Risk of Rain Returns brings this much-loved franchise back to its 2D roots with improved visuals, quality of life updates, and new content. My first foray into this series was with Risk of Rain 2, which I absolutely adore and still boot up to this day. Having never played the original game, I was very much intrigued when I heard it was being remastered. I had to see how the three-dimensional gameplay I’m so familiar with translates into 2D.
Much like the first game, playing Risk of Rain Returns feels like a fever dream. Practically everything about its environments, enemies, soundscape, and even the powerups feels like it was cooked up by a team that spent a several-month long hallucinogenic retreat.
It’s also an addictive, replayable, extremely well-crafted roguelike that promises a great time every time you restart. Just as long as you’re resilient enough to handle its difficulty, which presents a somewhat steep learning curve, especially if you’re new to the series.
In Risk of Rain Returns, you play as the ‘Survivor’ who, after crash-landing on an alien planet, must fight their way through hordes of otherworldly creatures who are hell-bent in renaming you ‘Casualty’, ‘Victim’, or ‘Deceased’.
Each run is split into stages, with the goal of each stage being to find the teleporter to take you to the next biome. There’s a catch, though; you’ll need to defeat a boss and survive for ninety seconds before the teleporter becomes functional.
Beelining for the teleporter and boss fight isn’t usually the best tactic, however. The more time you spend in a run, the harder the enemies become, and the more often they spawn. Enemies give you experience and gold, the latter being used to buy power ups from randomly spawning chests and other points of interest throughout each level. This ever-increasing difficulty is a great way of keeping you on your toes while preventing you from becoming too overpowered. And, to add more spice into the mix, all the gold you earn on a stage is reset when you teleport, incentivising you to spend your hard-earned cash before you move on.
That said, Risk of Rain Returns isn’t afraid to let you be too strong, at least for a little while. If RNG is in your favor and you end up looting super-powerful items during a run, you can feel like an overpowered God. While the scaling difficulty often means enemies will catch up to you before long, those moments of simultaneously dishing out tons of damage while being almost unkillable are some of the best moments in the game.
Speaking of items, the sheer number of power-ups is fantastic. Thematically, there is no rhyme or reason that ties these items together. Ukulele that electrocutes your enemies? Check. Teddy bear that brings you back to life? Check. Boxing gloves that can push back enemies? Check. It’s this mishmash of crazy ideas that adds to the game’s sense of pandemonium, in all the best ways.
There’s well over one-hundred items in the game, some of which are available by default whereas others – usually the most exciting ones – are unlocked by completing challenges within the game.
Basic items might increase your attack speed or give you a heal after each kill, whereas the rarer, more powerful items might cause your attacks to explode or summon waves of fire to incinerate your enemies. The best part is there is no limit (that I’ve discovered, anyway) to how many of each item you can pick up, and I found that stacking certain items often has the most chaotic – and fun – effects.
During some of my runs, I did find the early parts of the game a bit of a slog. Sometimes you can spawn into the first biome and enemies simply don’t spawn fast enough. Killing enemies generates gold, and you need gold to open chests. That means you’re kind of just waiting around in the early game for enemies to spawn so you can afford to open chests.
Additionally, the amount of chests that spawn per level seem to be dictated by RNG. Sometimes there were chests everywhere, whereas during some runs I spent too much time just looking around for chests to unlock. These slower runs felt especially bad after just coming out of one where I’d been flying on all cylinders.
Aside from the occasional pacing issues, fighting your way through this exotic alien planet doesn’t get old. That’s because there are so many variables to keep things interesting. In addition to the myriad of items, there’s also a decent pool of biomes that you may or may not see during each run.
As far as I can tell, those biomes aren’t procedurally generated, but have three or four variants per biome that can load in. That said, the location of chests, teleporters, and other key elements of maps like shrines and repairable drones, as well as the bosses that spawn at the end of each stage, are somewhat randomized, so your journey through a level never becomes monotonous.
But the true testament to Risk of Rain Returns’ replayability is the number of survivors you have to master. Survivors are essentially the game’s classes, with two available at the start of the game with an additional thirteen unlockable through completing in-game achievements. Each survivor is vastly different to the next, featuring unique weapons, mobility actions, utilities and damaging abilities.
One run you can play as the nimble Huntress who is able to warp short distances and deal fantastic AoE damage with her bow, whereas the next you might choose the Artificer, a true glass cannon who unleashes the devastating power of the elements to obliterate foes. My personal favorite was the Miner: a melee Survivor who builds ‘heat’ via his primary attacks. Once you’ve built enough heat, you can use it to empower your other abilities.
Survivors are so different from one another that switching between them between runs almost feels like you’re playing a different game. The best part is that they’re all fun and powerful to use, except perhaps the Enforcer – I really couldn’t get the hang of him. And if fifteen different playstyles wasn’t enough for you, each Survivor has a further four abilities to unlock that you can switch out before a run, offering even further flexibility within the classes themselves.
Outside of the main game, there are also Providence Trials, a large selection of challenges that, once completed, unlock the additional aforementioned abilities for your Survivors. These are often pretty difficult, and offer a nice change of pace from the main game. They’re typically based around the ability you will unlock for completing it, which results in making the trials feel like an interesting tutorial.
One thing I’ve considered after spending time with Risk of Rain Returns is whether or not I’ll play it as much as its 3D sibling. In truth, I don’t think I will. That’s not because the game is any worse in quality, but rather because I personally prefer my action-heavy games to be set in a three dimensional world.
That said, if you’re a fan of Risk of Rain 2 and have never played the first game, or you’ve yet to pick up any of the entries in this series, do yourself a favor and give this game a shot. There are very few games out there that give you a power fantasy quite like this one.
Kristian (or Kris for short) is a copywriter by day, button presser by night. Based in the UK, Kris loves any game that allows him to swing a sword, fire an arrow, or sling a ball of fire, but ultimately he's not too fussy. On the rare occasion Kris isn't writing or gaming, you'll probably find him in the bath with a good book.
Risk of Rain Returns
Risk of Rain Returns shines thanks to a fantastic roster of classes, sublimely chaotic gameplay, and fever-dream like presentation. When firing on all cylinders, it's rare for a game to make the player feel as powerful as this one does, even if some runs take a little too long to get going.