Rogue Legacy 2 is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write. Not because there’s some big controversy surrounding it, or some game-breaking bug that makes it impossible to play. No, it’s because the simple act of writing this takes me away from actually playing Rogue Legacy 2.
That’s not just a clever way of saying I liked it a lot (well it kind of is thank you very much), but the cold hard truth. Upon starting the game, I expected to put in around two hours to get a handle on it before putting it down for other bits of work. I sat there for around nine hours on my first play session, which then embarrassingly ballooned to more than 12 on the next. Friends started checking if I was okay, pages on the calendar started blowing off the wall, and I even grew a tiny little moustache, it was wild.
As lame as it felt for a game to sink its claws into me so hard, something that very rarely happens by surprise, I didn’t mind one bit. Rogue Legacy 2 is one of the best roguelites I’ve ever played. Hell, it’s one of the best indie games I’ve ever played, and it’s all thanks to its clever legacy system that keeps every run fresh, constant progression that means that anyone can get through it with enough perseverance, and engrossing combat that is an undeniable improvement over the original.
For those who aren’t familiar with Rogue Legacy, the first game was a roguelite with some very minor Metroidvania elements that had you adventuring through a randomised castle with increasingly difficult enemies and traps. You start out at level one and are incredibly unlikely to make your way through the castle in one go, almost certainly succumbing to death.
Fans of the genre will know that your character will somehow return with some sort of progression system that makes things slightly easier the next time around. That’s the case with Rogue Legacy 2, but the twist is that the character doesn’t come back – their next of kin does. After each death, you can choose between three possible children, each of which will have their own class, out of a possible 13. The class then decides your main weapon and skill along with a randomised spell, whether it be a Ronin with a longsword and a quick slash move, an assassin with dual blades and the ability to avoid damage, or a chef with a frying pan that can cook themselves some healing food.
The interesting part comes from the randomised traits that each hero can have. Whether it’s super irritable bowel syndrome that replaces your main skill with a gassy fart that essentially gives you a triple jump, color blindness that makes the screen lose all color, vertigo that flips the world upside down, or vampirism to restore health when you attack. Your hero is going to be stuck with a trait that changes each run no matter what. There’s a message in here about how life is all about accepting our individuality, but I couldn’t hear it over the super IBS, sorry.
You control this hero for as long as you possibly can, adventuring through the varied biomes of a randomised castle to find gold, items to change your spells, and relics to give you perks. Certain traits will let you earn more money on a run, although usually at the cost of being much harder to play with. After you die – and you will die – you choose your next child and can then spend all of the gold that their parent collected in the last run, which is where the roguelite element comes in. The upgrades you can buy will increase the damage you deal, unlock new classes, open up shops to buy trinkets and armour, and just generally improve every string in your bow. This stronger child will then adventure through the castle to hopefully earn more gold, get a bit further through the fortress’ gloomy corridors, take on a new boss, and likely die again. Choose a new child, grease some palms to get stronger, and repeat until you’re strong enough to beat the game.
Most of that was true of Rogue Legacy as well, although on a much smaller scale. Every single element of the game has been beefed up and improved in some way, whether it’s the new far more vibrant graphical style, wider range of areas and enemies, much bigger selection of traits, or the sheer amount of content on offer. It’s simply a deeper experience with more variables that looks and plays better than ever.
As great as the enhanced presentation is, Rogue Legacy 2’s biggest improvement can be found in its gameplay. Each class now has a distinct weapon from one another that isn’t just one sword swing like the original. The assassin is quick with dual blades, the archer shoots with a bow from afar, and the boxer gets in close with a flurry of punches. Aside from later in the game when you can randomise the hero selection a few more times or set one specific class, you have very little control over what class your hero might be, which encourages continued experimentation.
These traits and classes make discovery, a key part of roguelites and one of my favourite parts of games like Spelunky, such a big part of Rogue Legacy 2. It’s such a water-cooler game as you see your heroes get weirder and weirder, messing with your runs or surprising you, like with the clown that bounced off walls and turned out to be the son you’re most proud of. There’s also a greater emphasis on Metroidvania elements that you’ll need to utilise in order to reach new biomes in the form of permanent upgrades you can find that let you double jump or dash for longer, a big improvement over the original which just had you spending money to unlock them.
Rogue Legacy 2 is pretty much perfect in the execution of its main gimmick, but there are a few things that drag it down. For starters, if you’re not up for a grind, you’re going to hate this, and even if you’re fine with it there are times in longer play sessions where it can feel like a lot.
This can be subsidized with the House Rules system that lets you adjust features like difficulty and damage, which is always appreciated and a big win for approachability, but in the base experience you’re going to be playing for a while to reach the end. If you fall in love with the game’s mechanics, like I did, that’s a blessing, but as I approached level 150 and still had some difficulty with the final area, I did pray for characters that would give me more gold.
There are also elements of the game that feel like they could have been trimmed back, such as the optional Scars missions that give you another form of currency to unlock some of the more unique upgrades. These usually aren’t much more than enemy gauntlets, which is a bit of a shame, although they’re optional so it’s up to you if you want to dive in.
Beyond the heavy grind, which is certainly purposeful, some gameplay features which feel a bit light, and a story that might as well not be there, Rogue Legacy 2 will quickly see itself enter the roguelite hall of fame as a shining example of why the genre works so well, and fittingly for a game about lineage, as a show of how far a sequel can improve upon its predecessor.
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