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In 2013, a small, independent studio named Cellar Door Games released a game titled Rogue Legacy. It was their first commercial game and their take on a 2D Roguelite. And it was brilliant.
The sequel has been a long-time coming. Originally released in early access in August of 2020, the full “1.0” release for PC and Xbox consoles is finally here. So was it worth the nearly nine year wait? Without question.
Live to Fight Another Day
Rogue Legacy 2, at it’s core, is very similar mechanically to the original Rogue Legacy. You begin by selecting one of three randomized characters and make your way to a castle to battle hordes of monsters. You collect gold and items, kill as many demons as you can, and, upon dying, select a new, randomized heir. One of the areas in which Rogue Legacy 2 truly outshines its predecessor is in the sheer variety of playstyles that are incorporated to this seemingly straight-forward formula.
There are 15 unlockable classes, and each can begin with a vast array of spells, talents, and attributes. Experimenting with the different builds is a joy, and eventually you’ll begin to get a feel for what suits you personally. While I enjoy the simplicity of the Knight or Valkyrie for their high health and strong melee attacks, there are plenty of ranged variations too, including mages, gunslingers, and rangers. There’s a lot of variety, and the randomized nature means you’ll always have fun trying new things.
As with the first, there are also attributes that make the game more challenging, or even silly, which then provide you with more gold during your run. Playing the game upside down or leaving a trail of gas behind you as you move is all part of the charm. And if you don’t enjoy a specific selection or class, retiring that heir and picking a new one is as simple as a few button presses. Player choice is a theme that is prevalent throughout the entire game.
Adding further variety to your runs are runes, relics, and armor sets. Armor sets and runes are found throughout the game and can then be bought and activated in town. Mixing and matching these is just another way to personalize your build and prepare yourself for greater challenges. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the combinations, and I truly enjoy the RPG-style mechanics as part of Rogue Legacy 2’s roguelite design.
Relics, meanwhile, are found throughout the levels and can provide a wide-range of bonuses. Your character begins with a starting amount of “Resolve,” and each relic costs a certain amount of resolve to carry. The lower your resolve, the lower your health, thus it’s yet another decision you have to make about how you want to play. Relics are an excellent addition and just another way that each run can be unique.
One of my favorite aspects of Rogue Legacy’s design is in letting the player prioritize their upgrades. Upon dying you will return to town with the gold you managed to collect in your last run. At this point you can purchase upgrades that are most suitable to your playstyle. Contrasting with many in the genre that either provide you random upgrades or force you to select from limited choices, in Rogue Legacy 2 you control your progression. Not only is this more fun, but it also allows the player to grind to overcome challenges should they need/want to.
As with the original Rogue Legacy, the dungeon is procedurally generated, which makes each run feel fresh. Rogue Legacy 2 takes it another step further, however, in that each of the six main levels has a distinct design. In each of the levels is a special item called an “Heirloom,” and acquiring them will be necessary to tackle the level’s boss and to reach the next level. Heirlooms provide additional abilities and add more flexibility to your moveset. Mastering them is key as by the late-game, Rogue Legacy 2 requires you to put all of your skills to the test.
I found the level design in Rogue Legacy 2 to be a big step up from the original with each level feeling unique and requiring more complex platforming skills. Each level is brimming with items to find, secrets, and unlockables as well. As with any good roguelite, it feels like you are always a step away from finding something interesting on your run, and Rogue Legacy 2 nails the carrot-on-the-stick feeling better than any game in recent memory.
Meanwhile, the art direction is very similar to the original at first glance, but it has been improved upon substantially. Rogue Legacy 2 is a 2D side-scrolling game, but uses 3D characters against hand-drawn backdrops. It’s a striking game full of colorful, artistic design, beautiful lighting, and terrific animations.
On your journey you will encounter an extensive array of enemies who will throw everything under the moon at you. And as with the first, the early levels will eventually feel calm and easy as you level up, while the late levels will often have you sweating in the palms. Each level once again culminates with a major boss battle, and these are not only amazing to look at, but will test your limits. With the game requiring such precision, it’s imperative that the controls and movement be finely polished. And, thankfully, I can report just that.
The game is an absolute joy to play. It’s incredibly responsive and well-designed, and you never feel as though the game did something cheap. It takes the gameplay concepts of classics from the 8 and 16-bit era and polishes them to a fine sheen.
Adding flexibility to how you approach each run, you are able to permanently unlock teleporters to each main level. And should you have a long-run where you reached the boss but died, again worry not. The game allows you to lock the world to its last layout with all rooms and teleporters you discovered still in place should you choose (while lowering the gold you earn). This allows you to retry specific areas or bosses at your leisure.
Taking accessibility yet another step forward is the new “House Rules” feature. At any time you can modify the entire game by lowering the difficulty, saving your gold, giving yourself flight, and more. It’s Cellar Door Games’ way of making the game accessible to everyone, and it’s a great feature to see in the game. The flexibility that Rogue Legacy 2 offers to the player is unmatched.
From Now On You’re Running
Rogue Legacy 2’s initial six levels present a large challenge and breadth of content. But it is only the beginning. After initially beating the game, you then get to select how the world changes and you can continue your journey. New hazards are added, special boss fights are introduced, and the narrative continues. Cellar Door Games estimates initial playthroughs in the 25 hour range, but to experience the full game and ending, they estimate 60+ hours.
I’m still discovering new aspects of the game and continue to be intrigued every step of the way. Discovering the history of the kingdom will require you to not only piece together the lore you find along the way, but to interact with new NPCs as well. While a little cryptic, I enjoyed the interactions. And the lore is categorized for you in a library so you can refer back to it at any time.
One of my favorite features from the original returns in that when you eventually die, you receive an overview screen of your journey. It’s a simple thing, but it adds flavor to each run. It’s this attention to detail, and pure fun, that Cellar Door Games captures so well with Rogue Legacy 2.
In addition to the core game, Rogue Legacy 2 introduces “Scars.” There are a number of Scars you can unlock, and each presents a unique, timed challenge that you earn a score on. These scores are not only shared via an online leaderboard, but provide you with “Souls,” which is a new currency used to unlock features in the game. While I feel like a broken record at this point, this is yet another feature in the game that adds variety to both the gameplay and customization. For instance, if you prefer a specific class, you can spend Souls to permanently lock one of your three character rolls to that class on every run. It’s another excellent addition to the game’s overall offering.
The Complete Package
Searching for criticisms is a challenge and results in nothing more than a couple of nitpicks. The music tracks are similar to the first, so while you’ll often find yourself humming along to them while playing, they are mostly forgettable and fall into the background. You’ll also encounter the same enemies quite often with later levels simply having tougher-color variants of earlier levels. But that’s about all I can muster, if I’m honest.
Rogue Legacy 2 is an absolute delight. It’s charming, funny, unique, deep, and incredibly well-designed. Cellar Door Games knew what they had with the original Rogue Legacy and took their time to ensure Rogue Legacy 2’s official 1.0 release was something truly special. And they succeeded on all fronts. Rogue Legacy 2 is, hands-down, my favorite roguelite, and I see myself continuing to enjoy it for a long time to come.
Even if you are someone who doesn’t traditionally enjoy roguelites, I recommend giving Rogue Legacy 2 a chance. It has enough RPG elements and customization to be fun for anyone, and the addition of the House Rules ensures that anyone can play it and enjoy themselves. In summary, play this game! Now, I’m off to start another run.