I need to make something clear. Yes, Risk of Rain 2, by Hopoo Games, is another roguelike, and yes roguelike games are absolutely everywhere. If you can’t face the thought of playing another one, I completely understand. However, I am going to do my best to convince you that this game is worth your time. A few unique twists and some seriously impressive action elevate it above the competition
Thinking In New Ways
Moment to moment, there doesn’t appear to be much that sets RoR2 apart from other third-person action games. You have a number of different characters, each with their own abilities, and must fight your way through a number of levels to a final boss. It’s all very well done, the mobility and verticality in particular, but these are not the game’s true strengths. Things get really interesting when you begin to collect items. There are dozens of different ones, which you earn as you progress. You can get random ones from chests, or choose one from a limited selection at other points in Risk of Rain 2. They vary in effect from a simple health boost to summoning helpful ghosts from dead enemies. Or even the ability to turn yourself into a flying fireball. Hopefully, you’re beginning to see why I think this game is worth talking about.
A big part of Risk of Rain 2 is creating a build that suits your character, completely on the fly. You don’t know what items are going to appear and so you have to make the right choices about which items you take with you. This alone would be a reasonably interesting gimmick. However, RoR2 takes things one step further with the introduction of its timer mechanic. This may sound like marketing speak, but this truly is a game where every second counts. The longer you spend in each level, the stronger the enemies become. If you don’t keep up a good pace, they will eventually overwhelm you.
This makes the choices you make multi-faceted in a way I’ve not experienced anywhere else. Not only must you choose the best items for your given build, but you must also decide whether or not you have time to pursue them. Should you cross the map to see if there is loot to be had? Or would that waste precious seconds and spell your doom? The same is true of the optional challenges, which can spawn elite enemies or bosses. Are the rewards worth the risk? And do you have time to take on these much stronger enemies? A lot of games use a system of risk and reward to enhance the experience, but RoR2 is undeniably the master of it. The timer means that such a system is baked into the game’s very fabric, which keeps things interesting at all times. It’s a remarkably simple, but effective concept.
Balancing difficulty with catharsis, or empowerment is a tricky thing to do. A lot of games will go for one or the other. Focusing on style and player feedback as opposed to challenge, and vice versa. To use a somewhat tired example, Dark Souls, is not a power fantasy. Its appeal is in overcoming what once seemed an insurmountable obstacle and mastering the game’s systems. It’s not about tearing through entire enemy hordes the way something like Dynasty Warriors is. Both types of games have their own appeal. One is empowering, the other is all about the satisfaction of getting better and overcoming a challenge. RoR2 is unusual in that it does both.
Make no mistake, it’s a very difficult game, but if you manage to collect the right items, and stay one step ahead of your enemies, you can end up wielding a god-like level of power. Dozens, if not hundreds of enemies will fall before you in an instant. It makes for a stark contrast with the early game, where one well-timed blow from an enemy often spells disaster. The way your power increases so drastically actually reminds me of a lot of 4X games. There are a number of similarities in their fundamental, settlers to empire structure. As far as action games go, it’s not something you see very often. You may get stronger as the game progresses, but the difficulty curve usually compensates for this.
Being completely overpowered, but having to fight hard to earn that right, is a genius concept. It’s not about how long you’re willing to grind for, it’s about careful strategy and your skill level. Once you master Risk of Rain 2, you are rewarded in a meaningful (fun) way. It’s not like in an MMO where you grind and grind for a new hat that gives you +1 resistance having your head bashed in, but does nothing from a gameplay perspective. RoR2 rewards you by making you feel powerful. Who wouldn’t want that?
There really isn’t a huge amount more to say. By modern standards, RoR2 is a relatively “small” game. However, this is a lesson in itself. And yes I do have an agenda here. A lot of modern games try and include as much “stuff” as possible. Weird hacking mini-games, horses that defecate in real-time, clothes that really get dirty. All these things are nice, but in some ways, I think they represent a backward step for gaming in a broader sense. They take the focus off what really matters.
Personally, I like games with a strong primary loop, when the moment-to-moment gameplay is well executed. Big, theatrical, open world, AAA releases have a nasty habit of ignoring the primary loop in favour of graphical fidelity or more content. This is the reason so many big-budget games play identically. A big release like Outriders is totally unremarkable gameplay-wise. The same can be said of titles such as Days Gone and even Horizon: Zero Dawn. I’m not saying these games don’t have their place (well some of them don’t), but they do represent a worrying adherence to misguided principles. These are not games that are ever intended to explore what can be achieved through gameplay, which is what games are all about. They are just bigger and shinier versions of what has come before.
Of course, I understand why it is left to independent developers to push gameplay boundaries. Money talks and the average consumer isn’t looking for innovation. It’s just a shame that we don’t see a little more experimentation in AAA titles. However, I really feel that several big releases such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Biomutant have suffered due to a quantity over quality approach. Playing something like RoR2 reminds me of what can be achieved through gameplay alone. Here’s hoping we see a greater focus on that idea from big developers in the future.
Risk of Rain 2 goes far beyond what one might expect of it. It is a synthesis of simple ideas, expertly crafted. It avoids the bloat all too common in modern games to deliver an exceptional action experience. I feel I should mention at this point that there is absolutely no need to play the original first. This is the kind of sequel that is essentially a full realisation of the first game’s ambitions. It stands alone as a great game, and you should give it a go.