*Update: Post 1.0 release on console the framerate of the game on the One X is much improved. It is routinely sticking to the 60 fps target instead of constantly running at 40-45. Resolution does appear noticeably lower, but the trade off is worth it.
Drop, Die, Repeat
Risk of Rain 2 moves the series from its 2-D roots into a fully realized 3-D action rogue-like. Developer by Hopoo Games has used its time in early-access development to tighten the controls and strike a solid difficulty balance. Offering a diverse cast of character types, the game starts out feeling rather basic as you control a dual wielding shooter. Quickly you will unlock multiple characters that offer a wide variety of combat and movement options that keep the game feeling fresh throughout dozens of hours of playtime.
Rogue-likes are games where you start out in the same general area and attempt to push further and further as you get better at the game. Rogue (a 1980 PC title) itself did not offer long-term upgrades, and so the term “Rogue-Like” was born. Those upgrades come in the form of new character types, and unlocked combat and traversal ability unlocks within those types. An early example is your first character. They dual wield and have a short boost form their jet pack for traversal. You can then unlock the ability for that character to instead have a boosted slide for their traversal mechanic after finishing a challenge listed in the character select menu. This type of upgrade path gives the game a longevity it would not have otherwise, and once I unlocked the katana wielding robot, things clicked for me in a way they had not before. Instead of being a run and gun shooter I was suddenly a lightning fast ninja who could take out groups of enemies with the click of the right bumper. Next I unlocked the Engineer who used traps and turrets to take down scores of enemies. There are 10 classes in total in the 1.0 release.
Difficulty On Top of Difficulty
Enemy types are a small pool initially but as you lay waste to them you unlock variants that make things really interesting. In the upper right corner of your screen is the difficulty meter, which starts at easy. As you get kills it slowly creeps to the right. It will quickly go from medium, to hard, all the way up to insane. Finally it ends on a never ending string of AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA as dozens of enemies who can kill you in one hit constantly appear out of the ground. A successful run entails circling all the way around as you start at level 1 and go through to the final zone only to drop right back into level 1 with far more difficult creatures awaiting you. My longest run went for 90 minutes as I played cooperatively with my brother. We had lasted so long that a single swipe from what had originally been a pushover of an enemy took 90% of my HP, and eventually we both were taken out by a single boss attack. We were exhilarated, exhausted, and we could stop talking about how good of a run that was.
Upgrades Upon Upgrades
The key to surviving is the in-game, per-run upgrade system. Scattered throughout each level are drops tied to a $ currency which you earn from killing enemies and opening jars. Random items are contained within the locked chests, and there are a few item containers that give you three options to choose from. Later on you can unlock an artifact that allows you to choose the items you get called the Artifact of Command, which is a total game changer. Once you unlock this artifact you are able to create builds of items to super charge your runs and take on the hardest difficulty setting. The game offers you options of Easy, Medium, and Hard at the beginning which effect the base damage modifiers and HP pools for every enemy you face. I could not last more than 5 minutes on hard without the Artifact of Command unlocked when I tested out patch 1.0 on PC. There are three tiers to loot quality and you have one equipment slot. This slot works on a cooldown timer and can have effects such as an outright heal, shooting three boomerang-like sawblades, or unleashing a bevy of floating auto turrets that support you for a set period of time. Scattered through each level and available for a decent amount of currency are other useful drones such as a heal-bot and stacking them leads to massive health regen and damage dealing with you having to press a button.
Graphically the game has a solid art style but is not a showcase by any means. It is a clean and basic look that makes sure you can tell what is going on around you. This is important as you will routinely be surrounded by dozens of enemies, many of which are 2+ stories tall. Performance on base Xbox stayed close to 30fps the majority of the time. The One X suffers from constant frame drops during action with 30-45fps being the norm and 60fps only being achieved when staring directly up at the empty sky. Hopefully this will be alleviated with the next gen systems as they should be able to brute force something close to a locked 60fps thanks to the far more performant hardware. The music is fantastic, and after dozens of hours I never grew tired of it. During the early lulls it is a slow and steady presence in the background. Once things pick up the music follows suit, thumping bass joins in as you fight for your robotic life.
Risk of Rain 2 is not the deepest of games. It is however fun every single run through. Add in up to three co-op companions and you are in for one heck of a good time. Building your survivor into an almost unstoppable god-like killing machine is a blast. At $25 on console and PC it is easy to recommend. Especially if you love listening to a good podcast or some great music while blasting away hordes of ferocious enemies.
Reviewed on Xbox One X