Just “one more” New Game+…
After Dead Cells, Hades, and Spelunky 2, it’s tough to name an all-time favorite roguelite. Rogue Legacy 2, a flashy new castle-storming sequel, only complicates that conversation.
I briefly checked in with Rogue Legacy 2 a few times during its Early Access period — most notably at launch in 2018, then again last year when the sequel surpassed the original game in terms of raw stuff. It’s not just “more content,” though. It’s a fantastic evolution.
I’ve had a blast with this game every step of the way, and that counts for a lot. Other popular roguelites, many of which I adore, can still have dicey moments of despair. But I never felt like any of my lost progress was in vain. As expensive as perma-upgrades eventually get, you’re always earning in Rogue Legacy 2, and the game isn’t afraid to hand out stepping stones to let you focus on your next milestone. There’s always hope.
Rogue Legacy 2 has left the Early Access zone, and I’m happy to say the wait was worth it.
Rogue Legacy 2 (PC [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Released: April 28, 2022
Circling back around to the first Rogue Legacy for a quick 2022 spot-check, it’s wild how much of an upgrade Rogue Legacy 2 is. The first game cemented the appeal of the roguelite action-platformer genre for a lot of players. People loved it; many still do!
Running through randomized floors as a sometimes lucky, sometimes laughably doomed lineage of heroes was novel back then, and the permanent stat-boosting Manor unlocks accumulated in a satisfying way. You know the oft-spouted saying: “one more run.”
It’s pretty incredible, then, that Rogue Legacy 2 manages to bottle up those fond memories while presenting fresh-looking, snappy-feeling, far more refined gameplay. It’s essentially Rogue Legacy, again, but more ambitious and confident than ever. Talk about a glow-up.
It’s worth stressing, though: you can jump right in without any prior experience. And one of the best aspects — a House Rules toggle for granular accessibility options if and when you need them — will open up Rogue Legacy 2 to a wider audience. It’s a challenging game, for sure. A run can go sour in an instant. But through a combination of enemy and boss pattern recognition, gradual character boosting back at base, and sheer skill, you can reach the end. I know you can. And then you can climb the steep New Game+ ladder.
On just a base level, without even considering the longer-term progression hooks that provide extra back-of-your-mind motivation in Rogue Legacy 2, I can’t get enough of this combat and platforming. It’s this fluid fusion of speed, reflexes, patience, and wits.
Early on, I felt like I could show up to slice skeletons, dash past spike and arrow traps, and crack open (most) treasure chests with stringent don’t-get-hit-in-this-room criteria. At the same time, I’d still take chip damage here and there. I’d make stupid slip-ups like squeezing in one too many greedy swings at a charging knight or fire-blinking eyeball.
I would consistently reach the first boss, a spellsword named Lamech who dashes and flips like a madman, but my current hero — whether it was a Barbarian, a Mage, a Valkyrie, a Gunslinger, or even a Chef — couldn’t quite outlast his beefy HP bar.
There’s a tinge of disappointment at first, sure. “Damn, I thought that was the run…”
But you shake it off, roll a new heir, spend whatever gold you just hoarded to buy a persistent upgrade or better gear, and hop back into the ever-shifting castle. Eventually, through good old practice, gradual know-how, lucky random mid-run Relics, and some brute-forced stat increases, this run becomes The Run. It went that way for me in all six biomes against all six bosses, as well as the final tricky fights. They were all memorable.
Whereas some roguelite games just keep going and going in a way that wears me out, Rogue Legacy 2 can be broken down into smaller chunks, each with its own lifecycle.
With that in mind, you don’t need to complete Rogue Legacy 2 “all in one go,” which I think some people might be mistakenly expecting. The main goal is to keep your character alive long enough to find and dispatch the area’s Estuary, at which point they’re done and dusted — you won’t fight the boss again (well, not until New Game+). Back at the castle entrance, their portrait will be filled in, and it’s onto the next biome on your list. Of course, you can revisit any “old” zone you want, when you want, but it’s not forced on you.
The format works! It really suits what Rogue Legacy 2 is going for as a tough-but-fair roguelite game. Being able to break away from a brick-wall boss so you can grind elsewhere or just aimlessly explore for a while can make all the difference. Sometimes, that was what it took for me to return with renewed confidence. Finally, a breakthrough.
As long as you plan ahead, it’s trivial to unlock teleporters that will send you to all of the different biome entrances within seconds of starting a new run — each warp is a one-time, across-all-runs purchase from a pizza-loving character. (This game has some fun NPCs.) Now, actually reaching those biome entrances to buy their specific teleporter is another matter. There are a handful of metroidvania-ish traversal abilities in Rogue Legacy 2 that are useful in combat and also necessary to reach later areas. So, while you can poke around the wider world to get a lay of the land, there’s a preferred order to this stuff.
Those abilities, Heirlooms, are unlocked in scattered “beat it once and you’re good to go” challenge zones that spice up the usual proceedings and also serve as a puzzle/tutorial. Moves like air dashes, double jumps, and bouncing spin kicks might not be groundbreaking on their own, but when you’re fully kitted out in Rogue Legacy 2‘s home stretch, it feels amazing to whip them out mid-combat. Zipping around this world is a pleasure.
Much of what I’m saying about Rogue Legacy 2 can be applied to the first game. What makes it so much better? For me, it comes to the biomes, the bosses, and the classes.
I may not be able to remember every biome by name, but I can absolutely visualize them all as distinct entities that require different approaches. Some are long, some are tall, some are dark, and all of them have their own flair. Even though the room-by-room layout changes on every run, you can still get a sense of what’s ahead, which lessens the chance you’ll be caught off-guard. It’s not just a matter of various visual themes — the biomes are actually built differently from one another. I love that! And the same can be said of the bosses in Rogue Legacy 2, which are some of my favorite fights in a roguelite action game, period. Learning their moves (and not forgetting them in the heat of battle) is a blast.
With lore books to find and read (or totally skip over), Rogue Legacy 2 does a good job of introducing bosses before you ever face them so that they’ll feel like a threat when the time comes. It’s a lighter storytelling touch that I appreciated. For me, it’s more about the raw action gameplay and overall mood; I don’t need to know every tiny detail, or strike up lots of conversations, to become invested in the world. It just naturally pulled me in.
The completely overhauled art direction — from quaint pixel art to a hand-drawn-meets-2.5D style — also makes a splash, of course. But it’s the way the sequel refined Rogue Legacy‘s gameplay concepts that kept me coming back without ever getting bored.
As for classes, Rogue Legacy 2 is still running with the concept of randomly-pulled characters who may or may not have funny traits. Those quirks come with a significant gold-earning boost, so there are clear moments when it’s ideal to just grind, or it’s time to take another serious stab at a boss. Every chance I got, I went with the Ronin, a fragile hero with a far-reaching katana whose tip results in a guaranteed critical attack. My other favorite was the nimble Boxer, who can combo foes and trigger a KO. It’s also fun to switch things up with ranged classes like the Mage or oddball picks like the Bard.
More than just statistical shakeups, the classes all play distinctly from one another and have varying pros and cons. Some of the skill ceilings are really high; others feel low.
The fact that I can be amazing at one class and god-awful at another is just the way I like it. While players will latch onto their favorites, it’s worth it to make the rounds — classes gain their own XP that funnels into Mastery levels, which are another way to bump up your capabilities across the board. Extra vitality, armor, and equip weight can pay off.
There’s also a Resolve system that lets characters pick up Relics — powerful items with sometimes risky effects that you can find mid-run. Relics can be game-changers and help you get through a gauntlet in one piece, especially items like the Gnawed Bone (a 25% chance to survive a fatal blow) and Lachesis’ Measure (killing enemies with a crit restores 6% of your max health). In exchange for these boons, though, you might need to shave off some of your HP bar if you’re running low on Resolve. It’s often a thoughtful trade-off.
If I have complaints about the sense of progression, it’s that the (branching) Manor upgrades can be a little bewildering at first before you’ve acclimated to Rogue Legacy 2. I also feel like the prices for any incremental multi-tier purchase can really skyrocket later on. That’s kind of the idea, though. It feels like a great feat to topple the final boss, but you’re really meant to loop back around for numerous New Game+ playthroughs.
“Threads” take cues from Hades in that you can flip on gameplay modifiers to spice up each NG+ cycle, and yes, that means ushering in new content, too. But unlike the Pact of Punishment, the “burdens” in Rogue Legacy 2 are locked in place for your whole New Game+ playthrough, not for an individual character’s run. (You can reset the world state if needed, so don’t be afraid to experiment.) The higher the pain, the better the rewards.
At the time of this review, I’ve invested 20 hours into Rogue Legacy 2, and I’m partway into New Game+. My motivation for continuing is partially to see those numbers go up — who wouldn’t want to max out their bonuses and dominate once-great threats? — but also to find whatever else is still out there. One of my favorite parts so far has been Scars.
There are well-hidden secrets throughout the main dungeons that unlock Scars, which are one-off challenges you can face from the comfort of your home base. One challenge is a target-breaking drill, and plenty of others are dual-boss skirmishes. You’ll get a rank for each Scar you clear — one for every class’ best attempt — and if you earn enough points collectively, you’ll earn a rare currency that feeds into another upgrade tree with fun unlocks like alternate classes. Again, New Game+ is a big focus for Rogue Legacy 2.
It took a lot of effort for me to reach the end, and I felt like the game adequately tested me every step of the way. For some players, the balance — especially in relation to their desire to grind — might be out of whack from time to time. For that reason, it’s worth giving the House Rules another shout-out. These options can be flipped on or off mid-run, and you can alter enemy health or damage (from 50% up to 200%), disable “contact” damage with foes, enable flight, and slow time while aiming, among other settings.
All in all, I found this game to be super satisfying. Some character classes are so enjoyable, I could play a whole separate game (not necessarily even a roguelite!) with only their base mechanics — all of the other assorted archetypes that I don’t typically choose are just icing on top. For me, the classic Rogue Legacy roguelite hooks are still potent in the sequel, and the agile combat and platforming feel fantastic. Once you’re in, it’s hard to walk away.
I knew from my limited time with the Early Access version that Rogue Legacy 2 would be great, but I didn’t necessarily think it would go on to become one of the best games of 2022 and one of my favorite roguelite games. The competition is fierce, but it’s ready.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]