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Risk of Rain came out on Steam in November last year to little fanfare and little to no coverage as far as I could see. So yeah it's been out for a while but it's on sale on Steam just now so it's topical okay. I've had the game since it came out and it was something of an obsession for me and a friend for a week or two, enough that I clocked in about thirty hours play time in those two weeks.
The game isn't very upfront about it's story but it's got a fairly typical set up; you're stranded on an alien planet and said planet is home to flora and fauna could be described as little standoffish at their best. Standoffish here meaning they want to tear your pixels up with their own, sharper, pixels. Combat is based on cool downs with each of the ten classes having a basic attack which you can use all the time, and three other abilities that tend to be a lot more powerful but can't be spammed like the basic attack can.
At the start you only have access to one class, The Commando, a fast gunslinger who can roll to dodge enemy attacks and has a very high attack speed. Things start off slow and easy with a simple command to find the teleporter and a few enemies to deal with along the way. Levels are prebuilt, but randomly selected and the teleporter is never in the same place meaning you have to scour the level looking for it dealing with monsters and hopefully collecting upgrades along the way. Once you find it things will get a little hectic.
Upon activation the teleporter will unleash an almighty fuckstorm of monsters and just for good measure it randomly spawns a boss from the game's fairly extensive list of larger monsters ranging from a gigantic worm made of lava, to a massive teleporting imp lord. You're then tasked to survive for ninety seconds and if you do you have to clean up all the enemies and only then are you allowed to progress to the next level. Now this sounds quite simple and it is, the only problem is that the difficulty rises steadily over time. There are stages, but progressing through to the next one doesn't make the game any harder, the game just keeps ramping up in difficulty every few minutes until before you know it you're at the center of a maelstrom of creeping monstrosities all trying to rip you face off.
This twist on tradional difficulty curves is game's greatest strength because it works so well with the progression system which comes in the form of random item drops found in chests. It's such a great design decision because drops are random meaning that you can have a run of bad luck and might want to scour a level with extra scrutiny so you don't lag behind before progressing, but then if you waste too much time dawdling trying to get every upgrade in a level you'll get outscaled by time anyway and it leads to this fantastic creeping tension that keeps you with one eye on the clock at all times.
Items are almost all passive and run the gamut from a mortar that has a chance to fire every time you hit an enemy, to a massive electrical field that increases in size whenever you kill an enemy and that can eventually grow to larger than the screen. Items stack and you can get monstrously overpowered especially if you get items that synergise well with your class; for instance the Commando's high rate of fire means he scales particularly well with on hit items such as the mortar mentioned above, whereas the tanky melee based Miner class benefits greatly from items like barbed wire, which passively damages enemies near you. The item list is pretty huge and below you can see just how extensive it is, and that's not even all of them.
As mentioned there are ten classes and what is particularly impressive is how differently they play to each other. For instance the starting Commando class relies on kiting and dodging enemy attacks whilst getting in as many shots as possible to maximise damage whilst the Engineer relies on careful placement of his turrets and mines whilst firing grenades and missiles from a safe distance. My favourite class, the Miner, is basically a guy in a rocket suit which you use to create a human projectile of yourself by blasting through waves of enemies and using the flames to roast them alive. Also he duel wields pickaxes. He's pretty cool. Most of the classes are fun to play and feel like they fit into the game's weird world very well though there a few, such as the Sniper and Enforcer that don't work so well due to the game's tendency to swarm you with approximately fourteen billion enemies at once.
Everything surrounding the gameply is superb as well, the art style will be familiar to anyone who plays indie games regularly but it's also instantly recognisable despite the derivative art style, and I think that's some of the best praise a game's visuals can get. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal too, all futurey synths ranging from ethereal ambient to more sci-fi thriller fare.
I would urge anyone with a passing interest in either rogue-lites or 2D platformers to give this one a try. It's 40% off on Steam right now so what the hell are you waiting for? I command thee.
The gods are dead, and the sun has frozen in the sky. This is all the introduction The Banner Saga gives before thrusting you into a bleak and cold world on the brink of collapse. You're forced to take control of a band of refugees on the run from an army of mute, stone behemoths and sent on your way. That's all the information you're getting about the narrative because I don't want to spoil any of it here, but fans of Game of Thrones will appreciate the relentless melancholy at the heart of the tale, it's similarly frank approach to death, and it's varied cast of weary travellers.
I sat on this title for a while before finally accepting the inevitable and getting ahold of it on Steam. I then almost finished it in one seven hour sitting. It took me roughly eight hours to play through once and I was actually pleasantly surprised several times as the game kept on giving when I thought it was sure to end.
Gameplay is split between managing the supplies and morale of your caravan of refugees in a 2D overworld and isometric turn-based battles that begin whenever a rumble breaks out. The caravan managing is fairly simple; ensure that you have enough food to avoid starvation and take a rest to raise spirits when morale gets low. Don't rest too long though as each day of rest consumes precious food and meandering on the road can mean you run out of supplies before reaching the next town.
The combat is simple but challenging, and often you'll find yourself scraping through an encounter with just a couple of heroes still standing, and the ones who fall in combat have to take a day or twos rest before returning to full strength. Units have both armour and strength, with strength doubling as both a character's hit points and how hard they can hit, so the higher health you have, the more damage you deal. It's a neat idea and is implemented quite well. Armour has to be broken before you can take a crack at an unit's health and it's always a hard choice to decide between reducing an opponents armour so that they take more damage from future attacks and just directly hitting their strength outright to stop them from bowling through your own units straight away.
Combat can get a little frustrating at times as enemies display some questionable tactics such as chasing down low health units you've moved away from the thick of the fighting. It doesn't really benefit them to attack a unit that has already been taken out of the fight especially when you are then given a free shot to stab them in the back with your high health heavy hitters. This is doubly annoying because not only does it not benefit your enemies it just means that the poor guy the enemy chased down has to spend a few days recovering meaning that the enemy AI has gone out of it's way to actively hurt it's chances of winning the battle but still inconvenience the player in the long-run.
The battles can also feel a little pointless at times as there are few fail-states to be found, I only actually found one which was in the final battle of the game; whether there are any more I couldn't say. When you lose a fight the game just gives you a text box explaining how you were pulled unconscious from the battlefield and the game just trundles along regardless. Granted, whether you win or lose the fights does impact the story but the lack of a way to properly lose made the battles feel a little toothless at times and it's a good thing that the choices you make on the games overworld map feel suitably weighty to make up for the atmosphere of impotence one can get from fighting battles without any real stakes. But make no mistake the game is playing for keeps and people will live and die by the choices you make and the paths you take.
I haven't yet touched on how utterly and obscenely gorgeous everything is. The wind-swept arctic vistas and weary solemn marches in the caravan sections inspire the sort of heart-swelling glee reserved for listening to your favourite album and the absolutely stunning combat animations feel like some new hardcore drug ingested visually. You've read it in every review of the game yet but you can't deny the feeling of old school Disney the art style evokes but I would hesitate to draw the comparison simply because it gives such a false impression of the world weary tone.
The Banner Saga is a game that weaves a tale of desperation and fear, of flight and heartache but it's a testament to the writing that the game includes moments of levity and hope to make it all feel real and not like some melodramatic soap opera where the only emotion allowed is misery.
This is one of those games that honestly could probably get a free pass based on it's eye-heroin visuals and epic, melancholy story alone but you'll be glad to hear that it isn't half bad as a game either. I wouldn't give this one a miss.