Tuesday, 25 June 2019 05:23

Risk of Rain 2 Early Access Review

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Edited by: John Gerritzen

Risk of Rain 2 is the followup to 2013’s indie darling Risk of Rain, a roguelike game with surprising depth and fun, simple mechanics. That game is one of those great little titles that no one expected to be so addictive or to gain the following that it did with the PC gaming crowd. Developed by Hopoo games with support from Gearbox Publishing, Risk of Rain 2 is more of an overhaul or total conversion of the original’s 2D side-scrolling format into a third person shooter.

With that in mind, I wasn’t sure if Risk of Rain 2 was going to offer much over its predecessor. That thought, as it turns out, was pretty misguided, as the Risk of Rain experience thrives in a 3D environment that lets players unleash a mess of bullet-hell greatness.

The mechanics

The theme of Risk of Rain 2 is that the player has crash-landed on a strange planet as one of (currently) six characters that have varying abilities and attributes. Your goal is simple and constant: find the teleporter and get off this planet alive. In your hunt for that teleporter, you’ll be defeating enemies that drop money — money that you’ll use to buy upgrades hidden around the map.

The pressure to finish each level comes from the daunting clock that appears at the top right of the screen. The game is always scaling up the difficulty depending on how long your run lasts, and if you’re not moving quickly, then the game’s enemies can overwhelm you. This forces you to keep the time in mind when you’re debating going back to pick up that chest you saw on the other side of the level or just fight the boss and move on.

Each run you’ll be unlocking new items to make them available for future attempts and trying to push further and further into the late game where monsters get huge amounts of health and dole out scary amounts of damage.

The all-important inventory

With the play styles of each character varying so greatly, some upgrades will be more desirable than others depending on who you’re using. For example, if you’re using the bow-wielding Huntress and you get an item that damages everyone in a circle around you, that item isn’t nearly as valuable to you as it is to the Mercenary with all his melee-focused abilities. 

I don’t think the game needs a massive, The-Binding-of-Isaac-style catalogue of items to collect, but I want there to be more diversity in successful builds. In fact, a smaller, more focused set of items makes more sense in Risk of Rain 2 because of the way these items stack on top of each other. In a system like The Binding of Isaac, you’re looking for two or three key pieces of your loadout to build around and synergize, whereas Risk of Rain 2 wants you to gather about a dozen of a single item (ideally something that builds damage like Soldier’s Syringe or the Sticky Bomb) and getting one or two stacks of the extra rare red items that take the build from strong to godlike. As it stands, there are only a couple of builds that are going to keep you advancing beyond stage eight or so. 

The Gameplay Loop

The combat can be so smooth for the first ten hours of gameplay that you might just be stoked to be getting all these cool items and decimating the waves of enemies sent your way. It was only after I had a few longer runs that I started to notice how enemy behaviors started getting a little stale. It’s frustrating that so many enemies, especially bosses, force you to break line of sight or die.

The Stone Titan and Wandering Vagrant are the worst offenders of this small-but-noticeable flaw in the game’s combat. The level-ending teleporter that summons the boss can spawn anywhere on the map, and some of those places have very few spots to take cover from the Titan’s laser beam or the Vagrant’s global attack that can do devastating amounts of damage.

And those massive, health-chunking attacks are where Risk of Rain 2 needs some balancing. During all my longer runs, I was rarely scared of the mob of enemies coming at me. I was most worried about projectiles, because if an enemy can shoot it in the late game, it will almost certainly kill you in a single shot. That’s frustrating for a game like this where you spend so much time acquiring fantastic amounts of power, only to watch it all fall apart because an enemy spawns behind you and hits you with a single fireball. It’s a letdown and it’s the way many of those runs will end.

The multiplayer

One of the most significant achievements of Risk of Rain 2, in my eyes, is that it’s taken the roguelike format and seamlessly blended it with a satisfying co-op experience. Despite all my gushing over The Binding of Isaac, I never enjoyed the game’s multiplayer or the mods that supported it. Something about it felt off, and that’s been my reaction to most games that have tried to mix these two genres.

In Risk of Rain 2, sharing the chaos of this combat with a friend is the best roguelike multiplayer I’ve ever experienced. Coordinating to find items that support a certain character’s build, blasting the horde that was chasing your friend, the general panic of the late game — all of it works, whether you’re playing solo or with a group of four.

It would be nice to see more ways in which players can synergize their abilities more directly, but getting a small group to try and keep up with the game’s breakneck difficulty curve will be a fun, frantic experience for everyone.

The road ahead

As many Early Access games have done lately, Hopoo Games has released the Risk of Rain 2 development roadmap to the public. While details are sparse, this straightforward approach of simply adding more of what’s already working is exactly what I hope they do.

I think the developers of Risk of Rain 2 have a tough task ahead of them when it comes to the game’s balance. You want players to advance their abilities quickly so that they can feel powerful and combat feels satisfying, but enemies have to pose some kind of threat or the progression will feel hollow. I’d like to see more ways for the player to feel in danger, although I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. 

I believe that the best course moving forward for Risk of Rain 2 as it develops through Early Access is to continue piling on the variety with more synergies between items and character abilities, more enemies and bosses with different attacks and behaviors, and truly giving each run its own flow of gameplay. To me, that’s the best way to make this outstanding game an indie classic that people will reference back to in the same way I do The Binding of Isaac.


The Verdict: Excellent

If you’re into roguelikes, bullet-hell, or third-person shooter games, this is a can’t-miss title. Risk of Rain 2 has just as much style as it does mechanical polish. There are some improvements to be made in how the game is balanced, and I’d like to think the game could be better optimized when the on-screen madness reaches fever-dream levels of color and action, but these small shortcomings pale in comparison to the beautiful simplicity that is Risk of Rain 2. By the time it’s out of Early Access, I fully expect Risk of Rain 2 to be a staple in the libraries of people that love co-op titles and anyone that likes something that looks small but plays big.

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Adam Wheeler

Adam Wheeler loves his computer, his cat, and his work-from-home lifestyle. When he feels the motivation to put on pants, he tells jokes on stage. With no real distractions in his life (friends, relationships, a reason to go outdoors, etc.), he is able to provide in-depth analysis of games and the culture that surrounds them. Adam almost never has anything better to do.