Risk of Rain 2 is Available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One Console on all difficulty settings.
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If I were to describe Risk of Rain 2 purely in game terms, such as a rogue-lite shooter. It would probably paint a picture in your mind, it might even lead you to believe that it’s another one of “those” and make you exit this review.
You would be wrong, and I’d be doing the game a great disservice. Not because Risk of Rain 2 is a radically unique game, because it isn’t. But because of how it takes those common concepts and carves them to a sharp point capable of drawing with a single touch.
It is, in fact, a third-person rogue-lite shooter, but with extremely refined mechanics, an addicting gameplay loop, great visual style, and a cast of characters that all play differently from each other. It’s a tough game, even on the lowest setting. Risk of Rain 2 is also playable in online co-op with up to 4 players, so you can suffer together with your friends.
Risk of Rain 2 is very fast-paced. There is rarely a moment of brevity where you can breathe as the enemies are relentless, and a run gets progressively more difficult while the clock is ticking. Failure means a restart, but you keep characters you unlocked, and new items can appear in future runs.
Most of my time spent playing Risk of Rain 2 has been on the Xbox One, but I did opt to play the PC version a bit with a mouse and keyboard. Both are master class examples of tight and easy-to-use controls. Nothing ever feels awkward or clunky. They are responsive, and it went a long way to winning me over from the moment I entered the game.
Each character’s skills are clearly laid out on different buttons or keys, and the interface is simple, crisp, and clear. My partner usually played with me, and she’s not as well-traveled when it comes to games, yet she picked it up with no effort.
I did have to turn off aim assist on the console version. I do that in every game, but I’m making a point of it here because the game is far too fast-paced for it. Any stickiness to the aim will screw you up. The slightest screw-up will end your run.
Time VS Loot
You enter various stages and are constantly assaulted by never-ending waves of monsters. You have to find and activate a randomly placed teleporter in each stage, fight a boss, and survive while it charges.
The more time that passes, the harder the game gets. The more time you spend in a level, the tougher the next one will be, so playing fast is ideal. However, you have to balance this out with your hunt for loot.
You do gain levels as you fight, but the bulk of your power comes from items. You earn money when you slay enemies and can use the dough to open chests and buy from stores. Without acquiring enough items, you will be doomed to failure. So you always need to balance out your greed against the game’s timer.
When I said the game was fast-paced, I meant it. Standing still is death in Risk of Rain 2. You must always be running, jumping, and shooting to survive. It’s a tense experience and a constant factor as you make decisions on how to proceed.
In solo, you will likely pick up every item you can, but you can still attempt to build out your character through the use of stores, and 3D printers. Both of which allow you to see what the item is before you buy it. Some items are active and might allow you to fire missiles, or summon a black hole. But most of them are passive.
Yet calling them passive is somewhat disingenuous, The items’ effects are nearly always felt. You will see the effects of an item that arcs electricity when you shoot. You feel faster when an item increases your speed, and one that allows you to double jump will make you miss it anytime you don’t have it.
Items have rarities too, and there are lunar items. They can only be bought with lunar coins, a much rarer currency. Lunar items always have powerful boons and negatives to balance them out.
There isn’t as much choice in Risk of Rain 2 as there is in a roguelike such as Crown Trick, but there is absolutely strategy involved. That’s even more apparent in multiplayer, where you need to share items with your team.
One item will slowly put a healing aura around you if you stand still for a couple of seconds. Normally a death sentence, making it a pretty useless item. That is unless a friend is playing the Engineer. An Engineer has turrets that inherit the power of items they are carrying. Turrets don’t move, do the math.
That is one of the more extreme examples, but there are a lot of similar combos. Like the rare Tesla Coil that strikes enemies around you with electricity, sure it’s good on any character, but it really shines on the melee classes.
There are 10 playable characters in Risk of Rain 2. You only start with one, the Commando, and you need to unlock the others as you play. Each, and every one of them has a very distinct playstyle, unique abilities, and they synergize well with different items.
For example, The Commando is the most straightforward and uses rapid-fire pistols and can dodge roll. The Artificer plays like a mage. She can hover, summon ice walls and launch energy blasts. The Mercenary gets up close with a sword and darts around the battle incredibly quickly.
I definitely have my favorites and least favorites, but I never felt that any of them were over or underpowered. Going even further is the fact that each character has unlockable secondary abilities. For example, you can swap out The Commando’s dodge roll for a slide, or swap the Artificer’s flamethrower for an electrical high jump.
Having 10 distinct characters that play differently with unique abilities is incredibly impressive, and it’s is just one of many factors that make the game so replayable. The gameplay loop is satisfying and constantly engaging with little to no downtime.
Every enemy has its own attack patterns and how you deal with them is different for each character. Some of them have clear advantages and weaknesses against certain enemy types. Elite versions of the enemies can also appear as the timer increases, and there are several very large bosses for you to fight.
I’ve played a lot of Risk of Rain, and I still do not find it repetitive. It has an almost arcade-style one more try nature to it. To see just how far you can get before dying. In addition to its great rogue-lite progression loop. I’ve ended many runs angry, vowing that I was done playing, only to immediately push start and try again.
A Game of Secrets
Risk of Rain 2 has a ton of secrets, levels, bosses, items, you name it, and finding them isn’t always straightforward. One of the simpler ones is the lunar portal that leads you to a special store, inside this place is a portal to another secret level, a secret within a secret. Both of which are required to unlock two different characters.
But this is also where Risk of Rain 2 begins to stumble from grace. Secrets are great, but they need to be designed in a way that a player can reasonably find them within the game. I don’t believe that’s the case in Risk of Rain 2. The game hints at literally nothing, at all.
The issue is, some of these secrets are a really big deal. Artifacts add an additional replayable element to the game, allowing you to set powerful modifiers to a run. Good luck figuring out how to acquire them.
A single run in Risk of Rain 2 consists of five stages, the fifth one leads you to a really cool final boss fight before the credits roll. If you only ever do this, you are missing a large chunk of the game. You can, in fact, continue your run indefinitely, until you die or choose to end it. There are entire enemy types that you will never see if you don’t continue your loop past the fifth level.
I have no idea how a new player would ever discern this. I’ve been playing since early access back when there was no final boss, looping runs was the game, so I already knew this. It isn’t clear how to continue past the fifth stage, or that you even can. I could see many fresh-faced players beat the boss, see the credits roll, and think “That’s it?”
It’s great that we have game wikis and communities to turn to when in need, but it should never be a requirement to google something about a game. I’m not sure how anyone would discover some of these secrets organically, except by complete accident.
Risk of Rage
There’s a problem with many of the challenges you need to complete in order to unlock certain items, skills, or characters. Some of them aren’t just obscenely difficult, they rely heavily on the RNG aligning the stars in just the right spot to even allow you to complete them at all.
These challenges don’t just gate little things but can hold entire skills hostage. To unlock one of The Mercenary’s secondary skills, you have to complete a prismatic trial, which is two stages under a set of random artifacts that change weekly, without, taking, any, damage. I’ve long accepted that I’m never unlocking that skill.
As you continue past the fifth stage, which you are certainly meant to as not all the content can be experienced unless you do, the game balance gets wonky. One challenge requires you to make it to stage 20, so I like to use it as a marker for a run.
By the times you get to stage 20, you will probably be overpowered enough to sneeze at enemies and kill them, you will also probably die in a single hit regardless of what kind of defensive items you have.
I’m almost never sure of how I died in later stages, my screen flashes red, and boom, I’m pushing up daisies. On the Standard Xbox One, the framerate can start to tank from all the action in later stages, and that alone can get you killed due to the precise nature of the game.
Risk of Rain is a stellar rogue-lite shooter that’s a blast to play. It can easily eat an entire day as you vow that this run is your last one, but it never is.
The combat design, tight controls, and constant action make it hard to put down. The character variety, enemy types, boss battles, and item builds make the game feel like it will never get old.
It’s obtuse as hell about some of its secrets, and the criteria for unlocking certain aspects can rely far too heavily on the RNG. At times, death can feel random or just feel unfair, especially in later stages. Yet any anger I feel at time fades fast, and I want to play again.
Risk of Rain 2 stacks up as one of the most well-designed rogue-lites on the market, and is a clear example of early access done right. Its replay value is high, and its fun factor is even higher, especially with friends. The cracks of its porcelain skin are ugly, because of how pristine the rest of its form is.
You might also be interested in my review of Crown Trick, another fantastic rogue game.
- Tight and responsive controls
- Difficulty settings present
- Tons of secrets
- Great action packed gameplay
- 10 unique characters with different playstyles
- High replay value
- Some secrets are nearly impossible to find organically
- Some challenges hold important elements hostage while relying heavy on RNG to complete them
- Balance gets wonky in higher stages, and death can feel unfair
- The standard Xbox One struggles to keep up on higher stages