Rogue Legacy 2 review – keep it in the family

GameCentral reviews one of the year’s best indie titles and the sequel to the game that popularised the concept of the roguelite.

Now that all of the year’s big name releases are out, and as we finalise our Top 20 Games of 2022 list, we want to use these last few weeks of the year to take a look at games that initially escaped our reviewing net. Inevitably they’re almost all indie titles, most of which had little or no marketing at their time of release and whose quality only became obvious weeks, or even months, afterwards.

Rogue Legacy 2 was originally released in April and yet for reasons we no longer remember we didn’t have time to give it a full review. The Switch version came out in November, which probably wasn’t the wisest of release dates, right in the middle of the Christmas rush, but that’s the version we’ve chosen to review here (it still hasn’t been released on PlayStation).

Mirroring our own tardiness, this was a very belated sequel, with the original having come out way back in 2013. It was an important release, as it helped to popularise the concept of roguelikes, both with gamers and other indie developers. Up until that point the genre had been extremely niche and if anyone thought of it at all, it was as a turn-based, top-down dungeon crawler with low-tech graphics. But Rogue Legacy and its sequel are nothing like that at all.

If the clue wasn’t in the name, you’d initially assume this was just a straightforward 2D action platformer, in the stye of old school Castlevania, and it’s true the game does borrow liberally from that series and from genre co-founder Metroid.

The big gimmick of the original is that when upgrading your character in the usual role-playing manner, with new skills and improved stats, it’s not the person you’re playing as that you’re levelling up but their heir. When you eventually die, which never takes long in either game, you return as your offspring, who inherits all their predecessor’s weapons and equipment and has a head start in terms of stats and abilities.

This clever concept ushered in the era of the roguelite, where although you still technically lose everything when you die, you do manage to gain or retain enough that you’re almost always making forward progress. Most roguelikes today are in fact roguelites and that’s in large part thanks to the now very aptly named, Rogue Legacy.

As you can imagine, these core elements have been retained for the sequel, along with the stranger concept of every heir having a random ‘trait’, which can have a positive, neutral, or negative affect on gameplay. If you’re born with irritable bowel syndrome, for example, your character will just fart a lot or if they have synesthesia everything leaves a rainbow trail behind when it moves.

Positive traits include our old favourite hypergonadism, where enemies are knocked back further when hit, while negative ones include being histrionic, and unable to tell how much damage you’re dealing, or suffering from panic attacks that darken the screen every time you’re hit. A negative effect isn’t entirely undesirable though, as you do get an increased monetary reward for coping with it, which if it’s not too deleterious can be worth the effort.

The original Rogue Legacy did have classes, but they weren’t very distinctive and still always started you off with a sword. In the sequel they’re much more clearly delineated and have their own signature weapons, from obvious ones like knights and mages to more out their choices such as gunslingers and chefs.

These are never just a cosmetic change, with each class having their own unique mechanics, such as the boxers who have a combo meter that increases their power with every hit or bards that use musical notes that can be detonated as a powerful explosive.

There’s 15 classes in total and each one also has their own unique defensive move, with so much to learn it almost feels like getting to grips with a fighting game character for the first time.

As in the first game, and indeed most roguelikes, the maps are randomly generated, which is never as interesting as something that’s been handcrafted but given the nature of the game nothing else would’ve made sense. Any concerns about a lack of character can be easily dismissed though, as the variety of backdrops is greatly increased from the original and includes everything from snowy mountaintops to volcanic interiors – even though technically everything’s supposed to be happening inside a castle.

The enemies are equally varied and it’s very obvious that this had a significantly bigger budget than the original. This is especially obvious in terms of the graphics, which have undergone a significant upgrade. While the original boasted only an amateurish charm the visuals here are genuinely good. The style is in large part cartoonish but there’s a great attention to detail that can make some sections look surprisingly impressive.

A lack of enemy variety was one of the major problems in the first game, but the main issue now is the size of the maps. Developer Cellar Door Games have got a bit carried away and since each map is made up of a series of single-screen rooms it’s become too easy to make them giant sprawling labyrinths.

That’s great in terms of rewarding exploration but not so much when it comes to backtracking, which can be a real pain. To compensate, there’s a more Metroidvania feel to the sequel, with a variety of ‘heirlooms’ being amongst the items you inherit from your forebear, which grant you Metroid style new abilities, such as a double jump and a mid-air dash.

This is on top of a dizzying array of other systems, including one of the best presented skill trees we’ve seen in a long time, which is portrayed as a gradually constructed castle. This incorporates everything from backsmiths that forge new weapons using collected blueprints to an adoption centre that increases the number of heirs to choose between when you die.

While the game is never easy you are able to customise the difficulty to a surprising degree, with separate sliders for things like health and damage dealt. There are also options such as preventing a world from randomising and opening up teleporters that, while they cost money, do a lot to prevent frustration and repetition. Both are still present, but a certain amount is a non-negotiable part of the roguelike experience.

We’re not sure how well Rogue Legacy 2 sold, since we’ve barely heard it mentioned since its launch. That’s a little worrying given the strange curse where indie sequels, no matter how good they are, never seem to sell, but this is unquestionably one of the best roguelites ever made and one of the best games of 2022.

Rogue Legacy 2 review summary

In Short: An excellent sequel that marries Metroidvania style exploration with a dizzying array of new combat mechanics, to make one of the best roguelike experiences of this or any year.

Pros: The original concept of controlling heirs and slowly becoming more capable after each run still works extremely well and is now augmented by new Metroidvania elements and fun new class types.

Cons: All the world maps are just a bit too big, and the lack of hand-crafting means backtracking can be laborious.

Score: 9/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £22.49
Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Release Date: 9th November 2022
Age Rating: 7

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