I lived through the initial 3D gaming era of the mid to late 90s. Whether for better or worse, most games made the awkward, ugly transition from pixels to polygons. And for every Mario 64 there was, well, a Sonic 3D.
Thankfully we’re far removed from those days. But rarely do we see a series so completely, and effectively transform from 2D to 3D, as I’ve seen in Risk of Rain 2. The sequel was announced and released via Steam Early Access during the Gearbox panel at PAX East, and it’s already fantastic.
The core gameplay of Risk of Rain 2 is almost completely unchanged from the 2013 original. Players select a class and battle through increasingly difficult levels, becoming stronger and gaining new equipment. You battle through alien planets and creatures, while the world continues to throw more and tougher enemies at you. The hallmark of the game was the excellent four player co-op, with the on-screen action reaching truly ridiculous heights of chaos.
Roguelike dungeon crawl isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept. Indie games have been mining that genre for years. But Risk of Rain’s rapid pace and tight shooter-platforming combat made it an easy game to pick up and get sucked into. And I still listen to the most excellent soundtrack to this day.
The systems worked so well that the designers smartly took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the sequel. Instead they made one literally world-altering change, creating full 3D levels with Risk of Rain 2.
Like the original, Risk of Rain 2 plops me down onto an alien world with no pretext or story. The only unlocked class at the beginning is the Commando, who is armed with a pair of rapidly firing, never depleting guns. I don’t even need to reload. The Commando is armed with three other abilities that operate on a simple cooldown system: a rolling dodge, a penetrating laser blast, and a volley of shots that can stun enemies.
Hostile creatures begin to spawn around me, including fire-ball hurtling lizardfolk, flying fire wisps, and laser-firing stone golems. The goal of each level is to find and activate a teleporter, which spawns an immense and chaotic boss fight. Before then I need to earn money by killing enemies and spend it to open chests scattered around the level.
Items are completely randomized and almost always provide passive boosts, such as increased critical strikes, firing missiles at nearby enemies, adding additional jumps, or increasing shields. Occasionally I’ll find a special orange item that adds a new ability on a lengthy cooldown, like a massive heal or a huge missile strike.
Collecting these items while defeating foes and leveling up is critical, and needs to be done as quickly as possible. As soon as I spawn into a level the timer begins to tick up, filling a bar from Easy to Medium and Hard, and far, far beyond into hilariously terrifying difficulty levels. As the difficulty reaches new thresholds, harder enemies being to spawn, and in greater numbers.
Time is the biggest enemy. Thankfully getting around each level remains snappy and fun. The 3D worlds are not randomly generated, but that’s probably for the best. Currently there are only a handful of layouts available, including a swamp, desert, and snowy landscape, and they’re generally small enough to memorize once I begin to wander. Most levels offer high vantage points to look out and see the rest of the area, with plentiful jump pads to get around. Given that chests and shrines can be generated in any number of areas, exploring each nook and cranny is both necessary and rewarding.
Risk of Rain 2’s other big improvement is modern multiplayer support. No more having to mess around with port forwarding as with the original game. Risk of Rain 2 uses Steam’s friends list to quickly invite players and jump into multiplayer sessions. You can also play online with random allies, for better or for worse. But surviving the never-ending onslaught with friends, as with most games, makes everything exponentially better.
Many of the game’s systems are kept purposefully obtuse. I find out the hard way that the 3D printer requires a random item of my own in order to use it, while the Shrine of the Mountain spawns an extra boss to fight at the end. I had to look up what the hell Lunar Coins are used for, and delved into a myriad of interesting secrets, including how to unlock one of the other character classes.
The primary faults lie with the limited content, particularly with enemy types and levels. Currently Risk of Rain 2 features only about half the content that developer Hopoo Games plans on launching with, after an estimated year-long Early Access period.
Risk of Rain 2 is the perfect genre to take advantage of Early Access. The framework and gameplay are already fun, while more bosses, enemies, and levels will be a very welcome addition. For now I’m still having a blast unlocking new classes and trying completely new play styles. It’s giving me fond memories of the original game while representing the perfect transition into an all new dimension.