Instant replayability.

Responsive third-person shooting, fun four-player co-op, and the promise of attaining roguelike godhood with distinctly flavorful items make it dangerously easy to play “just one more game” of Risk of Rain 2. There’s a lot to do even now in early access, like chase down game-changing unlocks and Easter eggs across the continuity of multiple runs, even if there are a few rough edges like online stability. I’m enamored with what’s already here, and am left eagerly awaiting what comes next for one my favorite co-op surprises this year.

Risk of Rain 2’s basic formula is straightforward and instantly gratifying: you and a team of up to three others crash onto the surface of a planet’s pleasantly stylized environment and fight your way through an unending onslaught of ever-more-challenging enemies to earn loot. Some of the rarest items, like the Brilliant Behemoth that adds an explosion to every attack, provide transformative effects that can take a build from great to straight-up-busted, in the most satisfying way. And, since there’s no limit on how many of a given item you can collect, the absurdity of what you’re able to luck into is both ridiculous and supremely fun.

At one point I found a sequencing shrine that turned my horde of gear into large stacks of three separate items that gave me 100% critical strike chance, 20-some-odd extra jumps, and a hail of spectral daggers flying in every which direction. While items provide a passive effect, you can equip a single piece of equipment that confers an activated ability, like the power to spawn a black hole. The result of all this upgrading is that synergies within your build tend to emerge, especially when you factor in the six currently playable classes called “survivors.”

Surviving the Storm

Each of the six survivors present a uniquely enjoyable playstyle thanks to a handful of exclusive skills. The Huntress’s Laser Glaive bounces between targets, dealing increased damage with each blow, MUL-T’s retool switches between two separate sets of weapons and equipment, and the Engineer’s turret can wear sunglasses. Five of the six survivors must be unlocked by completing challenges, which provided a fun carrot to chase across multiple playthroughs that was easy to keep track of via the logbook.

You’ll be attacked by everything from suicidal exploding jellyfish to lumbering Stone Golems that fire off a devastating but easy-to-dodge laser from afar, and the resulting variety keeps combat engaging as the threat ramps up. Distinct silhouettes and audio cues make it easy to react to an impending threat at a moment’s notice. Boss fights, too, are well-telegraphed to feel fair. and their impressive size and spectacle evoke a feeling of challenge.

Distinct silhouettes and audio cues make it easy to react to an impending threat at a moment’s notice.

The increasing difficulty is constant, but the rate at which you advance to the next environment is up to you, and that’s a good thing since some unlocks require you to beat a certain number of levels at a hurried pace. At some point, I’d like to see an option for a definitive end-of-run challenge to cap it off. Currently, there are a few handcrafted battles found in mysterious portals and hidden passageways. These boss fights are fantastic, requiring a well-developed build and a well-executed strategy. There are plenty of other Easter eggs too, like a mysterious security chest at Rally Point Delta that will reward you handsomely for your effort. I’d love to see more of these cryptic and challenging elements added to Risk of Rain 2.


Home Improvements

Killing enemies lines your pockets with gold needed to gear up via chests and containers, but that’s not the only way to progress. There are plenty of interactables that provide a fun risk/reward dynamic. The challenge of the mountain, for instance, doubles or even triples the number of bosses for proportionally multiplied rewards.

As a result, I felt in control of how much gear I acquired during any given run, just not what I was getting. The randomization of loot undoubtedly plays a big part in giving Risk of Rain 2’s its tremendous replayability, but at times it felt like a flat-out hindrance because I simply couldn’t seem to find crucial common items that were usually abundant. There are a few choices to be made where you can spend rare Lunar Currency that persists across playthroughs. But for the most part, you’re at the mercy of the lady luck when it comes to progression.

Risk of Rain 2 is best played in a private lobby with friends from both a gameplay and connectivity standpoint.

There are an abundance of “under construction” icons found in the logbook, but other than that Risk of Rain 2’s early access state only really seems to matter where matchmaking is concerned. More than half of my dozens of attempts to use quickplay to match with strangers ended in disaster. Lobbies failed to start, latency was sometimes unbearably high, and disconnects were common. These faults are compounded by the lack of common multiplayer amenities like a ping display, host migration, or reconnect functionally. The good news is that Risk of Rain 2 is best played in a private lobby with friends from both a gameplay and connectivity standpoint, here my experiences were much smoother.

The Verdict

Risk of Rain 2’s early access hooked me with its fluid 3D action and distinct classes, and held my attention long after I’d seen everything it had to offer with its berserk roguelike progression, and the ability to squad up with friends. It’s networking woes could use some TLC, but that’s the only bad news. What’s here now is polished, fun, and immensely replayable, and what’s on the horizon leads me to believe I’ll be playing Risk of Rain 2 for a very long time to come.

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