What is it? A cheerful and challenging dungeon crawler where death is a good thing.
Expect to pay: £22/$25
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Reviewed on: Intel Core i7-11700K, GeForce RTX 3070, 16GB RAM
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
The first Rogue Legacy won the hearts of many a roguelike fan with a clever twist on the genre that saw failure go hand-in-hand with progress. And nearly a decade on, Cellar Door Games faces not only the weight of expectation that comes with creating a sequel but competition from an army of titles inspired by its roguelite formula. Far from buckling under pressure, the developer has crafted a spectacular follow-up that revitalises the series with fresh ideas while expanding on what made the original so immensely enjoyable in the first place.
Once again, you step into the shoes of a randomised hero tasked with navigating the levels of a procedurally generated castle. Said castle is a gruelling gauntlet teeming with tough enemies to defeat, tricky obstacles to overcome and valuable gold to steal. If—or more likely when—your hero reaches the bottom of their health bar, you'll swiftly find yourself in the footwear of their descendant. Any gold pilfered on your previous attempt is now yours to spend on permanent upgrades to give you more of a fighting chance this time around.
At the start of each run, you're given a choice of three characters from an array of unlockable classes. Old favourites such as the Knight and Barbarian make a welcome return, and these are mixed with new options like the fast-firing Gunslinger and the spear-wielding Valkyrie. Classes come with their own unique stats, weapons, talents and passive abilities, making each feel distinct. The Barbarian, for instance, benefits from increased vitality, and their talent, Winter's Shout, freezes enemies in place, leaving them wide open to a devastating axe attack.
One of the most unusual and enjoyable new additions is the Chef class. Not only can they cook up a mean stew to replenish their health, but their trusty frying pan can inflict burn damage as well as deflect incoming projectiles making for a deadly game of ping pong. However, some classes are considerably more effective than others, and I found myself passing up the less useful ones after giving them a few tries. A lack of multidirectional aiming for spells meant the mage class sat on the bench for most of my time with Rogue Legacy 2.
Members of this heroic family tree can come with all manner of personality traits. Players of the original will remember these for adding quirks, both good and bad, to your character. Some serve as no more than an amusing distraction, like the methemoglobinemia trait, which sees your hero's skin turned a handsome shade of blue. Others, such as the pacifist—who wields a peaceful placard that can't damage enemies—can render the game unplayable.
I opted for a Knight with vertigo, fully expecting them to get a bit dizzy when faced with a high ledge, only to find the trait, in fact, turns the entire game upside down. Needless to say, it was a short run. This playful gimmick adds a layer of difficulty (or ease) that makes each attempt to conquer the castle feel different. Even when your quest is being hampered by the worst of them, they still add a dash of humour to the grind.
Each level has its own striking visual style. Things start off in a traditional castle setting, while later levels see you explore beautiful snow-covered surroundings and an enchanting study filled with magical platforms. Threatening you along your journey is a relentless horde of enemies. These come in as many shapes and sizes as you do. Some fill the screen with deadly projectiles, while others want nothing more than to whack you on the head with a powerful melee strike.
Enemies aren't your only worry; levels are a platforming labyrinth filled with hazardous obstacles like spiked pits and flaming traps that require careful timing and patience to overcome. Later levels introduce original threats such as Nightmare, an orb that fires a fast projectile at you if you try to attack anywhere within its expansive aura. It's fast-paced and incredibly fun, and despite being bested many times, I couldn't wait to jump back in for another go.
The original's pixelated graphics have been replaced with a crisper hand-drawn style that showcases the game's whimsical inhabitants. But the most significant addition to Rogue Legacy 2's family-orientated antics is the heirlooms. Once obtained, these helpful trinkets unlock traversal abilities, including a double jump and an aerial dash that allow you to reach previously inaccessible locations. As well as adding a delightful metroidvania element to the game, this expanded moveset gives you more evasive options when it comes to avoiding damage from enemies and other dangers.
Roguelites, by their very nature, involve a lot of repetition, but Rogue Legacy 2 goes to impressive lengths to ensure that it never feels like a slog. The upgrade system offers numerous and varied enhancements that add more than mere buffs to your stats. Your hard-earned gold can also be spent unlocking new classes, merchants, and game-altering upgrades such as the Architect and an adoption centre. The former allows you to part with a percentage of your cash to stop the castle's layout from shifting between runs, while the latter increases the number of heirs you can choose from. Eager to see what interesting new upgrades were available, I was often strangely excited at the prospect of my hero's demise.
Rogue Legacy 2 doesn't deviate hugely from the genre's well-worn formula, but it does what every good roguelite should, enticing you back for more. You'll settle in for just one run and find that you're unable to put down the controller when met with the all too familiar death screen. Instead, you choose yet another heir, promising yourself that, this time, you'll conquer the castle.
Cellar Door Games' latest stands among the finest in a genre it helped create. The demanding yet endlessly entertaining gameplay fuelled by a rewarding progression system is as absorbing as it was the first time around. While the enhanced visuals, bolstered character options and delightful traversal abilities make for a sequel that not only lives up to its predecessor, but easily surpasses it.