The Binding of Isaac: Repentance feels like a whole new game, and some fans are struggling to adapt

The Binding of Isaac crying
(Image credit: The Binding of Isaac)

A new expansion for The Binding of Isaac is always exciting, but Repentance—supposedly the final one from creator Edmund McMillen—had some extra buzz. In late 2018, McMillen announced Repentance would be his swan song "for real this time." After some fans were disappointed in Isaac's previous expansion, Afterbirth+, Repentance held a lot of promise: it would be an adaptation of popular mod Antibirth with, in McMillen's words, "a ton more content that will make you shit your butts!"

Now that Repentance is finally out, it's definitely gotten the Isaac community fired up. Repentance adds more than 100 new enemies, 5,000 new room layouts, 130 new items and much more. There are some 300 gameplay changes, according to YouTuber IsaacGuru. Repentance also disrupts just about every accepted strategy players have built up over the last several years.

The Isaac community is divided on whether this is a good thing. As someone who's played The Binding of Isaac on-and-off over the last decade, I'm comfortable starting from square one, and I always expect to have to relearn some of the basics every time I come back to it. A portion of dedicated players are less enthused about being on the backfoot. Repentance is as close as we're likely to get to a Binding of Isaac 2, and some aren't happy about the evolution.

A lot of the consternation here comes from changes to the meta. The wider buffs and nerfs in Repentance range from lowering invincibility effects across the board and making shops much less useful, to familiars having an increased firing rate, and weapons generally having shorter cooldowns. Some exploits have been tempered, like the way restocks can break the game (they're much rarer now). The same goes for over-powered pickups like Brimstone, one of the RNG holy grails. It's still helpful, but not the guarantee of success it once was.

Add fundamental changes to enemy health and alterations like challenge rooms being randomized, and you've got a very different Binding of Isaac. This isn't just a rebalance—it's a redesign, creating a new template on which more expansions, mods, and features can be added later.

(Image credit: The Binding of Isaac / Anthony McGlynn)

Repentance is more a game of synergies than its predecessors. I started fresh on Steam, having clocked a couple hundred hours on Afterbirth on Nintendo 3DS, and struggled to get a handle on even the early rooms when I first started playing. That was until I got Brother Bobby and Cube Baby. The former is a familiar that shoots at whatever you're firing at, essentially giving you double-barrel tears, and the latter's a baby frozen in an ice cube you kick around the room that freezes anything it touches (if nothing else, the series is as weird as ever.)

With those upgrades and various health pickups like Dead Cat that kept me alive and respawning, the next few floors came easily. Go in, start blasting, kicking my iced companion towards danger at every opportunity. It worked, and far better than either of those items would've done on their own.

Isaac has always had good item combos, like Mom's Knife and Polyphemus, which makes your weapon an all-powerful steak knife, or Isaac's Heart and Blood Rights, where you deal heavy damage to everyone without sacrificing your own HP, but the sense I get from Repentance is that we can now pull from a longer list of weaker combinations, forcing us to be more adaptable.

The community is starting to understand this, albeit begrudgingly. And I get why players would react to an expansion this way. There isn't a "2" in the name. The Binding of Isaac has been maintained through years of iteration, so such a dramatic revamp can feel like a shock to the system.

(Image credit: The Binding of Isaac / Anthony McGlynn)

"I like exploring the new areas, I like the new characters, but there feels like more has been taken away than added," reads one comment on Reddit. "There's loads of new content, but everything that was already good has been made a bit shit."

Hard mode is now considerably tougher due to faster enemies and fewer health pickups, another point of contention. "Hard Mode shouldn't be the default way to play, as many people have been treating it since Rebirth," says one Steam review. "Hell, it's even worth noting that most of the new unlocks aren't tied to Hard Mode at all, so very little is forcing you to play it if you hate it that much." That positive review was written to specifically address the pushback—a common refrain among negative Steam reviews is that negativity is rooted in the shock some players are suffering from losing their primo strats after hundreds of hours of gameplay.

Updates like Repentance can be torn between satisfying the diehards or trying to bring in new players, but in time I believe it will do both. This is an ideal starting point if you've never tried Isaac. It's never felt smoother to play: the movement is neater, the transitions are quicker, the added minor animations bring extra character to the intense oddness you can work upon the endless dungeons. The meta has everyone experimenting right now, leaving the door wide open for anyone to step in and contribute to the overall well of knowledge. Rest assured, you can still break it—you just need to get inventive.

(Image credit: The Binding of Isaac / Anthony McGlynn)

Repentance is the Army of Darkness to Rebirth's Evil Dead 2, and at this point in the game's life, that's as it should be. Games like The Binding of Isaac don't inspire and enthrall people for years and years by staying the same; they evolve. Ironically, some complaints include a desire for modders to change this or that, when the main architect of Repentance was once a modder himself. There's a sense here of a handover, letting what was once a popular mod form the backbone of Isaac's second decade.

I'm excited to see what chaos I uncover. After almost 10 years, The Binding of Isaac feels like it's starting over, and that's the best thing that could have happened to it.