With Risk of Rain as an IP now owned by Gearbox Entertainment and its work on Risk of Rain 2 effectively over, Hopoo Games was set to move on. Of course, like many who played the franchise, you can’t say no to one more run, and thus it announced Risk of Rain Returns, a remaster of the 2013 side-scrolling rogue-lite classic. It’s good – very good, in fact, but the amount of enjoyment you’ll derive depends on where you’re coming from.
Do you love Risk of Rain 2 but never really played the original? If you enjoyed the original, are you looking for a remaster with new content or just better visuals and some neat bells and whistles? It’s all a matter of perspective, even if it’s just $14.99.
"Kill enemies, collect Gold and use that to buy items which confer different advantages, whether it’s increased attack speed, a chance to evade attacks, reduced damage or something crazier, like creating ghosts from slain enemies."
Personally, Risk of Rain Returns more than adheres to the series’ addictive gameplay loop. Stuck on Petrichor V after your ship is destroyed, you play as one of 15 Survivors who must fight through hordes of enemies across multiple biomes to escape. Each Survivor has unique abilities, with several from the original and some new ones added to spice things up. I went with the Huntress, a capable option for hit-and-run tactics.
However, upon descending and exiting the escape pod, the differences between the first and second games were quickly apparent. The Huntress’s shots don’t automatically home in on enemies – in fact, almost every Survivor’s primary fire will fire only left or right. Hitting targets in the air by freely aiming isn’t a thing, and there is more of a platforming element involved when navigating stages, which makes fall damage just as precarious, if not more so (since you can’t see where you’re falling). It’s a big shift after spending dozens of hours in the 3D sequel, but it didn’t take long to acclimate.
For instance, while you’re subject to the placement of platforms and differing heights in the environment, so are your enemies. Some can’t clamber or climb up ropes and are thus prime targets for free damage or easier to escape from, which also applies to some bosses. However, there are flying enemies, teleporting enemies like Imps, and others that can burrow underground and appear directly below you. So, while exploiting your enemies’ traversal skills is important, constantly staying on the move, especially in biomes filled with hazardous lava or great heights, is also necessary.
Otherwise, the main gameplay loop still applies. Kill enemies, collect Gold and use that to buy items which confer different advantages, whether it’s increased attack speed, a chance to evade attacks, reduced damage or something crazier, like creating ghosts from slain enemies. However, the longer you spend in a run, the more difficult it becomes. Enemies start spawning in larger numbers before Elites join the fray, and soon, you’re dealing with a Colossus or a Magma Worm while everything seemingly won’t die. The difficulty also increases when passing through a teleporter, so either way, you’re on the clock.
"All that would mean nothing if the enemies, environments and bosses weren’t worth much, and thankfully, that’s not the case."
You could explore a stage, farming Gold and purchasing whatever items are available to better your chances of survival. But you could also find very few viable items, and get lost trying to find the teleporter, causing the difficulty to shoot up while you’re woefully unequipped to deal with it all. It could be as simple as not having enough movement speed as an Enforcer or not enough survivability or speed as a Sniper to get some distance for that charged shot. Either way, death is common, and at times, inevitable. Even if you do survive, Gold converts into XP. Leveling up increases your HP, but higher levels require much more, so you must look for items to get stronger.
Of course, there will also be occasions when you get the run. The items fall into place, whether leeching health off enemies by dealing damage, increased movement speed, explosions on kills, or creating a shadow clone to double your DPS. Chasing that rush is one of the main reasons for replaying the game.
All that would mean nothing if the enemies, environments and bosses weren’t worth much, and thankfully, that’s not the case. Each biome, whether it’s the Magma Barracks and their pools of lava or the Hive Cluster and its surfaces that impede movement, feels unique. There’s also a healthy variety of foes, with some, like the Spitter, which spits acid at a distance, seeming unreasonable before you notice their tells and how to dodge them. The enemies are challenging but never feel unfair.
As time passes, things quickly descend into a cluster, and without firepower, maneuverability or defenses, you’ll fall regardless. The bosses are what you would expect from the original and its sequel – the Colossus still wanders around, trying to thunderclap you while summoning smaller Rock Golems, the Wandering Vagrant still floats around and fires homing projectiles, etc. They’re just as deadly as ever if you’re not careful.
"It highlights another appealing aspect of Risk of Rain’s gameplay loop – improvising, adapting and overcoming with the tools available."
It’s a testament to the gameplay loop and level design that many different kinds of Survivors are possible. The Commando is your bog-standard attacker who can dodge-roll with invincibility frames, fire at attackers on both sides with a Skill and pierce through multiple enemies with a heavy shot. However, the Loader is about punching enemies into smithereens, using temporary invincibility when things get too crazy, and grappling. Some characters thrive off certain items, like the Mechanic, whose turrets inherit his items and can thus heal themselves with Bustling Fungus.
There are several choices for how you want to build a Survivor, whether utilizing the classic Multishop Terminal or locating a Legendary Chest. You can discover stations for combining drones, obtain multiple temporary items for a period, activate terminals to unleash equipment without having to equip it, sacrifice health for potential items – the list goes on.
However, RNG is the ultimate deciding factor. If you want to build a Huntress specializing in increased critical strike chance every time you fail a shrine pull and can’t find the Snake Eyes item or the shrines (since it resets in every map), you’re out of luck. However, it highlights another appealing aspect of Risk of Rain’s gameplay loop – improvising, adapting and overcoming with the tools available. Of course, you can also choose alternate skills for Survivors, changing their playstyles in unique ways.
Along with opting for a lower difficulty, you could dial things down further in the Rules tab, reducing damage taken and increasing damage dealt. So if you want to explore stages more thoroughly – especially since several Survivors require doing so to unlock them – or mess around on Monsoon with Artifacts without worrying about instant death, it’s a great option. Conversely, increase the damage taken and reduce the damage dealt to make things even tougher.
"Even when not compared side by side with the original, Risk of Rain Returns’ HD sprites are great, with extensive animations and over-the-top effects."
The Rules also allow for switching between the Modern and Classic rulesets. If you want an experience that’s like the original, where teleporter events don’t complete until all enemies are dead or only items, enemies and stages from the first game appear, choose Classic. It’s also possible to mix and match rulesets if you, say, want the original teleporter event while also experiencing all the new content that the remaster has to offer.
There are also Providence Trials – mini-game-like challenges that unlock new Skills and Skins. There are over 40, and they can range from using the Huntress’s Blink Arrow to clear a stage to exploring an ancient castle as the Gunslinger with a whip and dynamite. They vary in challenge and can get frustrating (see the Enforcer’s Trial to unlock his Shield Charge). Nevertheless, they’re a worthwhile diversion from the main game and arguably a better way to unlock Skills and skins than when Risk of Rain 2 initially launched.
While I couldn’t try online co-op, the options are a big step up from the original game, which requires you to manually enter a player’s name, IP and port number. You can create lobbies with rule voting, forced item sharing, custom tags and even per-player Intensity settings. Searching for lobbies is also easy, with a proper browser and options to sort based on free slots, ping and player count, and filters for difficulty, rule voting, etc. How the netcode pans out remains to be seen, but kudos to the developer for providing options to make and search for lobbies.
It’s also worth noting the visuals. Even when not compared side by side with the original, Risk of Rain Returns’ HD sprites are great, with extensive animations and over-the-top effects. It doesn’t drastically overhaul the original’s art style but adds more detail, enhancing its personality. The music is also as incredible as ever, keeping the desolate tone while still offering a powerful vibe.
"Risk of Rain Returns is more than a simple remaster of a classic roguelike. It retains everything that makes the original so good – the frustration, the excitement and the danger – while adding more content."
With so much added to the original game, the accessibility options could have been better. The lack of text scaling options is especially noteworthy since the text can get very small and hard to read.
Risk of Rain Returns is more than a simple remaster of a classic roguelike. It retains everything that makes the original so good – the frustration, the excitement and the danger – while adding more content. It also expands the experience in several ways, whether it’s the alternate abilities, the Providence Trials or proper online multiplayer.
While everyone’s enjoyment of this particular type of roguelike will vary, Risk of Rain Returns is an incredible game and a well-rounded package that will have you running it back to an unhealthy degree.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Pixel art is sharper than ever, while the soundtrack sounds even better. The gameplay loop is addictive and responsive, whether you're on an amazing run or trying to survive, with each character feeling unique. Proper multiplayer and server browser settings, coupled with Rules to customize a run, are also great. Providence Trials are a fun extra for unlocking skins and alternate skills.
Additional accessibility features, including an option to scale text, would have been nice. Though the difficulty is appealing, it can also prove frustrating when RNG isn't in your favor. Some iffy climbing.