Risk of Rain, the 2013 roguelite by Hopoo Games, made me feel one step away from being crushed underfoot by a sleepwalking god in bloom. The sense of sheer scale that game evokes through its tiny pixel art and expansive soundtrack is incredible. When I heard the game’s sequel would transition to 3D, like a lot of fans I was anxious. I was terrified the feeling of smallness that defined the first game would be lost — that I would be left with a very good but otherwise standard roguelite. I am so happy to be so wrong…
The basic loop of Risk of Rain 2 (or a Risk of Rain for that matter) is as follows. You spawn into a hostile alien world filled with monsters who want to kill you very badly. You fight those monsters and earn money which you use to open chests. In those chests are items; you pick those up until you find a teleporter. Activate said teleporter and fight a very big boss with the capacity to enact incredible violence on your body.
Bosses drop their own (usually rare) items. And so you go through the portal stronger, better, and usually wackier than before. This process repeats on the next level, and the next, and the net… That is until you achieve minor godhood — becoming a grim incarnation of death, adorned with electric ukuleles and butterfly wings — who even the physical manifestation of the planet itself fears.
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Risk of Rain, at least in single player, is not about making hard decisions. It’s about outrunning the clock. The game’s difficulty scales over time, so each level becomes a mad dash to grab as many items as you can before your foes become strong enough to kill you.
It’s a kin to a tactic employed real-time strategy games, known as “deatballing.” Deathballing is when you make a comical amount of units and, without much precise designating, roll them over your opponent to crush their army beneath your mighty wall of bullshit. Risk of Rain 2 is a deathball roguelite. You pick up items, as many as you can, until you roll over the living gods that inhabit Petrichor V.
Fanbyte Editor-At-Large John Warren paused during one of our runs to ask me if he had changed characters midway through without noticing. The combined effects of all his items were such that he felt like he was playing with a wholly different move set. This is Risk of Rain, and its sequel’s, greatest strength. It’s the ability to make nonsensical additional items feel like consequential progression.
More than the items and the characters, though, the mood of Risk of Rain games is what draws me to the series. Their gorgeous color palettes, surprisingly great writing, and nigh perfect soundtracks are what keep myself, and many other fans, coming back time and time again. The music especially feels like it follows a similar underlying principle to the structure of a run. The soundtracks start dark and moody, before slowly escalating to raucous and explosive. Gentle synths intercut with powerful guitar riffs. The first game’s final track, “Coalescence,” is so resonant it didn’t just became a meme in the community. It’s a genuinely emotional experience for many players. The feeling of… well, coalescence following the game’s building tension is incredible. The final boss of both games is stark, lonely, and underpinned with a deep sadness.
Risk of Rain 2 sports a final level unlike anything else in the game. It’s set across a massive bridge, recalling the sense of scale provided by the first game. It’s a long walk, populated with only a handful of enemies and a haunting piano score. Eventually you reach the end of the road, crossing impossible architecture, and meet Mithrix, King of Nothing.
The fight is brutal. Mithrix hits like a freight train and, without many adds, hangs builds based on killing enemies en masse out to dry. After two brutal phases he pauses for a moment… and then takes everything from you. Every item you gathered becomes his, and it breaks him. He shambles around the arena, a shell of his former self, barely kept alive by your collection of trinkets. I’ve never beaten him… I haven’t gotten close.
You have no right to do so, either. This planet hates you because you have come to it unannounced, bearing violence and teeth. Risk of Rain 2 has four endings. The first is escape: you kill Mithrix and flee Petrichor V. The second and third are obliteration. You find your way to a place out of time and space, and let yourself be consumed by the altar before you. The final ending is the most common: death. The planet breaks you. It does so because you don’t belong there — because you will never conquer it. The Risk of Rain games are about becoming unto a god, and then being forced to reckon with the fact that it isn’t enough.
Even as you stand before the limp bodies of its deities, Petrichor V denies you mastery over it. The only other option is to keep playing until the deathballs get too big. Loop after loop after loop will let you gain more power all the way. That is until the .exe itself rejects you. The game will crash before it lets you win. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but it’s a fitting finale either way.