Risk of being GOTY
Type: Single-Player, Co-Op
Genre: Action, Shooter, Bullet-Hell
Developer: Hopoo Games
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Release date: 28th Mar, 2019
Jesus, that was a terrible pun, sorry.
Anyway, Risk of Rain 2 was quite a sneaky release. For starters, the developer studio, Hopoo Games, had a publishing deal with Gearbox, which was an announcement out of nowhere. This announcement also included launching the game after Gearbox’s PAX East show. So instead of launching a trailer, putting out a date, and hyping the game up for months, Risk of Rain 2 crash-landed on Steam one magical Friday with a “Buy one, get an extra copy” deal. Not only did this promotion give the customers a sweet deal, but it also earned the game 70,000 concurrent players (yes, you read that well) and 8,000 Steam reviews (96% of which positive.) (For comparison, the total number of Steam reviews was only 800 short of Devil May Cry 5—in less than one week!)
Obviously those numbers do not mean the sequel sold as much, but it gives a good grasp of how well-received this game was by the community. I even suspect this “two for one” deal gave many people, especially those who had never heard of the original, a chance to give the game the love it deserves. Some of my friends are proof of this claim; my Steam Activity feed was literally infected with people buying this game from March 28 to 30th. I even took some screenshots to save the moment; it was quite shocking.
Now, I have played twelve hours in the first two days after release. There’s really not much else I need to say; if you still haven’t bought it (shame on you), keep reading and those twenty dollars will surely fly out of your wallet! Anyway, Risk of Rain 2 is a 3D rogue-lite (this will matter a bit as I’ll explain later) third-person shooter with a formidable bullet-hell feel (harder levels get really ridiculous). It’s hard; it’s random; and it’s great!
There’s no story here, so there isn’t much to discuss. You select between single player and multiplayer, private or matchmaking, through Steamworks—the original required a disgusting amount of configuration such as port forwarding like Hamatchi—and you drop onto a big level with a pre-determined layout. In the current state, the game has four stages: the first two can be entirely different levels, while stage three and four are the same level. It’s worth noting that these levels, despite being predetermined, have a variable amount of layout changes. For example, one closed door could be open on the next run, allowing a new area for you to explore. In addition, the loot-chests, the shrines and the teleporter are all shuffled-up for every new iteration.
This approach gives a refreshing feel when playing as every playthrough isn’t exactly the same, especially the first two stages. Items play a huge role in keeping things interesting because they are also randomized. I even had a friend getting two ultra rare drops in the first level. Everyone else, myself included, were getting pretty annoyed at his luck while we were walking with garbage niche items. Still, the result made for some funny remarks nonetheless.
No matter your luck, your main mission is to loot and upgrade your character while finding the exit teleporter. However, the teleporter isn’t a safe exit; it’s a structure that summons a boss and it’s a location you need to control for a certain amount of time. Once the area is controlled to 100% and the boss is slain, you can activate the teleporter to the next stage. Sometimes portals will spawn because you bought an opportunity at the secret altars, but they can be completely random. These portals lead you to secret stores with great items as well as secret content.
If you survive long enough, this four-stage progression will then loop to harder versions infinitely until you die. Obviously, this game is in Early Access, and there is a final stage and final boss planned for the future, so don’t think this game will remain an endless loop. There are also more items, bosses, levels, and more types of content coming in the future.
In the current state, Risk of Rain 2 will need twice the amount of content before release to solve its monotony problem. There are six characters total, two of which are unlockable secrets; the other three (besides the Commando) are unlocked as you play. (The game lists four more characters in development, though I hope more will be added as I love lots of classes to choose from.) Items are abundant to keep you playing, but there are six level types and the early-game loop can become tedious. More items from the original as well as new items would be welcomed. There is also not that much variation in enemy types, so the feeling of progression slows down after multiple playthroughs. Some new level biomes and scenery would also be appreciated. Once you finish the first run, however, the second one is so much more chaotic that you really won’t be bothered by these complaints, and it’s here where the game’s bullet-hell nature steals the show.
Like the original, this game evolves its difficulty through playtime, so don’t stick around in one area too long because the next time you return will probably become nearly impossible. I spent fifteen minutes on the first stage with some friends, and, by the time we reached the third stage, we were underequipped and overwhelmed. Eventually, with practice, you’ll find an ideal pace once you get a feel of the difficulty ratings and the stage changes. It’s worth noting that, as a rogue-lite, item-drops will not always favor you and you may struggle on early playthroughs, or you may wipe away everything like the Lord of Death that you are and skim through these stages.
Regarding the game’s difficulty, while I find everything is fair and balanced, the damage scaling of fire beyond stage four requires an urgent nerf. For a majority of builds, if you go anywhere near fire you are pretty much dead, and when you add fifty-plus enemies and hundreds of projectiles to the situation it’s too punishing to be killed over one wrong step. I get that scenario is meant to punish you for not paying attention to your surroundings, but one silly mistake should not cost a hard-fought run.
Outside of fire damage, the number of bosses is the weakest part of the game. With about eight total, six bosses are actual boss fights while the other two hordes of regular enemies These latter two are boring to fight compared to the other decent six, so more variety would be cool. The real problem is you will quickly get tired of fighting the same limited selection due to the game’s four-level ad infinitum structure.
Personal gripes aside, as you can see, the game is minimalistic—but in a good way. Environments are stylized with a great variety of colours between each stage thanks to each one having its own theme. (It’s worth noting that I played with low/medium settings because the framerate can be all over the place when the enemies’ numbers ramp up, but the graphics don’t change much on high and ultra settings.) The options menu is pretty extensive and allows for some nice customization, although some options won’t allow you to see the aura where some spells will be cast like Artificer’s Ice Wall. The game runs on Unity and the performance is far from great; some high end PCs will struggle to maintain a constant 60 FPS, and, after a few stages, this game becomes so ridiculously hectic that it will likely tank the game to less than 40 FPS. If you care about your game’s performance and its quality, I recommend waiting for an update, but until then just crank those settings a bit lower to enjoy the carnage.
The audio within this game is also a big plus. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and it allows for great intense moments to feel even better. There’s a mix of slow and fast paced songs, some retro, some techno as well as rock/metal songs—they all somehow manage to suit this game! This soundtrack is one of the best OSTs that I’ve heard in a while, which does enough justice to the original’s equally fantastic soundtrack. In addition, the sounds of the enemy attacks, the sound effects when picking items, shooting enemies, etc. also help the combat stay exciting—although the commando’s dual pistols could sound a bit punchier and explosions could feel a bit more… “explodey”—which sums up the game’s overall quality as it’s a phenomenally fun experience.
That statement pretty much covers the Early Access version of Risk of Rain 2. I’m not here to explain every mechanic as part of the fun is finding out all the synergies and all the secret items to discover. Instead, I covered what mattered to me and it’s enough to explain why this game is great, even in its first week of Early Access. (I also haven’t found any major bugs outside of falling through the ground two or three times, except some lobbies needed to be restarted; nothing more serious than taking fifteen seconds of your time.)The sky is the limit for the future of Hoppo Games; people were skeptical of the sequel’s change of 2D to 3D, but this game couldn’t be any more addictive than the original.
Overall, the polish and the gameplay loop of looting and shooting in Risk of Rain 2 are excellent. The four-player co-op and the difficult-but-fair gameplay, alongside the relatively steep learning curve to learn all the characters and their synergies, make this game a blast to play alone or with friends. Even though the game is currently an infinite loop, there is enough chaotic action to make the game feel more than just the doing the same thing over and over again. Here is an example for other developers as to how to make a fun horde-based game, a fun rogue-lite and, most importantly above all, a fun and GREAT sequel!