We played the first Risk of Rain when it released way back in 2013, and while we liked it, our troubles accessing the multiplayer portion of the game saw us move onto the next indie darling a little quicker than perhaps we should have. Back then Hopoo Games crafted a pixel-tastic side-scrolling roguelike platformer with tons of gameplay variance, and now the studio is back with a sequel, and in a number of respects it picks up where the first game left off.
There are, however, some fundamental changes made to the overarching formula, and chief among them is the shift of perspective. Gone are the 2D pixels of old - Risk of Rain 2 is a third-person shooter. The change of style works too, although it doesn't mean that the spirit of the original isn't largely intact what with its randomised levels filled with huge monsters that are just begging to be filled with bullets.
Risk of Rain is action-packed, and pretty much the whole time we've been playing the game we've had one finger on the trigger. There's a near endless stream of enemies coming after you, and when you're not taking aim you will be jumping and rolling out of the way of incoming fire. It's relentless, and shortly after you drop into each level you'll have to start fending off all manner of strange alien creatures.
The levels themselves are randomised, so you never know exactly what you're going to get, and there's no relying on muscle memory when it comes to traversal. Your mission in each level/world is to find a portal that's somewhere in the small sandbox you find yourself in, and while they don't seem to be hidden away too much, locating them is a challenge when there are a dozen enemies charging after you with one thing in mind: your extermination.
The enemies scale with you as you increase in level, which happens very organically while you play. We hopped around the starting level for ages, grabbing new gear (which drops all the time - more on that later) and trying to get a handle on the main mechanics. As you rise through the ranks your health bar rises, giving you a bigger safety net in the event of getting hit by an enemy barrage. You'll need the extra health too, as the boss battles can be especially punishing. These encounters are initiated when you activate the aforementioned portal, and doing so summons a towering creature as well as a mob of lower-level minions, which you must withstand while staying close to the objective. You can, of course, defeat the hardier opponents you encounter with nothing but a good aim and a wafer-thin health bar if you've got the skills, but it does pay to level up a bit.
We found grinding the levels a little before activating the portal helped us strengthen, not only in terms of our health but also in terms of the various items we were able to pick up, but you don't want to dawdle too much either as the clock is always ticking and things only get harder the longer you play. The bosses are particularly challenging, especially as they come with quite the entourage, so finding that sweet spot between challenge and preparedness is key.
We've only scratched the surface but with more than 70 items already in the game, your character (you can unlock more as you play) can expand and develop in a number of different directions. We particularly enjoyed the limited time we spent with a build that saw bolts of electricity passing between enemies as we shot them, but there are more practical equipable items that let you do things like double jump or give you boosts that see your health start to regenerate more quickly. You won't see everything that the game has to show you in one sitting, but you will get a unique experience with a combination of abilities that change up your tactics and inspire distinct play styles.
While the levels are randomised, they're at least coherent enough to make sense. There's a harsh emptiness to this world and it feels a bit barren, and that's perhaps amplified by the switch to 3D. We'd have liked more interesting details to capture our interest during the occasional lulls in combat, although we concede that there could be more engaging environments further into the game that we haven't seen just yet. That said, we're pleased with the overall level generation in terms of the gameplay experience it delivers.
One thing that we haven't mentioned so far is multiplayer. Up to four players can band together and take on this inhospitable alien world together, and as you might expect, things get more fun when there are several of you involved. This seems to be a big improvement over the original and we've enjoyed the online experience so far. There are also so-called Prismatic Trials that give players the chance to compete indirectly by taking on the same challenge in an identical game world.
All in all Risk of Rain 2 offers frantic and relentless action, but the fact that there's permadeath means that you're constantly feeling the tension because any wrong move might be your last. The added third dimension changes things up, but there's still a lot of crossover from the first game (survivors, items, and enemies) and long-time players will immediately feel at home. What's more, it's still only in Early Access so there's more to be added, which leaves us with the impression that Risk or Rain 2 is already well worth closer inspection.