Risk of Rain 2 is an action roguelike that ignores many of the genre’s traditions in favor of a fresh take on what a roguelike can be.
The most obvious difference is that Risk of Rain 2 is a third-person shooter. While this isn’t completely unheard of, it’s notable because the first Risk of Rain game is a 2D roguelike with a side-scrolling view. The other main difference is a mechanic carried over from the first Risk of Rain; the difficulty timer. All roguelikes have some sort of mechanic that increases the difficulty the farther you progress in the game. Most games use floors/levels to keep track of it, meaning the first level is extremely easy, while the final boss level is a grueling challenge. In contrast, Risk of Rain uses a perpetually running clock (aside from a couple exceptions) to increase the difficulty the longer you play. This adds a level of urgency that discourages you from wasting time. Everything in the game is balanced against time. You might see an item chest, but it will take you 30 seconds to get enough money to open it. If you already have a lot of great items, it might not be worth your time, but if you are early in the game, it’s a worthy sacrifice. This type of mechanic won’t be for everyone, especially those that prefer a more relaxed pace to their roguelikes. There’s an easy difficulty option that slows down the clock, letting you take a leisurely stroll through the game, but it’s not what the game is balanced around and often feels far easier than it should be. It also negatively impacts the game’s best quality, it’s combat.
Combat in Risk of Rain 2 is impressively varied. While there are some basic archetypes that multiple characters fit into, they all play uniquely and have little overlap with each other. If you enjoy the “glass cannon” archetype, you have the huntress, a low health character with good damage, perfect accuracy and plenty of mobility. If you prefer getting up close and personal, you can play the loader, a high health character with a lot of mobility, but limited by their lack of ranged attacks. I could list out every character, but in the interest of brevity and avoiding unnecessary spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. There is truly a character for every play style, from a support that debuffs enemies, to a mage with high burst damage, and even a poison based character. When it comes to item builds, characters can begin to feel a little stale, but that’s the nature of class-based roguelikes.
Risk of Rain 2 also features a fleshed out progression system that encourages you to try out new characters and strategies in order to unlock new items, abilities and characters. This could get frustrating or annoying in a lesser game, but here, it complements the game’s variety perfectly. You might see a challenge that requires you to make it to the third stage in under 10 minutes. If you usually play a slow, item dependent character, this challenge forces you to pick a self-sufficient character with mobility in order to achieve it. You can certainly do this challenge as any character, but the game subtly nudges you toward a specific play style to make it easier. There may not be as much raw content as other roguelikes, but Risk of Rain 2 focuses more on quality than quantity.
Visually, the game can get cluttered if you make it to the later stages, but in the average game, it has a smooth, clean look to it. It’s not an amazing looking game, but for an indie roguelike, it’s well above average. The level design is a major highlight, giving each stage a completely unique aesthetic. The desert level is relatively flat, without much verticality, while the jungle level is a mess of twisted vines going up and down trees. This has a direct impact on gameplay, depending on which bosses spawn, adding even more variety to gameplay.
When it comes to the game’s sound, I’m okay with it, but not blown away. The soundtrack is solid, but it can be repetitive and bland. It’s good in a vacuum, but when blended with the game, it doesn’t feel greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t complement the game as much as I would like it to. My expectations might have been set too high by the superb quality of the rest of the game, but the music just didn’t work for me. The sound design in general is also somewhat lacking, but it manages to get the job down without any notable hiccups.
Risk of Rain 2 also features some story elements, but they are so light and unimportant that they might as well not be there. It’s really just a generic pitch to try and explain why the game has wildly varied levels. The roguelike genre rarely attempts to have a good story anyway, so this doesn’t hurt the game in my eye, but it also doesn’t improve it.
In summation, Risk of Rain 2 is a great sequel to a game that had a lot of great pieces, but was also a bit clunky in certain areas. The only significant negative of Risk of Rain 2 is that performance can get bad if you make it far in the game, just due to the amount of enemies being spawned. Outside of that, there is fluid combat, interesting item design and plenty of secrets to discover and explore. I would highly recommend Risk of Rain 2 to any roguelike fan, with the caveat that when you only have the first character unlocked and not many items, it can seem like a pretty bland game. Once you make it farther, the game begins to open up, so don’t be discouraged if your first couple runs feel like a slog. Also, if you are the type of roguelike player that enjoys taking your time and casually strolling through levels, the game’s time mechanics might not fit your play style.