Genre: Action, Indie, Early Access
Developer: Hopoo Games
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Release Date: Mar 28, 2019
Edited by Thorstag
This review is an expanded version of a review K3w3l originally wrote for the Steam service.
At PAX East 2019 on 28th March 2019, Gearbox Software hosted their regular PAX East Main Theater show, bringing info, news, and teases on the various games they’ve been developing or publishing. Understandably, a lot of the hype centered around their upcoming latest entry to the Borderlands franchise, Borderlands 3 — however, before the official announcement of that, Gearbox threw a curveball. They name-dropped Hopoo Games before showing off Risk of Rain 2’s trailer, and then brought on studio co-founder Paul Morse to announce that, surprise, Risk of Rain 2 was launching into Early Access on this very day, and with a time-limited (48 hours) Buy-One-Get-One deal to boot!
This launch was undoubtedly one of the more audacious launches in my opinion that I’ve seen. Most developers and publishers generally announce a date weeks/months in advance and then launch. We had known all along that Risk of Rain 2, the sequel to the classic roguelike platformer Risk of Rain (obviously!) had been in development for months; we weren’t aware of any release date, and then it suddenly was unleashed on us in an unexpected manner. What’s even more audacious is how all these factors combined, coupled with how good the game currently is, resulting in a successful launch, and here’s why.
After Risk of Rain and Deadbolt, Risk of Rain 2 represents Hopoo’s third game, so it was only fitting that it had to be in 3D. Development in the first two games took place in GameMaker Studio, a pretty stellar game engine for handling 2D games — but for the jump to 3D, a different engine was necessary, and hence a switch to Unity was made. The first Risk of Rain ran buttery smooth on my PC without the need for graphical tweaking, sadly this isn’t the case for this game, as I had to dial everything down and lower the resolution. Once I did though, it ran smoothly and was very playable.
If you need a refresher of how Risk of Rain works, it’s as follows. You play one of several unlockable characters, though you only have a single character (the Commando) unlocked at the start. Stages are randomly chosen from a predetermined selection at each stage. Your character scales upwards with time as you gradually loot more items, but so do your enemies. Explore the stages, find the teleporter, activate it and kill the boss, finish up any other necessary conditions before teleporting to the next stage. The original game allowed you to loop indefinitely, but also fight a final boss to end your run. The sequel currently does not have a final boss by virtue of it being in Early Access, but still allows you to loop indefinitely, giving you an option to end your run (and unlock a character for your troubles the first time you do so).
Much like the first game when stages are selected, they are mostly the same, at least in terms of map geometry. What’s randomized is enemy spawns, loot spawns, teleporter location, etc. Builds will never be the same in each run. You might think that having the stages being the same it means a lack of variety, but I don’t believe that to be the case, as the various builds mean you have to deal with your enemies in different fashions. Even then, there are still minor variations in the stages themselves, with some paths being opened up in one run and closed off in another.
The enemies, speaking of, translate to 3D pretty remarkably. Old friends like the Lemurians no longer try to bite you as they did in the first game but instead shoot fireballs at you. Wisps no longer sit on the ground but hover in mid-air while targeting you with their fire ‘laser’ shots. On the larger and later end of things, the Magma Worm now appears to shoot fireballs out its side and remains larger than life and a little frustrating to deal with as ever.
I have no confidence in my aim, so I feel that to an extent, Risk of Rain 2 is pretty forgiving on poor aim (it appears there’s a certain degree of aim assist, which is welcome). It does partly help that enemies aren’t as tanky as they felt in the first game. There are even some characters that have attacking options that can really mitigate a lack of aiming skill. The Engineer from the first game returns, albeit not translated from the first game 100% (most characters aren’t, really), but his abilities at this stage in time are ridiculously powerful (hello, turrets which copy all your items?) and very fun. A few others like the classic Commando, the Huntress, and the Mercenary also return mostly true to their forms in the predecessor, with the Mercenary’s gameplay throwing up shades of Overwatch’s Genji. They are joined by two new characters, the MUL-T and the Artificer, two fascinating characters in their own right, and there are still more to come.
As far as items go, a lot of the items from the first game have made their way into the second, yet again with various tweaks to make them work better with the 3D medium. The variety remains great as ever and is boosted more so by the fact that a new group of items, called Lunar Items, exists. Picking up Lunar Items applies a positive and negative effect simultaneously on your character.
One of the main draws of the original game was multiplayer, but most attempts were pretty hamstrung by the fact that connections not only had to be done by IP, but players had to setup port forwarding. With Risk of Rain 2, these concerns are a thing of the past — online is peer to peer and Steam’s infrastructure handles the connections and the ping time is frankly not that bad either. I’ve played with some friends located far away geographically, and despite there being a slightly noticeable amount of latency, the game remained very playable. There’s even a quick match feature where you can join any random person’s game (or vice-versa), which is terrific too if you don’t mind playing with strangers.
Likewise, another main draw was the talented Chris Christodoulou’s soundtrack, and it’s always a treat to hear his compositions. I rate him very highly, among the likes of Danny Baranowsky, Ben Prunty, and Jukio Kallio in terms of indie game soundtrack compositions. He doesn’t disappoint here, with his arrangements as atmospheric as ever, and he utilizes his usual tricks with the famous 4-note motif and a few tasty progressive rock-inspired polyrhythms. It’s a slightly different feel, but he still manages to pull it off.
With the game being in Early Access, it is not even content-complete yet. The number of stages definitely lacks compared to the first — there are two variants each for the first and second stage, but only one variant each for the third and fourth, and the game loops after the fourth stage instead of after the fifth in the first game. I’m not sure if mid-game saving will ever be a thing, but it’s still unfortunate that even now it’s not possible, and if I wanted to save a run I’d have to hibernate my PC with the game still open. There are still a bunch more items to be added, and a mechanic called Artifacts (which change up some of the run’s characteristics) is still not implemented yet.
Bottom line, the good thing is that despite the transition to 3D, after a while you’ll feel like this is the very same Risk of Rain that you used to play and love. The exhilaration of dealing with a large number of enemy spawns, as well as the feeling of power upon amassing a crazy good build and just shredding everything in your path. Couple that to the absolute wonder of seeing all the old 2D creatures from the first game and killing them in a third-person point of view and this has quite instantly become one of my favorite games this year, thus far.
- They added a whole third dimension; it just feels so fun shooting things from a third person perspective
- Most of the familiar items and mechanics return, though some have been tweaked
- Characters are distinct, and each is a pleasure to play
- Multiplayer works out of the box and even allows for online matchmaking
- Chris Christodoulou knocks the soundtrack out of the park again
- Inability to save and resume runs for later
- Early Access means not all content is in yet
- The necessary switch to the Unity engine means that PCs have to be built to a minimum spec for this to run smoothly
Risk of Rain 2 is right up there with Dead Cells as being one of the best Early Access games ever released. The game’s in a terrific state, is very playable and very fun despite not being content-complete yet. Sadly, the BOGO deal is over, but at $19.99 currently on Steam, and with the price slated to increase closer to full launch, I genuinely feel it’s a very worthwhile asking price right now.