procedurally generated alien world, Risk of Rain 2 is a lesson in adaptation as much as it is its own unique entity. Continuing on the original’s 2D space-fighting roots, Risk of Rain 2 adapts the original’s notoriously rapid difficulty ramp up and its awesome aesthetics to create a unique 3D experience that pushes the roguelike genre forward while parodying it at the same time.
The gameplay loop, in its most basic form, is scouring the map for enemies to gain coins, which you use to buy items that augment your character’s abilities. At the end of the level, you fight a boss, which is activated by finding the level’s teleporter. Risk of Rain 2 shines in how you mix and match these items and sequencing shrines to create a weird overpowered conglomeration that feels sort of absurd but also completely works.
Each run starts with a quiet and sort of somber exploration period. The difficulty and subsequent enemies slowly rise during the meat and potato of the level. You’ll either hunker down to get enough coins for items or be evasive enough to summon the end level boss and get out without getting bombarded. You accomplish this with a variety of skills, and the ability to switch these skill sets around with different characters eventually gives you a better handle on how to advance in the face of procedural randomness.
A wealth of the items are provided to help with the ever-increasing difficulty. The tiered level of item rarity and their largely unique effects have created a mix-and-match system that’s not only fun when trying to min/max your way individually but also when experimenting going through runs with friends. Finding that perfect combination where enemies bleed and explode while turning your character into a spiky-headed slug-wielding hero makes each run a uniquely fun experience.
Speaking of friends, co-op takes the cake on this one. Risk of Rain 2 combines the structure of a roguelike and the gameplay of a looter shooter, which makes it inherently accessible. Being able to have three other sets of eyes to find integral items or the ever-moving portal can help speed things up gameplay-wise. Anecdotally, this has been the game I have had the easiest time playing with friends during the pandemic, because each one of us can find our specific playstyle within the game. At times, the game vibes are like a sped-up World of Warcraft raid.
While playstyle and gameplay are a major focus, the graphics of Risk of Rain 2 add miles to the overall feeling of immersion in the world. I have to give credit to the creative team for adapting and evolving the aesthetic of the original. The combination of pixel art and watercolor style keeps the original feel of Risk of Rain and expands its ’70s sci-fi atmosphere into a bigger, more immersive universe. You can even see these visual flourishes in the small things. There are unique silhouettes and telegraphed actions that are baked into pretty much every enemy. While the game will overwhelm you at times with the ramp up in difficulty, it almost always has a visual or audio cue to give you a heads up.
Speaking of audio, Risk of Rain 2 sets the pace with its atmospheric and genre setting soundtrack. Much like the gameplay, it starts off sort of eerie and then progresses to guitar-fueled riffs that largely match the frantic on-screen action. The soundtrack matches the dreary, inhospitable environment and builds tension without feeling out of place. Combine this with important cues that inform you of the impending horde and you have an excellent audio experience that executes on all fronts.
This game could easily have been one of those cut-and-paste roguelikes that seem to have proliferated recently, but Risk of Rain 2’s well thought-out design and gameplay leaves it far ahead of the pack. The extensive ability to tinker and adjust to your playstyle has largely squashed the roguelikes genre’s potential for repetitiveness. While the game’s limited form may deter some people from taking the plunge, the unique 3rd-person approach to the roguelike genre sets this game apart, and the story motivates you to unravel the well-developed world and its secrets. Regardless of your love or hate for the recent rash of roguelikes, Risk of Rain 2 is a solid selection whether solo or co-op.
Reviewed on PC