March 28, 2020 (early access)
I can’t remember the last time I played a game quite as cathartic as Risk of Rain 2. It’s an experience that begins gently enough each time, but continues to ramp up and up and up in every conceivable way until a run comes to a crushing end and you realise you’ve been holding your breath for 45 minutes and should, by rights, be dead.
It’s a roguelite sci-fi looter shooter that takes place on a procedurally generated alien world more hostile than a pitbull terrier with a hot fork in its arse cheek, where you and your little crew of space warriors have come to investigate a mysterious signal. Upon landing, the light drizzle of rain and gentle guitar riff has you wondering what all the fuss is about – until the first wave of alien beasts begins to break through the ground. I mean, I say “wave” but there’s really just one, never-ending stream of enemies.
Investigating deep space signals goes out the window at this point, replaced by one objective: survive long enough to activate a teleporter that will transfer you out of this immediate hell and into a brand new one. The premise is simple, the execution superb, and the whole experience fills you with joy and awe and lots and lots of swears. Initially, you’ll drop in as the Commando, a bubble-headed adventurer with a pistol and a handy dodge roll, but as you complete various objectives in the world you’ll unlock new avatars with unique skills.
These skills usually take the form of at least one powerful attack, a movement ability, and a secondary attack, all on cooldowns. There’s a certain amount of synergy, in so far as the game works best when each player (up to four) is playing as a different character. The Loader, for example, is a melee character who can latch onto enemies and obstacles to swing around on her extendable arms, and she’s also tough and durable because she’s designed to get in close. This makes her ideal for holding threat on groups of enemies and bosses while the rest of the team pelt them from afar. It’s not as sophisticated as an MMO raid or anything, but it works.
It takes no time at all for the difficulty to ramp up, as a slider in the top right-hand corner is always rising, through easy, medium, and hard, until the game is literally laughing at you. And one life is all you get, though the fallen will respawn at the beginning of a new area as long as one of you manages to activate the teleporter. Once you reach the teleporter you’ll need to charge it, which means staying in close proximity to it while the game showers you with enemies and, notably, bosses.
Towering brutes who can spawn in groups of two, three or four, the bosses take an age to burn down and will constantly hit you with powerful attacks, as well as causing damage-over-time and area of effect damage. Staying alive during these fights is tough, and they simply don’t let up until either you or the boss are defeated.
Throughout each run, you’ll find chests and shrines scattered around the landscape which you open with accrued coins. Inside wait a variety of buffs and abilities that attach themselves to your character like trophies. From syringes that stick in your leg and buff your damage and speed to a guitar you can sling across your back, a set of wings for temporary flight, a leach that restores your health, and a giant sawblade that deals damage back to attacking enemies, there’s more than a score of these utilities and if you get lucky with the drops (as they’re random too), you can end up with a character that heals almost instantly or can sprint three times as fast as other players.
The fact that each item you pick up alters your appearance means you end up looking completely unique by the halfway point in a run, and a display at the top of the screen reminds you what you have equipped at a given time. There are also shrines that require various sacrifices to activate, that do things like buff your party or increase the damage of enemies and, thus, the rewards.
What Risk of Rain 2 does incredibly well is build upon itself. The longer you play the bigger, louder, and faster it seems to get. Procedurally generated levels seem to grow the further you progress, while the music builds into some truly extraordinary synth tracks, and the enemies and items come thicker and faster with every passing second.
Playing alone, it’s fun, playing with random pick-up-groups, it’s better, but playing with friends, it’s absolutely fantastic. There’s such a vast array of different skills and abilities, some of which affect the group as a whole, that every run turns out massively different, and the way the bosses force you to work as a team to take them down is exhilarating.
The art style and soundtrack are both phenomenal. I was originally a little put off by the art when I saw stills, but in motion, its curious hybridisation of pixel art and watercolor lends Risk of Rain 2 a truly unique appearance, and the soundtrack is just excellent. From chilled-out guitar as you first land to wailing synth guitars during late-game boss battles, it doesn’t feel like it should fit but it absolutely does.
The only real negative is that sometimes the transporter can be incredibly well hidden, which is probably the point, I suppose – oh, and some of the items and mechanics aren’t well explained. More than once I found myself on the wiki trying to work out what something was doing to me, or what the hell a Lunar Coin is or where the shop was located (yes, there’s a shop).
I guess you might say it’s a fairly repetitive premise, too, in that you’ll only ever really be shooting and dodging and shooting some more. But there’s such a range of characters, items and locales that it always feels compelling if not fresh.
Aside from these minor gripes, Risk of Rain 2 is an excellent time that takes you from a scrappy fight with some pesky aliens to a desperate battle for survival in a 3D bullet hell every run, and it’s both massively addictive and utterly satisfying at the same time.
Great soundtrack and art style
Loads of skills and abilities
A little obscure
The action may be repetitive for some
Risk of Rain 2 is an excellent time that takes you from a scrappy fight with some pesky aliens to a desperate battle for survival in a 3D bullet hell every run