Back in 2013, the original Rogue Legacy added a revolutionary twist to the standard roguelike formula: Instead of losing everything upon death, you’re able to spend your currency on permanent upgrades that make each successive run just a little bit easier. This kickstarted an entire subgenre called roguelites, which now includes such incredible games as Hades, Returnal, Dead Cells, and many more. That’s a daunting landscape to return to nine years later, but Rogue Legacy 2 is a sequel that wisely doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead it successfully modernizes its look, premise, and mechanics to meet the heightened modern-day standards of the genre, and hones the design to razor sharpness.
Rogue Legacy 2 feels like a reimagined version of what that first game could have been with the benefit of more time, money, and hindsight of how the genre has evolved since 2009. The basic premise is still the same and still just as strong as ever: You play as a hero with a randomized name, class, and quirky trait; explore a massive, procedurally generated castle; collect loot; and attempt to beat bosses. When you die, you lose all the progress you made on that particular run (save for defeated bosses or unlocked portals), but you’re able to spend the loot you picked up to purchase a wide variety of permanent, yet incremental upgrades that get passed down to your next of kin.
So it’s very much the same blueprint, but virtually every individual aspect of that premise has been transformed for the better. For one, each class has their own distinctive weapon, talent, passive ability, and stats, making them play incredibly differently from one another from the jump. As an example, my favorite class, the Valkyrie, is super well-rounded. She comes with a large polearm that can be used to swipe in four directions, Hollow Knight style, and also has a special talent that lets her spin her weapon and deflect small projectiles, with every bullet deflected replenishing her mana. Compare that to the Barbarian, who uses a slow but powerful axe that can only attack left or right while on the ground, but when it’s used in the air it sends him into a constant spinning attack that can do huge damage in skilled hands.
What’s especially cool about these 13 classes is that they each have a special way of reliably doing critical hit damage if you’re able to use their weapons skillfully. These are appropriately called skill crits, and for many characters, it can be as simple as just attacking while dashing towards an enemy, but for others, it could be making sure you land with the tip of your sword, or nailing the third hit of a three-hit flurry, or landing an attack right after an evasive roll, and so on. It’s not only a great way to differentiate the classes even further, but also reward those that really take the effort to learn how to effectively use each of them.
While I always sprang at the chance to use the Valkyrie when they popped up in the randomized choice of three heroes at the start of every new run, I never bemoaned having to use a class that I wasn’t as familiar with. Each class presents its own pros and cons, and it was always fun to play to their strengths and attempt to work around their weaknesses.
And there’s a lot of variety to that because your class isn’t the only thing that’s randomly assigned to your hero: each character also has the potential to be saddled with a random trait that can either be a blessing or a curse. These traits are usually based off of real-life conditions, so you might roll a character with colorblindness and have to play that whole life in monochrome; or a character might be prone to panic attacks, which causes the screen to darken every time they get hit; or maybe they’ll be a vegan, which causes you to take damage from eating meat as opposed to being healed by it. Many of these return from the original Rogue Legacy, but there are still plenty of new ones that add interesting new wrinkles to each run, or at the very least will probably elicit a chuckle.
The first couple times you see them, traits can be fun ways to provide some variety to each run, and some are even required to find certain secrets, but eventually some of their gimmicks do start to wear thin. The most debilitating ones, like for example, the pacifism quirk which takes away your ability to deal any damage, come with incentives that can dramatically increase the amount of gold you collect while being afflicted with them, but I never found the trade-off worth the degree to which they hindered my playstyle. Thankfully, every new run of Rogue Legacy allows you to choose between three randomly rolled characters, and very rarely did I ever find myself having to pick a character that had a trait that was miserable to play with.
Never A Wasted Run
The expanded class system is fantastic, but what truly makes Rogue Legacy feel exponentially bigger and bolder than its predecessor is its enormous and diverse interconnected world. There are six unique locations in Rogue Legacy 2, and unlike the original’s four – which largely felt very similar outside of having different enemies, a few different room layouts, and a distinct backdrop – the areas in Rogue Legacy 2 all present unique challenges. One stretches out horizontally and requires you to island hop as you try to avoid deviously placed arrow traps and fight off enemies in very tight quarters; another takes the opposite approach and demands that you climb upwards with pinpoint-precise platforming sections. A third is like a labyrinth and has low visibility along with requiring you to use landmarks to find the general direction of the areas of interest that you must explore before you can reach the boss.
Screens – Rogue Legacy 2
Progression is gated by powerful bosses as well as special artifacts, called heirlooms, that grant permanent upgrades that add a new facet to both exploration and combat, whether that’s the ability to double jump, dash while in the air, or bounce off of special types of projectiles or hazards. Each heirloom is also preceded by a quick tutorial section that does a wonderful job of teaching you the practical applications of each new ability so you’ll never be surprised or be left confused at some of the clever tricks that are used both in platforming challenges, and in hiding various secrets. It was always exciting to get a new heirloom, not only because they almost always unlocked a new part of the map, but also because they almost always provided me with a way to avoid getting hit by certain enemy attacks. Whether by dashing through void energy, bouncing off of electricity, or just by simply having an extra dash to get out of a bad spot, the extra mobility is a huge defensive boost that helps to extend each life significantly.
Heirlooms aren’t the only items of interest to find as you’re exploring Rogue Legacy 2’s exceptionally dangerous rooms. There are a large number of relics to discover, which can provide game-changing buffs, highly risky trade-offs, and sometimes both thanks to a Resolve stat that reduces your max health if you try to equip too many of them at once. You can also pick up weapons and spells outside of the one your class starts with, blueprints that can be used to purchase new gear on subsequent runs, and runes that can also be purchased and equipped to further bolster your preferred playstyle by doing things like, adding lifesteal to your attacks, giving you an extra jump or dash, or increasing the amount of damage you deal on critical hits.
And this all adds up to the one thing that I love most about Rogue Legacy 2: Every run feels meaningful. Even if you don’t beat a boss, unlock an heirloom, open up a shortcut, or do something that gives you sense of significant permanent progression, chances are you found a new blueprint, collected enough gold to buy a new upgrade or two at the castle, experimented with a new character class, learned what a new trait does, found a new piece of lore, or did something that taught you a lesson about dealing with a specific type of enemy or trap. And if you didn’t do any of those things, well then… chances are it was a super-short run and you likely didn’t get too invested in that character anyway.
Coming Back Stronger
There are so many decisions to make when it comes to improving your character in between runs that it can get a little overwhelming, and the unfortunate reality is that it’s very possible to make bad decisions about which permanent upgrades and unlocks to spend your gold on and leave your save file in a rough spot. In part that’s because once buy 15 upgrades, every new one increases the amount of gold required to buy any subsequent upgrade. That isn’t a big deal at first, but by the time you hit level 50 or so it makes even low-level upgrades prohibitively expensive.
This caused me to hit a significant roadblock in my first playthrough, because I made the poor decision of trying to spread my points around and expand my manor so I could see what all of the upgrades were. The upside was that I got to unlock and experiment with a bunch of different classes, but the downside though was that my stats were underleveled to appropriately handle the increased difficulty of later areas, and it was exceptionally difficult to survive long enough and gather enough loot to be able to upgrade those stats more than just one or two points at a time. As a result, I had to grind. My first playthrough slowed to a crawl in the last two areas, and the exciting feeling of progression that made the first half so exciting became a painfully slow IV drip. It was a mess of my own doing, but I wish there was some sort of option to reset the manor upgrades that would’ve allowed me to dig myself out of the hole I fell into. The good news for you is that now that you’ve read this, you won’t make the same mistake.
One really nice addition that Rogue Legacy 2 brings to the table are a set of options called “House Rules.” These are values and sliders that can be used to customize the difficulty to your liking, whether that’s by making it easier and turning down the enemy damage or health, making it harder by cranking those values up, or more accessible by turning on things like unlimited flight, turning off damage from enemy contact, or turning on time slowdown while aiming. While I personally opted to leave these settings alone and play as the designers intended, it’s wonderful that Cellar Door Games included difficulty and accessibility settings that go beyond just the standard easy, normal, and hard levels, allowing everyone to tweak settings to their own needs.
However you complete the campaign (my first run took about 16 hours) reaching the end of Rogue Legacy 2 will be just the beginning, as its post-game content is expansive. When you beat the final boss, you gain access to a new NPC that presents a list of modifiers called Burdens that are tacked on to your next playthrough and do things like increase the damage of enemies, add harder variations of certain enemies, or add an entirely new version of an existing boss fight. At every level of New Game+, you need to add two more burdens; so at NG+1, there are two burdens; NG+2, four burdens, and so on. It’s a really smart way to keep the challenge fresh while also giving us control of the type of difficulty we’d like to face in our next run through.