First of all I’d like to say hello, I haven’t written an article in a while, and to be honest I have no real reason for it. Second, what is up with this new editor? Everything looks different and I’m scared.
Anyways, Risk of Rain is a game that came out in 2013 and Risk of Rain 2 came out in Spring 2020 but was first played by consumers in March 2019. Like 90% of indie titles in 2013, Risk of Rain was a pixel art 2D platformer/shooter roguelike made with GameMaker and it blended in perfectly with the crowd of trash. But as Sturgeon’s Law says, at least 10% of things aren’t shit. Risk of Rain isn’t shit, and people actually bought and played it and fun times were had. I put a hundred or so hours into it and even double dipped for the Switch version because I’m a sucker.
Fastforward to past today, and like 90% of indie titles in 2020, Risk of Rain 2 was a low-poly 3D platformer/shooter roguelike made with Unity and it blended in perfectly with the crowd of trash. But as Sturgeon’s Law says, if you get bankrolled by Gearbox you get a successful marketing campaign that dies in 1 month as everyone focuses on the next cool game. At least this time the multiplayer doesn’t require me to awaken my Uplink mode.
Risk of Rain (2013)
The most important thing about Risk of Rain is the way it treats time. The bar at the right side of the screen tells you exactly how much time you could’ve spent cleaning your bathroom, improving a skill, or harmonizing with your boys. It also tells you what the current difficulty is, since difficulty scales with time. Scaling with time is an interesting choice, and the devs doubled down in this by making almost every single element of the game factor into this. Since it’s a 2D platformer, you need to physically move to move the camera, and that movement might require navigating around the level. The scaling is also important in the game’s balance: the game scales way faster than the character’s level can keep up with. The items, which are purchased, won, or earned in-game, will close the gap with the enemies spawned randomly through the game. These items are where the game truly shines, especially in design.
While other indie roguelikes, like Spelunkey or The Binding of Isaac have items which change gameplay in a similar way, Risk of Rain does it on a much grander scale. Items in Risk of Rain are very frequent, with 5 items per level being a low mark. Each item will range in usefulness, but one rule holds true with all of them: they will always stack. One of my favorite common items is the Barbed Wire, which gives a circle of damage around your character. Getting more than one will expand that circle, and after 10 of them you only have to be near weak mobs to kill them, and more powerful ones will be much easier to approach. Getting enough of these items will make the game easier in some ways, since the character’s main attacks are no longer useful, compared to the barrage of missiles and area attacks which automatically kill everything nearby. Healing items will make life easier, and movement items will make navigation less painful (especially when you realize you can nearly fly).
This all comes down to progression, since there’s 5 levels before the final boss, and 4 teleporter bosses to go through, at minimum. The teleporter events last a specific amount of time (90 seconds, 120 on Monsoon mode), and finding the teleporter might take more time, depending on where it spawned. There’s a certain time investment before becoming a danmaku boss, and you need to learn how to survive, and what to do until then. Collecting items is critical to Risk of Rain, but progressing through levels is even more important. Getting to another level, gives you more options at opening chests and getting a boss’s item, than sticking around in an empty level. The most important part of the game is finding and activating that teleporter as quickly as possible. There’s an achievement in the game which requires you to finish the teleporter event in under 5 minutes. After getting that achievement, I had my first good run, and have always played that way since. It’s not just luck, though that’ll help, but strategy. The skill of pressing buttons at the right time will only help in the first 10 minutes, and after that it’s all up to the decisions you’ve made before then.
Risk of Rain 2 (2020)
There’s more I could say about Risk of Rain, but Risk of Rain 2 also deserves attention since this is supposed to be a comparison article. The sequel is still in early access, and the “Skills 2.0” update (whatever that means) is yet to come out. It doesn’t even have artifacts yet, so all that replay value from the first game isn’t there yet. The game still has a lot of new things to offer, while still working just like the first game.
Using 3D for the sequel was a very interesting choice, and I loved it. A lot of series have jumped from 2D to 3D in the past, but that all happened 3 console generations ago, and modern indie games like to not change in sequels. It was such a huge leap, but they nailed everything in the game’s design. 3D offers some interesting changes to gameplay. While the first game only needed characters to fire forward and back, they now need to aim in all directions. Instead of 4 almost interchangeable skills, now a primary fire on M1 is more important for attacking.
Most importantly, however, is the dynamic between the teleporter, items, and progression. That balance which was so important in the first game, relied on the 2D nature of navigation, and that isn’t there anymore. Instead, finding the teleporter in RoR2 is as easy as moving the camera around, and/or climbing up a small hill. The developers even added a red particle effect on the teleporter so you can see it at a distance. Since you can simply walk in a straight line to the teleporter, it’s simple to activate it in even the first minute. An even smarter strategy, you can also walk in a straight line to the nearest chest, and buy items, after killing the nearest enemies from a distance by just looking towards them. This is so different from RoR1, where you had to pick between climbing a ladder to get some money, or continue walking to find the teleporter. RoR2 adding a sprint button only drives that point harder. Now you can get everything on the map, without wasting much of your time.
Even then, wasting time isn’t too big of a deal, due to how the game balances level transitions. Every time you change levels, the difficulty scale jumps up a bit higher. You will always be punished like this for changing maps, unlike the first game where the difficulty is purely time-based. I don’t mind this change, but it completely changes the strategy for RoR2. Now, finding all items on the map is the best option, since the difficulty will jump up regardless. The items themselves are still brilliant and still stack in interesting and creative ways, for certain build synergies and all that good stuff, but something’s different here. I’ll give you an example.
Engineer is a pretty fun class in RoR2. He has 2 turrets which can be deployed anywhere, which will deal most of his damage (his primary and secondary fires are almost useless). Whether you’re playing in singleplayer or multiplayer, there’s one thing you might notice: the turrets don’t survive for very long. That is, until you get a Bustling Fungus. With that item, the turrets will heal themselves automatically, and if they are in the same zone they’ll heal each other for double the rate. While this item and character existed in the first game, this sort of necessary synergy wasn’t so prominent.
I think this is a big design deviation between the two games, where each character has a key item (or items) which unlock some potential. One addition to RoR2 is items which add “charges” to abilities, which keep you from waiting so long for cooldowns. Some characters in RoR1 had charges like that, but items didn’t directly change that, usually. But in 2, it’s important for a lot of characters, and without those specific items, they aren’t as effective. Pair this with the progression and the picture becomes clear: you must collect all items on a map because there’s no reason not to, and you must get certain items (which is random until they add artifacts) because you want to do well. These compliment each other, and make the strategy different from my RoR1 habits.
Again, I don’t mind this at all, it’s a different game and it plays differently and you think about different things while playing. The sequel is trying something different, and I’m excited to see where the developers take the game in future updates. I’ve sunk many hours into Risk of Rain 2 with the same feeling of excitement that I did with the first game, and there’s many to come. Hopefully, the sequel will be as timeless as the first game, and the developers go on to make more games. Hopoo, the developer, also made DEADBOLT, which is unlike either Risk of Rain game but still very fun.