You know those times when a game just grabs you? It gets into your brain, you think about it when you aren’t playing it, you dream about it, and it has that pull of ‘just one more game’. It can happen with any sort of game, but for me the games that tend to grab me are roguelikes. Games where there is a loop of gameplay and you can get better and better at the game, maybe powering up as you unlock more abilities and equipment. The original Risk of Rain was one of those games for me.
Risk of Rain was a very straightforward proposition. Plopped into a 2D level, monsters assaulted you and your task was to get to the transporter, kill the boss and get to the next level. Simple right? The twist was that the game got harder as time went on. Stay too long on a level and you will just get overwhelmed. Leave too quickly and you can’t get enough of the powerups and other goodies you’ll need to make it through the next level. This gave a wonderful feeling of risk vs reward that I found utterly compelling. Throw in multiple characters, each of which allowed you to approach the game differently and you had me hooked. I’ve got about 50 hours in the game.
I was very excited to see Risk of Rain 2 in early access and jumped straight in. This game followed the same core mechanic, time increasing = things getting harder. However it took the 2D pixel art and brought it into the realms of the 3D making bosses seem even bigger and the worlds expansive. The same familiar loop is in place, the intense action is still there and that juicy risk vs reward is always there. I’ve got about 80 hours in it, including some in early access before the game was complete. Now it’s fully out I wanted to articulate how I feel about it. I really don’t love it.
I’m compelled by it. I’ve played it a lot, and I enjoy the core shooting game, gaining powers, manipulation of abilities. It’s a fun time just killing a bunch of aliens with an ever increasing difficulty. The magic just isn’t there though.
The levels are much bigger, or at least feel bigger. With the 2D levels you could see a lot of the world, plan a path to a degree. In this version it feels like there are too many nooks and crannies, even after you’ve been through the level multiple times, where goodies can hide. Most importantly some of these larger levels make it hard to find the transporter quickly.
The 3D also contributes to the feeling that it is easy to get overwhelmed. In the first game, the situation could get really chaotic. As monster numbers increased and they got more powerful you had to find ways to manage that chaos, and it felt possible. You could draw them into a corner and escape, get them trapped in a bit of the map and execute them, there were lots of options. In the sequel the 3D nature of the game means it feels easy for monsters to sneak up on you, to get surrounded, and there is much less you can do about drawing the monsters around the map as they can spawn all around you. Maybe that’s just me not being great at 3D shooters, but I’m not the worst. It feels like the balance of the game has been changed for the worst.
The problems I have with Risk of Rain 2 can be summed up in one word. Frustration. I’ve tried multiple approaches to the game, even seen the final boss a few times, but every attempt has failed. Sometimes these runs end through my own mistakes, and I have no problem with that. Frequently though they are brought to an end by being one shot by an enemy I didn’t see coming, or just getting overwhelmed, no matter how fast I move through the game. I know I can make it easier, but the first game was hard as well and it felt like a manageable challenge. This time round it just feels frustrating, and that is one of the only things I never want a game to make me feel.