I respect a shooter that fills the screen with enough projectiles and enemies to render the action nearly incomprehensible. Risk of Rain 2 is one of those shooters. When I can't parse what the hell is happening on the screen, that's by design, and it's great fun.
The original Risk of Rain is a 2D sidescroller built around steadily buffing the player and modifying their skills with so much gear that they transition from little pew-pew spaceperson to opaque bullet tornado over the course of a short 10 minute run. Risk of Rain 2 transfers the same iterative roguelike loop into the body of a third-person shooter and pulls it off with surprising finesse. It may be in Early Access, but it's in pretty good shape already.
The goals are the same as in the first game: once you pop out of your little space pod, you'll need to find the teleporter, activate it, and survive until it's fully charged. Teleport out and move to the next level, repeat until death. All the while the difficulty steadily ticks up as tougher enemies pour in from the sky and crawl out of the dirt in greater numbers. Some rush you while others harass with projectiles from a distance. They never stop coming and they never get easier.
Dead enemies drop money used to purchase upgrades scattered around the map. These make keeping up with tougher waves possible, though what you get is determined by dice rolls. I'm only a few hours in, so my item pool is pretty limited. I've found spectacles that increase your chance to crit, a syringe that buffs attack speed, and my favorite so far, a gasoline tank that ignites enemies in a radius around any that I kill. A couple dozen aren't even in the game yet.
Like Binding of Isaac, the gear you unlock will enter the item pool forever. Some are locked behind achievements and some are locked behind progression. Unless you're one of those fabled gamer gods, expect to die early and often until you unlock a couple of your own.
The long term payoff of the original was filling out the item pool and getting to a point where buffs would stack and synergize in absurd ways, turning you into a frenzied, near invincible bullet beehive. Risk of Rain 2 feels close to matching that from the start, so I'm looking forward to the compounding mayhem that (hopefully) awaits.
Singing in the pain
Risk of Rain 2's shift to a third-person perspective has one major downside. While the first allowed for cooperative play, the 2D perspective made it possible to track all of the on-screen action by yourself. Now you can only see what's in front of you, and because enemies spawn in from every direction it's easy to get overwhelmed when playing alone.
A limited field of vision means co-op multiplayer is the only way to go right now, but I like the added chaos from four little spaceguys shooting and jumping around at once. I'm able to find full parties in quickplay without issue and consistently get to the second or third areas from just noodling around with strangers.
Getting further will require a bit more teamwork. There's not much to encourage cooperation outside of text chat, though teamwork might naturally take shape as more people realize what an advantage sticking together is. I'd still like to see another class unlocked from the start, something that complements the default all-around Commando so players fall into supporting one another early on. Better player communication tools are a must, too. Apex Legends has ruined multiplayer games for me.
And everyone is going to need help. The action is overwhelming at times, especially when a big boss, like a massive electric jellyfish, floats in during the teleporter charging phase and everyone panics. Glorious visual noise and hectic, desperate shootouts ensue, while I jam on the keyboard without much attention to what's firing off and where, so long as I keep seeing damage numbers. It's nice to get a sweat in.
The looming scale and drama resulting from the grounded third-person perspective makes the original game look like a pathetic ant farm uprising. Risk of Rain 2 is decidedly less chill.
Regardless of whether or not my teammates care about me, the shooting's great. I thrive on the stress of reading a busy battlefield and snapping between targets while trying to time dodge-rolls during clearly telegraphed enemy attacks.
I do wish the art were more expressive and distinct. The lumpy, lo-fi levels lack character, and the enemy models are flat, blurry interpretations of their detailed pixelated counterparts. Performance is also a problem. I get consistent hitches and the framerate chugs during particularly crowded, chaotic shootouts. Connection issues are infrequent, but happen every couple matches.
These performance problems don't seem widespread, though, if the "Overwhelmingly Positive" review status on Steam is anything to go by. I might be an outlier, just know they're distracting enough for me to leave Risk of Rain 2 and check back in a few months from now. It's good fun as is, just something I might let bake until better communication tools and smoother performance settle in.