Review: Risk of Rain 2

I have never hated salamanders and mushrooms so much

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When I first jumped into the Early Access phase of Risk of Rain 2, I enjoyed my time but naturally wanted more. I haven’t revisited it since, and have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of content the game has in its 1.0 release.

A roguelike is nothing without content, and I can’t wait to see where Hopoo Games takes this game moving forward, because what they’ve created with the jump from 2D to 3D has been great.

Risk of Rain 2 review

Risk of Rain 2 (PC [reviewed], PS4, Switch, Xbox One)
Developer: Hopoo Games
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Released: August 11, 2020 (PC), Fall 2020 (Console)
MSRP: $19.99

Risk of Rain 2 is a roguelike, which means there will be a lot of randomness, death, and in this case, chaos. The sequel follows the same basic pattern as the original: go through levels collecting various items to affect the character’s attacks and become as powerful as possible before ending the game, either in death or by defeating the boss. With a diverse cast of characters and plenty of challenges, there is always something new to try and achieve.

Fans of the previous game will be happy to know that, other than the 3D gameplay, Risk of Rain 2 feels like the first. I originally had my doubts with the added dimension, but it quickly became clear to me that this isn’t just a Risk of Rain game, but it’s a better Risk of Rain game. I’ve got over 40 hours in the 1.0 version and am still pining to jump back in almost daily.

The basic formula is the same. After choosing a character, players travel through various environments collecting items that alter their skills, movement, and everything in between. There are also turrets that players can buy that follow them around as allies.

As time progresses, so does the difficulty. This creates an amazing risk/reward system throughout every run; do you really want to exhaust an environment of items if it takes an extra three minutes? Because if so, that next boss is probably going to be way harder than you thought, and your items might not have been worth it. The system worked very well in the first game and continues to do so here.

The 3D gameplay feels great. Every character is distinct and can be customized with unlockable abilities. Most maps might feel expansive at first, but as time goes on, they become familiar and, as a result, “smaller.”

The maps have slight adjustments each time they are played (certain areas will be inaccessible or expanded), but those adjustments are never anything major. There are two environments for each of the first four stages, and the game chooses one at random each time. Each level has its own enemy types  and boss pool (there is some overlap), making them each feel distinct from one another.

Characters generally have four abilities, but it’s hard to categorize said abilities. There is essentially always a primary and secondary attack, but after that things get unique. Some characters have a movement ability, others have placeable objects, and some just have even more attacks. There is also an equipment slot for a usable item that tends to have a long cooldown but powerful effects.

The items, including equipment, can be bought in each stage using money accrued from killing enemies. These items have descriptors only once purchased, so a player’s first dozen or so runs will be buying items mostly blind. It doesn’t take long, however, to memorize what each item does and start to consider how “worth it” it is in your current setup. Players will often find themselves with a chunk of money at the end of a boss fight, which leads to the aforementioned risk versus reward of spending it on the map or moving onto the next zone.

Between the different abilities, the randomness of collectible items, and the goals the player can set for themselves, it’s not often that two runs feel identical. While a lot of Risk of Rain 2 involves “making the best of the hand you’re dealt,” there is some agency that the player can have over their build.

Items come in various color rarities, and items can be turned into scraps of their color using, unsurprisingly, “Scrappers” that can spawn in maps. Players can use scraps at 3D printers to get whatever item the 3D printer is set up to print (which is random). So if the player sees a 3D printer for an item they want, they can use scrap to get it. Alternatively, the 3D printer will choose an item at random (of the same color) and use that instead.

This build agency is incredibly important in Risk of Rain 2. It removes some of the hopelessness that can often befall roguelikes that depend so much on randomness. In addition to this, there are Lunar Coins that act as a permanent currency for players to collect over their many runs. These coins can be used in a myriad of ways, including gaining powerful items that also come with downsides and choosing the next level to occur, which is important for various character challenges and unlocks.

Speaking of character challenges, they are all over the place in difficulty. There are generally two or three challenges per character in order to unlock alternate abilities. Some are pretty easy, others take time, and others are damn near impossible. Now, there are three difficulty levels and even gameplay modifiers called Artifacts that make the game and the challenges much more trivial, but considering the default difficulty is self-described as “the way the game is meant to be played,” it feels disingenuous to make some of these challenges as ridiculous as they are.

For example, the Commando is the default/main character in Risk of Rain 2  the bog-standard archetype that anyone can pick up and play to start learning the game. He has three challenges, two of which I would consider ridiculously difficult, considering I have not done either of these challenges on any character in over 40 hours of playtime. One of them is to kill an Overloading Worm boss, which I have only seen one of (and I wasn’t the Commando because he sucks). Another character needs to land the killing blow on a specific boss which I haven’t even seen yet. My complaint is less that “omg these are so hard!” and more about the disparity in difficulty from one challenge to another. I would love for some of these very hard challenges to be for something non-gameplay related, like skins, but they aren’t. So if you really like those characters with some of these ridiculous challenges, oh well.

The balance between abilities and characters also feels off. I would consider the Commando, for example, a pretty bad character. He is basically outclassed in every area by someone else and requires a very specific set of items to really be good. Melee characters are also at a distinct disadvantage in many scenarios, especially the last boss (more on that later). Additionally, there are a handful of abilities that, when unlocked, are straight-up better than the ones they replace. Many are interesting “sidegrades” with obvious pros and cons, and others are clear upgrades. I can only hope balance patches are added over time, and ideally more abilities would make for more interesting decisions.

After the fifth world, players have an option to either loop and head back to the first world (but at a much higher level of difficulty) or go on to fight the final boss. This choice is not made obvious and I didn’t know how to do it until I emailed the PR team asking if there was some bug. Turns out, the outside portion of the teleporter (which spawns the boss) can be interacted with to change the destination on the fifth world. Anyway, outside of completing some challenges, there is no reason to actually do the boss fight.

The final boss fight is so poorly done that I have almost nothing good to say about it. The level itself consists of running in silence for about five minutes, broken up by exactly two enemy types that are not interesting to fight and it’s better to simply run past them anyway. The boss himself is cool to look at, but a painful slog to fight. He does an insane amount of melee damage marking yet another huge disadvantage to any melee character and certain characters literally can’t be touched by him because they’ll be airborne most of the fight. If the player invested in turrets, they are now useless because they don’t even make it to the final arena and get stuck along the way.

It’s easily one of the most discordant boss fights I’ve ever encountered, so antithetical to what makes the core game good that I’m honestly baffled. He’s not impossible, just…boring and uninteresting.

As any good roguelike does, Risk of Rain 2 has its fair share of secrets and modifiers. There’s a fixed seed that players can compete in for leaderboard status (and to complete one of the previously mentioned way-too-hard character challenges) as well as a game mode that’s even harder than the hardest difficulty if you hate yourself I guess. Discovering the secrets strewn throughout the environments has been a blast, and I’m always on the lookout for more. I’m sure many people will use the wiki and ignore the sense of discovery, but for the most part, the secrets are intuitive enough.

Risk of Rain didn’t launch with multiplayer, but Hopoo patched it in. Risk of Rain 2 starts with multiplayer and it works largely the same as it did previously. If someone dies, they will not respawn until the next world. This means that if a partner dies early in a level, they become useless very quickly. Not getting items, including the items that the boss drops, creates a huge power imbalance between characters.

When playing with friends, this is largely fine but frustrating, but with strangers, it creates a whole separate issue. Generally, if a random player dies early in a stage, they’re going to quit. It’s clear the developers didn’t want to “fix” this issue and it’s just how Risk of Rain is, but it still leads to frustrating and run-ending circumstances. The 1.0 version of the game has a server browser, but pre-release, all I can do is look at it because I’ve never seen anyone host. I did play online with friends and it worked fine.

It’s hard to express, but the artwork has this “dirty yet clean” look to it that I absolutely love. The characters have original designs and their colors pop with cel-shaded graphics, and just looking at the multiplayer lobby with different characters standing there makes me smile. Similarly, the animations go a long way toward giving these silent killers a lot of personality. The audio is also outstanding. I often find myself groovin’ to the music before things become completely chaotic and I lose all sense of self.

On PC, I frequently had Risk of Rain 2 freeze up on me for a few seconds before resuming which, in a game as chaotic as this, is no good. My friends have not had this issue, but tinkering with the options has provided no luck in fixing the problem. Otherwise, there have been a few minor glitches (I achieved a character-specific achievement while being another character), but nothing major.

Despite my qualms with certain challenges and the last boss, I cannot get enough of Risk of Rain 2. I love the characters and discovering secrets while setting new goals for myself. As someone who mostly bounced off the first game, the sequel sucked me in like a Primordial Cube (an in-joke, hah!).

There is so much to love here, whether you are a fan of the first game or roguelikes as a whole.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Patrick Hancock
During the day, he teaches high school kids about history. At night he kicks their butts in competitive games like Rocket League, Dota 2, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike. Disclosure: I've personally backed Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, Dead State, SPORTSFRIENDS, Torment: Tides of Numera, STRAFE, and The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. I have previously written for and continue to support them whenever possible (like HumbleBundle).