After spending over a year in early access, Risk of Rain 2‘s official full release is fast approaching, replete with yet another update that includes new enemies, a new character, and an end game. An impressive title when it launched in early access, this newly updated version looks to legitimize Risk of Rain 2’s already sterling reputation. Even if you aren’t a fan of roguelikes, Risk of Rain 2 deserves to be played thanks to vibrant action and compelling character progression.
Like its beloved predecessor, Risk of Rain 2 is a roguelike at heart as the entire game revolves around a repeating loop. Loops consist of five stages, each of which involves finding and activating a teleporter. After finishing the fifth stage, the loop begins again and doesn’t end until the player either dies or finds the endgame (something newly added with the full release). While this may sound painfully repetitive on paper, the game has many clever twists to keep things interesting.
First, while loops are divided up into 5 stages, there are far more than 5 environments: 16 to be exact. Nine of these are interchanged over the course of a standard loop, six are secret environments, and the final one is the end game, which has requirements to find, but they aren’t as opaque as those required to reach the secret environments. The levels themselves are complex with multiple Easter eggs and many contain hidden elements that either provide access to the secret levels or unlock special forms of progression (more on that later).
Risk of Rain 2’s fluid action also staves off tedium thanks to its impressive variety. Risk of Rain 2 sports ten unlockable characters, and while each conforms to genre stereotypes, they all progress in fascinating ways. Every stage contains dozens upon dozens of items that can found in chests. These items provide various perks, ranging from simple stat boosts to decimating new abilities, like the capacity to create a protective blizzard with every kill. One of the joys of the early game is discovering new items and seeing how they affect each character, since some benefit one character more than others.
The way items affect gameplay is at the center of what makes Risk of Rain 2 so fun. True to its roguelike spirit, you lose all items upon death–but things aren’t as simple as they initially appear. Upon reaching the fifth stage, it becomes possible to unlock artifacts, the only progression that carries over from loops other than character unlocks. These 16 artifacts drastically modify the game, and the most interesting ones change how items work.
The most essential artifact is called “command” and it allows the player to pick their items from chests rather than having them being random. This allows for remarkable character customization. The possible combinations are truly staggering since items can be infinitely staked to bolster their effects. One of my favorite creations involved the character Loader. Loader is a heavy brawler whose grappling hook enables him to swing around enemies and pummel them without mercy. By combining high critical chance, damage based healing, and area of effect attacks/shields activated upon each kill, I never had to leave the fight. An unstoppable killing machine, I’d swing around in circles, killing all in my way (though to be fair this was on easy mode, the game does require careful consideration to master the harder difficulties).
Artifacts can also increase item availability by replacing chests with item monster drops. This is a compelling option if you want to discover new items, since using the “command” artifact restricts item selection to only those that have been discovered. Complimenting the monster drops is another artifact that doubles the monsters per level while halving their health.
Aside from making the game easier and more customizable, artifacts also serve to increase the difficulty. These too can involve items. For instance, one artifact adds an element of evolution to the combat, with monsters getting their own evolving repertoire of items with every new stage. Combine this artifact with the others mentioned, and the game becomes more challenging while simultaneously increasing your own power potential: the loot hunt has never been better.
Risk of Rain 2 also allows for up to 4 player multiplayer, which only bolsters the game’s already impressive combat and customization. Players can strategize and create builds to effectively complement each other. For instance, the engineer, who specializes in gadgets such as bubble shields and mines, can augment itself to fulfill an auxiliary role while the loader goes headfirst into the fray to draw enemy fire and do massive damage.
One of Risk of Rain 2’s great achievements is how different single-player and multiplayer feel from one another. When playing with others, the game becomes a bombastic romp of colorful explosions and crazy combat bolstered by tactical play (when playing with the right group). However, while the single-player has the same colorful action, it stands apart from the multiplayer my enhancing the mood and sense of isolation. The haunting music and psychedelic visuals are more transfixing as you must contend with the hostile environment, alone. Furthermore, items are shared when playing with others, meaning that items from chests and enemies can only be taken once. Thus, the customization in multiplayer is more limited and focused on team building rather than individual progression. The result is two very different experiences, despite the gameplay being basically the same. It’s a rare achievement that a combat-focused game, roguelike or not, can be equally worthwhile both online and off.
Unfortunately, Risk of Rain 2 is not without its problems. It has some technical annoyances, especially where multiplayer is concerned. While there’s plenty of people online to play with, stable servers are rarer than they should be, and games crash far too often. I also ran into a bug that reset all my progress and kept me from joining games only to be fixed after I exited the game and relaunched.
The other issue with Risk of Rain 2 is its story. Now, to be fair, the game’s primary focus is on the aesthetic experience so it’s not a major problem, but that said, it does have a lot of lore. Like Dark Souls, every item and place has a description behind it. However, unlike Dark Souls, Risk of Rain 2 lacks the intrigue to tie it all together. While some of the descriptions are witty, they fail to combine into anything memorable and the game doesn’t provide enough context during gameplay to encourage thorough reading.
The mileage gamers get out of Risk of Rain 2 will certainly vary. Those inclined towards multiplayer and roguelikes will certainly get the most out of it, but there’s enough here to warrant a look from any action or RPG fan. Risk of Rain 2 excels in multiple areas without sacrificing anything in regards to its gameplay. If you’re looking for some action or just a solid co-op experience, Risk of Rain 2 should have you covered.