Rogue Legacy 2 Review – Generations of Greatness

Rogue Legacy 2 isn’t making the biggest first splash. In fact, at first glance, you’d be hard pressed to see what’s changed from 2013’s Rogue Legacy to the Cellar Door Games sequel. Despite switching from 2D sprites to a 3D-rendered world, it comes close to the aesthetic of the previous game. While this lack of departure from the original template appears to be a theme in Rogue Legacy 2, there are many changes that result in a bigger, better version of the original in almost every way.

Everything can be rendered in 3D this time, but Rogue Legacy 2 keeps its roots in 2D platforming. Heir to a long and somewhat tragic bloodline, you run, jump and attack with the weapon of that character’s inherent class. To add some more tools to the combat repertoire, each heir has a special class ability and a random spell associated with individual face buttons. There’s also a handy spin kick that is used to bounce off enemies or dangerous objects that are critical to mastering to get far into the dangerous dungeons. The controls are tight and precise – jump and attack without swearing. The game is easy to pick up and get used to and, most importantly, easy to return to after being away for a while.

At the start of a run, you choose an heir to your bloodline with specific hereditary traits that make that character’s generation their own for better or for worse. I like all the different variations of warriors that create these traits, and that you get rewarded for choosing someone with “bad” genetics. It adds a lot of depth to the rogue-lite concept. A hunter may have the mark of a giant, towering over his ilk. Another may be color blind and shift the presentation to grayscale. Someone with an unfortunate fear of heights turns the world upside down for that run. Any traits that make the game harder will result in a significant modifier, allowing more gold to be collected over that lifetime. These modifiers provide more than enough wealth to make up for the extra effort.

With that gold you can build the castle of the bloodline and the harbor city below it. Skills can be purchased after each run, adding permanent stat increases to every character you play; strength, intellect, health and more can be increased along with unlocking more classes to play as. In the city you can craft new gear – which also offers stat bonuses and more with a full loadout – before losing the rest of your money and embarking on a new adventure. I’m glad the lingering upgrades are back, but I’m having some issues with the system overall. As more ranks of an upgrade are purchased, the price for the next tier increases for the same flat stat increase, yielding diminishing returns on character improvements as the cost to upgrade skyrockets. There are also way too many repetitive upgrade nodes with the same stat boosts as others that will give you an even greater amount of gold. By the end of the game, the castle building menu is full of redundant slots and becomes a much messier system than it should be.

Class identities, however, are simpler and greatly expanded from Rogue Legacy. This time, each heir’s class determines what weapon type they use and an extra ability they have at their disposal. Knights are equipped with a large sword and can block attacks with a shield, while Mages remotely hurl fireballs from their wands and can cast two spells instead of one. Rangers can aim and fire a bow and create leafy platforms to fire from the air. The pirate can fly around in an airship and shoot cannonballs at the enemies in his sight. I love the identity of each class, even though I found about half of the choices barely feasible for my playstyle. I lean towards a specific pair, like the katana-wielding Ronin and the Boxer, who build quick combos and finish off-targets with a devastating haymaker. Classes like the Bard, who make musical notes that you explode with a spin kick, or the Gunslinger, who fire a volley of shots from their pistols, need a little too much finesse for my taste.

Much like Rogue’s visual style, Cellar Door Games decided the gameplay loop wasn’t going anywhere, which is great because I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Heir platforms through ever-changing, increasingly challenging areas to take down six estuaries, the great bosses that guard each biome. During these battles you will often die, upgrade your castle and equipment and repeat the process. Each trek to the citadel is an opportunity to progress, collect gold and treasure, and search high and low for skill-enhancing relics to increase your chances of survival. The layout of the world changes every time you die, making each life in Rogue Legacy 2 largely unique until you understand how the world populated.

Each area has a unique aesthetic and feel. You will start in the stone structure of Citadel Agartha and move on to surrounding areas such as the linear and swampy Axis Mundi to the east and the cold tundra of the Kerguelen Plateau at the other end of it. There is a tall tower to climb in the stormy sky that offers fun and challenging platforming to reach the mouth at the top, and below the citadel is a deadly and dangerous area that I hated but I like the difficulty which it offers near the end of the game. As you explore each area, you’ll be rewarded with armor blueprints to build in the city and key mobility powers that give you access to the next biomes. These include various types of dashes, double jumps, and abilities that interact with puzzling items in the world that stop your way forward. I found it incredibly satisfying to have a form of progression that came from exploration rather than just being tied to the power gained from castle upgrades. Not to mention that these moves make moving around a lot easier and more fun, so I was always ecstatic to come across one. Those little nuggets of joy only happen a few times throughout an entire playthrough, but what keeps an heir’s life interesting are persistent items for that run that affect attacks, abilities, or stats called relics.

Like the different weapons associated with each class, Relics are a new addition to the Rogue Legacy formula that the original didn’t have, making every run more enjoyable. Special rooms that offer a relic can be found in each major area. Some are minor changes, such as increasing the chance of critical hits for attacks or granting a maximum health boost at the expense of some HP, while others distort the way you play.

Items like the marble statue, which creates a small projectile-destroying shock wave when your feet hit the ground, are great to find and imagine. I’m also a fan of the poison and fire effects that deal damage over time to add a little extra spice to each attack. However, collecting relics has a downside and will cost you your HP. Relics feed on a statistic called determination that is linked to the vitality of a particular heir. When you have enough relics in your possession, your max health decreases in proportion to the magic item’s dissolving cost. It’s a risk/reward system that I understand would be too powerful if Relics were somehow unchecked, but I regretted that the game doesn’t let you go with every improvement you find, like other rogue-lites to do.

Even after you’ve spent tens of hours scouring Rogue Legacy 2’s dungeons, there’s still a lot to do and find beyond beating the Estuaries and the final challenges to come after. Story rooms contain journal entries with backstories about the estuaries and the area they rule, which is intriguing, but not so essential to enjoying the game. Your seaside port city also offers enemy gauntlets, enhanced boss encounters, and class challenges to test your skills beyond what’s available in the main explorable regions. I know I will go back to explore more and try to solve these more difficult scenarios.

Despite my nitpicking, each new discovery, acquired skills, and defeated boss wipes out all sadness and replaces it with deep satisfaction. A lot needs to be cleaned up with the major progression systems to escalate the slope more evenly from start to finish, but I’ve enjoyed most of my hours as I struggled through countless generations of my crazy little bloodline. I’m thrilled that the entertaining heritage of this series has remained firmly intact.

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