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Risk of Rain 2 Review -- Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

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As I have gotten older, I find myself gravitating towards hobbies where the outcome is affected by the time I invest. The more time I spend running, the better I do on race day; I can create better dishes because I have years of cooking experience; and naturally, I am drawn to games where I can develop my skills and improve over time. If you have ever played a rouge-like, you will agree that this ideology is core to these games. The past few years have seen some stellar entries into the genre and I have enjoyed the journey towards mastery in many of them. In a category with games like 2018’s dungeon-crawling Dead Cells, the rhythm-driven Crypt of the NecroDancer (and its Hyrule-themed follow-up), and last year’s Game of the Year contender Hades, the game that has been capturing my attention lately is Risk of Rain 2.

Rouge-likes are named for one of the first games in the genre, Rouge. For those who have never played a rouge-like (first, I am disappointed), there are two defining features: procredurally generated levels and perma-death. Items, enemies, and often the levels themselves are randomly generated so no two runs are ever the same, and if you die, you have to start over. That’s not to say you start from the same place every time. In addition to the mastery that comes from repeatedly playing the game, rouge-likes typically allow players to unlock new abilities or items that can benefit subsequent runs that carry over from one run to the next. For instance, beating a boss in one run might unlock a bow that can now randomly be found in subsequent runs. Risk of Rain 2, a sequel to Hopoo Games’ 2013 Risk of Rain, is a 3D rouge-like that can be played by one to four players and is just an exceptional take on the rouge-like formula.

As is the case in many rouge-likes, Risk of Rain 2 is light on the story (I believe there is a story told through lore entries, but I am not here to read through all that..). Start it up and after choosing a character, players are dropped into the world and told to get to work. In the case of Risk of Rain 2, this means finding and activating a teleporter. Activating the teleporter spawns a boss that must be defeated to progress to the next level where that cycle repeats. Throughout each level, swarms of enemies continuously spawn that drop cash when killed which can be used to open chests on that level which reward items and perks to make your character stronger. At the same time, the difficulty is continuously ramping up the longer and longer your run takes, so while you are spending time to make yourself stronger, the enemies trying to kill you are also getting stronger. Like many rouge-likes, you progress as far as you can until you reach and defeat the final boss or get defeated yourself.

While all that sounds fairly by-the-book, what makes Risk of Rain 2 so great is the polish and Hopoo Games’ spin on the typical elements of rouge-likes. Take the worlds of Risk of Rain 2. Risk of Rain 2 eschews the completely random and procedurally generated levels typically featured in rouge-likes in favor of fixed levels with random elements. Most levels are drawn from two options, each level with a different theme and style, and player spawn locations, enemies, shrines, and item chests are all randomly placed. Movement is critical in Risk of Rain 2 and you never want to stop moving, so revisiting the same level structures helps the game craft a flow from player spawn to teleporter. Each level is also not exceptionally large, so experienced players can reach the teleporter after starting a level in around a minute, if they so desire.

If you ever watch a clip of Risk of Rain 2, especially a clip from a deep run, you are probably going to be overwhelmed by what you see. Screens covered in enemies, projectiles, particle effects, and tons of game-play information. And yet, play through the game, and it does not feel that way. The game does not just throw players into the deep end, it is a gradual process. With the always visible difficulty timer, players can stay informed of the level of challenge before them, and by the time you are facing thirty or forty enemies at once, you typically have also amassed the tools and know-how to identify the biggest threats and to manage the horde. Going back to the flow of the game, enemies don’t just randomly spawn, most spawn close to players so the game constantly keeps players immersed in the action. Apart from a few exceptions, most enemies actively pursue players at all times. Since the game wants players to keep moving, it encourages players to often run backwards, compressing and keeping the constantly spawning swarm of enemies into the tighter cone of their field of view.

When I originally started playing Risk of Rain 2, I thought it was a third person shooter. But then I tried out the Mercenary, a katana-wielding character who uses dodges to fly in and out of combat. Risk of Rain 2 isn’t just a shooter, it is a third person action game that offers a different experience and play-style depending on which of the nearly a dozen characters you select. There are characters that rely on long-range weapons, there are characters that utilize close-range melee attacks. From movement capabilities, to primary fire and offensive tools, and even status effects and utility abilities, each character feels unique because their kits have been crafted to not encroach on each other. Take the three melee-focused characters: the aforementioned Mercenary is crafted around flying into combat, dishing out damage, and avoiding attacks; another most resembles a robotic Spider-Man that flies around punching and grappling enemies; and the kit of the third focuses on getting in close to poison and weaken opponents. I have spent the past few weeks convincing a cadre of friends to pick up Risk of Rain 2 and what surprises me is that almost none of us play the same characters. Across over a half-dozen people, only two have gravitated towards the same character (and those two have never played together, so take that for what it is worth). Although players initially start with only one character, the generic run-of-the-mill Commando, a handful of additional characters can be unlocked by completing a variety of tasks. Some of these tasks are straight-forward and simple, while others are more obscure and often happen just by playing the game. For instance, to unlock the Huntress character, players must beat the third world, whereas another character requires players to “free the survivor suspended in time” with no explanation what that means or what it entails. Because each character plays differently, each has its own learning curve. Mastery of one character does not translate to expertise with another, and whenever you unlock and start playing as another character, you will question the decision. Until you put in the time and master that character, at which point the cycle can start anew with another character.

The character diversity also translates to differing levels of utility for the many items available to collect. An item that creates a healing aura while stationary is pretty much worthless to a mobile character like the Mercenary or Commando, but it is one of the best items for players who choose the Engineer since the Engineer places stationary turrets that share the Engineer’s items and buffs. This is especially noticeable in co-op since a larger, more diverse team is better able to take advantage of a wider array of items. Similar to characters, items are unlocked by completing various in-game tasks and once unlocked, items are added to the potential pool players can acquire. Most items also have a stacking effect so players can, more or less, become infinitely powerful. Some of these effects are based on percentages, some are flat numeric effects. One item provides a ten percent chance of critical hits and can be stacked up to ten times for a one-hundred percent effect, Another provides additional jumps, seemingly infinitely, based on the number collected. Of course, like many rouge-likes, the random selection of items you find plays a huge part in determining if your run succeeds or fails. I have had runs where everything just clicked, where I found a good balance of items to keep me alive and items to increase my ability to dish out damage, and I have had runs where my items did not synergize with my character and the game’s difficulty ramped up and overwhelmed me before I could ever find my footing.

One of the things that really helps Risk of Rain 2 stand out is that Hopoo Games did not limit players for the sake of balance. If anything, one of the best parts about Risk of Rain 2 is that the game is not scared of players (or enemies) becoming over-powered, it embraces it. In a sense, every run is a race to see if you can become over-powered before your enemies. The game features two types of difficulty, a selectable difficulty which affects things like enemy scaling and health, and a run difficulty which is constantly going up the longer the run. Spend too much time in a level or run and you’ll start facing more powerful enemies. For example, when you start out, you will face simple lizard enemies called Lemurians. As your run goes on, you will start to randomly encounter larger, more powerful versions called Elder Lemurians. While rare and challenging at first, the Elder Lemurians will eventually completely replace their smaller counterparts, so hopefully you amass the tools to combat them in time. There are also elite versions of enemies that are even stronger and have additional effects, and as runs go longer, they spawn more and more frequently. This difficulty mechanic creates an interesting balancing act. Do you race to the end, knowing you will not have an overabundance of items, but the difficulty multiplier will remain low? Or do you spend time looting every chest and face the tougher levels and opponents that come your way? And how does that calculus change the deeper into a run you get? On some of my longest runs, runs that have taken multiple hours and gone twenty-plus levels deep, I have gotten so powerful that I have been able to burn down bosses in a few seconds, but also required me to constantly stay in motion as the endless swarm of enemies on the screen would quickly hammer me and cause my health bar to rapidly fall if I ever slowed down.

Given the amazing competition in the genre, this might sound controversial, but I think Risk of Rain 2 is the best rouge-like I have played. All these elements, nearly a dozen (and soon to be more) characters, over one-hundred unique items, the game’s difficulty system and enemies, and the score (oh my gosh, I forgot to talk about the game’s bangin' score) all come together to produce a truly fun and engaging experience that just gets better as you sink more time into the game. If you are looking for a game that you can start and finish in a few sessions, that is not what you will find here. But if you want a game that will challenge you, that you can learn to master, and which will reward the time you invest into it, I whole-heartedly recommend Risk of Rain 2. Just know, it is probably going to be a journey and you are going to die a lot.

Explore, Fight, Loot, Die, Repeat

All images owned by Hoppo Games.


  1. Fondue -
    Fondue's Avatar
    thanks for this review- I had forgotten about this game but it always looked interesting and I will check it out