Hyper Light Drifter's long-awaited sequel feels like the first game got caught in a transporter accident with Risk of Rain⁠ 2—and I can't wait for more

Hyper Light Breaker player characters standing in a row with yellow cloud and dark background behind
(Image credit: Heart Machine)

Hyper Light Breaker isn't just translating the beloved 2D pixel art Zelda homage into full 3D⁠—it's also shifting gears into a completely different style of game. The first's intricate, handcrafted world has been replaced with a roguelike structure whose open zones are created anew for each run. We don't yet know how that ambitious procedural generation system is going to pan out, but after checking out a demo for Hyper Light Breaker at GDC, I'm already craving more of its excellent combat and gorgeous visuals.

I was immediately impressed by the roguelike's hub area, which manages to be very Hyper Light while looking like nothing in the original game. Your critter buddies and meta game upgrades are housed in a rooftop market in the middle of a gorgeous cyberpunk city, and while I didn't spend too much time bumming around there, it felt a lot like Destiny's Tower as this great, scenic home base to unwind at between missions.

Loading into a run, Breaker reminded me a lot of Risk of Rain 2 with its structure: you've got this open zone to explore for upgrades, not wanting your character to be underpowered for later encounters, balanced against a looming time crunch to get your butt in gear. Instead of RoR 2's frantic horde shooting, Breaker's got a 3D translation of the original Hyper Light Drifter's precise, Soulsborne-adjacent combat, complete with a lovingly rendered version of the first game's rainbow flash step dodge deal⁠. The one character available for this demo is basically a ringer for the first game's titular Drifter, though there's the promise of other characters with their own distinct mechanics.

You've also got a bit more room to breathe than in Risk of Rain 2, with an emphasis on taking your time to explore. I enjoyed my own time tooling around the map, but I had a real moment of jealousy watching GamesRadar US managing editor Rollin Bishop tackle the zone⁠—he stumbled into a deep underground vault with a hidden miniboss, and also figured out how to deploy a Jak 2-style hoverboard that looked sick as hell. 

Otherwise there's still some work to be done on traversal: for hills and climbing walls I was able to do a combo of dashing and jumping that felt good, but very inconsistent, and the Breath of the Wild-style glider is a bit of a disappointment currently⁠—the thing just drops like a lead balloon. I could see not wanting to let players just sail over everything in a zone, especially with procedural generation to consider, but I hope they can find a better balance.

Speaking of that procedural generation, that's still an open question for Hyper Light Breaker. The zone I played in felt fantastic and bespoke, and that's because it was⁠—a Heart Machine developer present at the event confirmed that the demo zone was specially assembled. It makes sense to want a polished and directed slice of gameplay for Breaker's first public reveal, but that also means one of its main features, poised as a driver of infinite roguelike replayability, remains untested.

But whatever happens with that system, Hyper Light Breaker has already successfully translated Drifter's combat and legendary vibe into full 3D, and that's no mean feat. It's challenging too⁠—I got into enough of a groove to get past three guardian minibosses and unlock the zone's main boss fight, a werewolf-looking guy with a big sword and some strong Dark Souls Artorias energy, but I was definitely a good few attempts away from beating him. 

A crucial lesson was making full use of a suite of cooldown timer abilities⁠—they felt almost like an MMO hotbar, and basic attack spamming just didn't cut the mustard. My favorite attacks were a sort of AoE anime teleport slash attack⁠—think Fiora's ult from League of Legends⁠—and a proximity mine I would kite enemies through. Limited ammo had me saving my assault rifle for ranged and flying enemies.

Things are looking good for Breaker⁠, and it passes the most crucial test for me⁠—I want to play more of it. I still have to take another crack at that werewolf greatsword guy, after all. Hyper Light Breaker is set to release in early access this summer, and you can wishlist it on Steam.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.