Review – Rogue Legacy 2
There’s nothing stranger than someone trying to tell you they improved on your favorite dessert. Like, when it comes to chocolate mint ice cream, I simply cannot picture something better in terms of what I want when I’m interested in a sweet. For years, people have tried to show me a way that they can improve upon the little sugary joy I let into my dietary parthenon. “Try it with a dollop of whipped cream, blend it with Baileys, melt it and ingest it intravenously.” All have led to massive disappointment (and one intervention). So I hesitate when someone says “this is a better version of what you already love.” Yet I trusted Cellar Door Games when they announced Rogue Legacy 2, a sequel to the incredible experience they’d already seemed to nail. As it turns out, they didn’t just improve upon the formula: it seems they’ve perfected it.
For those unaware, Rogue Legacy and now Rogue Legacy 2 is a roguelite (naturally) adventure exploration game, somewhere between a metroidvania and a platformer. You control a character who is the progeny of a cursed knight, doomed to revisit the castle where he was slain, trying to undo the spell that was hurled upon your ancestor. With each incarnation, the bloodline becomes more complicated as you unveil new classes, spells, weapons and, most importantly, traits that are passed on.
Starting fairly simple, you can go from a sword wielding archetype who happens to be larger than usual, to a vampyric chef who also sees trails of color everywhere they go. Using the inheritance from your last incarnation, upgrade your keep, unlock new blueprints for different armor and relics, and then spend your last cent to pay Charon to bring you back to the accursed fortress. Penniless and with nothing to lose, venture forth and see what you can learn, and if you can finally end the thread that binds your whole family to a grim future.
If you’ve ever played the original Rogue Legacy, you generally know what to expect, and I would even encourage trying it out before jumping into this game. Much like the gap from 20XX to 30XX, you don’t need to know any sort of storyline elements to move from one to the other, but a base knowledge makes the learning curve easier and also gives you a deeper appreciation.
For Rogue Legacy 2, you have to navigate through a procedurally generated castle to find different bosses that lock away different parts of said castle. As you go, you’ll slay multiple enemies to get currency, which is used to unlock permanent changes to your future characters. You’ll also find upgrades that exist only to benefit this particular run at the cost of your resolve, which is somewhere between a constitution and sanity meter. Let your resolve drop below 100% and suddenly enemies are stronger, or you’re weaker, pick your interpretation. Anyways, I don’t need to get too in the weeds here, it’s a roguelite game. Go, fight, die, improve, repeat.
From a raw perspective, Rogue Legacy 2 is an impressive affair due to the sheer scope of it all. You take hours upon hours to see all the different ways that your genes create a new crop of would-be heroes, ranging from impressive to hilarious. While some of the traits are minor items that don’t seem to be of much benefit (constantly farting, being vegan), there are ones that could be helpful.
For example, being clumsy means automatically breaking everything you pass, allowing for furniture destruction to find hidden coins without needing to take time to swing and smash to ferret out loose change. Additionally, some that are a pain in the ass could actually be beneficial thanks to the upgrade system. Synthesia may cause everything to leave color trails around you (very distracting), but with the tradeoff that you get 25% more gold per drop. That’s certainly not for nothing!
Also, the variety of passive and active upgrades is a lot to process, but well worth it. As you explore through the castle, you’ll find various shines and stands where you’ll be able to sacrifice the aforementioned resolve in order to add something on, like generating a field of damage electricity every time you attack, or making it so enemies are all stunned the second you take damage. You’ll never know what they do unless you pick them up (or cheat and read the wiki), so there’s incentive to take a risk and pick up a new relic to find out what it does. Don’t worry, your future generations will remember the different effects (how you get word out, I’ll never know), so your curiosity is to be rewarded.
Yet, had I just come into Rogue Legacy 2 blind and unaware of the predecessor, I would have looked and said “hey, this is a good game, nice job, let’s go grab lunch.” But as someone who played the original, I can often times just gawk at the sheer amount of overhaul that went into this endeavor. The graphics are somehow both true to the first incarnation and yet significantly better, with additional shadow, color and hue to make everything pop.
Time and money has been dropped into additional animation frames which makes everything from spell casting to halberd spinning look utterly impressive. This is a level of looking at Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, seeing how the two are related, and then whistling with the level of upgrade that’s taken place. It’s a technical marvel, and I sincerely hope that it’s possible to port to the Switch in the future (please?) while maintaining this level of fidelity.
Beyond the aesthetics, the new inclusions of a castle of colossal proportions makes for the game to feel even more expansive. There are areas that require you to find new skills and abilities that can be permanently unlocked outside of monetary upgrades, instead asking you to run a gauntlet of potentially lethal challenges so that you have a new double jump, an aerial dash, or the intuition to talk to spirits, just to name a few. Instead of having players just rush into new areas and figure out if they’re about to die, these feats (plus a new star level system) let you know if you should be somewhere or not just yet. Axis Mundi might only be two stars, but are you ready to cross the bridge without any boards in order to deal with the mobs and brigands on the other side?
Yet all of the looks and bells and whistles wouldn’t mean a thing if the game itself wasn’t fun, and Rogue Legacy 2 has succeeded beyond all of my hopes in creating joy. To be brutally honest, I’ve been disappointed in gaming recently because it just hasn’t matched what I want and need it to be. There have been a glut of games where it’s arduous to move forward, to force myself to be invested in a storyline or character arc in the name of figuring out if a game is worthwhile.
The use of an honest and true roguelite system is just such a massive hit of oxygen that I almost feel giddy. You jump in, you kill a bunch of stuff, you die and then you decide how to make the next time better. Unlock the Valkyrie class so you can look super dope with a poleaxe. Add some gems to your weapon that sap life and prolong your adventure. Choose a child who gets a 50% gold increase because all the lights are off except for a single spotlight where you are, because you think you’re the most important person. It’s ridiculous, it’s fun, it’s so wildly complex in terms of fully understanding everything, and it’s so straightforward to just play that it makes you want to play.
Rogue Legacy 2 is what happened when Cellar Door Games took what it does best and dumped fuel and money on the whole project, creating an experience that’s somehow even better than what was accomplished in the first place. The bosses need time and effort to defeat, and they don’t go quietly. The monsters and elites reward you handsomely for bravery and exploration. The new currencies make sense, why the hell would someone only accept money to infuse you with new magical wards?
And the promise of New Game+ makes my mouth water as I try, and fail, to conquer the castle. Yes, there’s this whole massive lore that’s going on just under my nose, and I read the found tomes to be polite, but I genuinely don’t care about the story and I don’t have to. I’m here to kick ass, see what happens when I mix A with B and destroy C, and pull myself together to do it all again. I want this game in my life more. I want a Switch port or I want someone to sell me a decent portable PC so I can play it everywhere I go. Rogue Legacy 2 is a masterwork in taking something already great and elevating it without getting lost in ambition and abandoning the core interest. It’s Mega Man 2. It’s LeChuck’s Revenge. It’s freaking Super Smash Bros. Melee. This is the way all sequels should be, and I’m ecstatic to finish my review so I can go back and play it again.
Gorgeous improvement in design from the original, almost no stuttering or lag.
I LIVE. I DIE. I LIVE AGAIN!
A fantastic soundscape of biome-matching notes with a blend of appropriate effects from enemies, weapons, and traps alike.
I am grudgingly writing this review because this means I’m not playing Rogue Legacy 2 right now.
Final Verdict: 10
Rogue Legacy 2 is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Rogue Legacy 2 was provided by the publisher.