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Risk of Rain 2 is the co-op game I keep coming back to

Risk of Rain 2 is Wes's Staff Pick of 2020.
(Image credit: Gearbox)
GOTY 2020

goty 2020

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our team-selected Game of the Year Awards 2020, individual members of the PC Gamer team each select one of their own favourite games of the year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside the main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

I'd played a lot of Risk of Rain 2 by the time I reviewed it in August. Since then, I've played about another 70 hours, mostly in four-player co-op. In a year where almost all of my socialization has come from multiplayer games, Risk of Rain 2 has been a bright light—a game that's fun to play over and over again, with lulls that allow for casual chatter, and moments of intense action that bring all of us together to marvel at the crazy shit happening on our screens. It's my favorite game of the year.

What makes Risk of Rain 2 great? Here's the thrust of my review:

Like Slay the Spire, Risk of Rain 2 is a game about finding items that make you stronger in ways both obvious and unpredictable, stacking and stacking and stacking until you're perched on Olympus. On the screen you're shooting and slicing your way through a bizarre menagerie of creatures on alien worlds, but what you're really doing is compulsively climbing a finely tuned power curve again and again and again. 

The idea here is as basic as videogames get, and yet Risk of Rain 2 does it far better than most similar games I've played. Part of that is its unwavering commitment to power creep. It does not try to reign in numbers, to make sure you can't do too much damage, to make sure no combination of its dozens of items is exploitable. This game knows that all the fun is in that exploitation, of shredding a boss to mincemeat in five seconds and howling with delight.

That all holds up 70 hours later. Recently I was playing as my favorite character, The Captain, who has a shotgun for an arm and can fire off a tight spread of eight pellets after charging up for a couple seconds (stack enough attack speed items, and it's more like a shotgun uzi). I got an item that made all my critical strikes apply bleed damage. And when The Captain crits, every pellet in a shot crits, and each one can apply its own stack of bleed. With a few shots I could put more 20 stacks of bleed on an enemy with some pellets to spare.

Oh, and that same item that gave me hella bleed? It also made bleeding enemies explode when they died. It's called the Shatterspleen, and it's my new best friend.

Risk of Rain 2

(Image credit: Hopoo Games)

Many of Risk of Rain 2's best items are a blast no matter which character you're playing. My friends and I haven't yet tired of stacking attack speed and crit and dealing damage as fast as we can click our left mouse buttons. But trying to craft more specific builds or rolling with what you find is fun, too. As Loader, a brawler modeled after Ripley in the Aliens exosuit, I try to find crowbars that make me deal more damage to healthy enemies, so a single powered-up punch can send them into orbit. When they're scarce, sometimes I go for items like the ukelele and razorwire that let me hurt enemies just by being near them. 

We like the feel of Risk of Rain 2's combat so much, and the loop of hunting for those items, that we're actually not great at beating it. On the hardest difficulty, every minute you dilly dally looking for loot brings you closer to the threshold where enemies just hit too hard for you to survive. The final boss keeps getting stronger with each passing minute, and he has a trump card: he steals all your items and uses them against you.

We know this is coming, but every time we rock up kitted out with items that guarantee he'll demolish us. Guess how long I lived after he hit me with my own spleen?

I take the coolest items every time, in spite of myself. Almost 100 hours in, Risk of Rain 2 is still fooling me—I keep falling for the power fantasy, and I don't really regret it. Although I really do want to beat it on hard, one of these days. 

Other games did more innovative or complex things with the roguelike this year—Hades with its story, Spelunky 2 with its secrets nested in secrets—but Risk of Rain 2 is just pure, concentrated videogames, and that was exactly what I needed as a nightly ritual this year.

Wes Fenlon

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games. When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old RPG or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).