I was a latecomer to the roguelike genre, unable to comprehend how the concept of having your progress almost entirely wiped upon death could be fun – let alone rewarding. Then Rogue Legacy released in 2013 and everything changed. There was just something incredibly moreish about exploring these randomly generated dungeons, dying a lot, and yet still knowing that at least some of my character’s skills would be passed down to a new playable descendant. Cut to 2020 and I find myself uttering “just one more run” all over again in this inventive dungeon-diving sequel.
Rogue Legacy 2 officially entered Early Access on Steam on Aug. 18, with more content coming through the game’s staggered release model. The original Rogue Legacy was known for just how varied each dungeon run could be, so it’s nice to see developer Cellar Door Games build on this philosophy by slowly rolling out content regularly through patches over the coming months.
Just like before, your goal is to navigate increasingly complex and hazardous environments while managing the wacky traits of your hero. The original’s basic gameplay loop remains intact here, but at present, there’s only one full biome and four character classes to try out. Don’t let this get you down, though, because despite being an incomplete game still in the throes of development, Rogue Legacy 2 already feels extremely balanced and touts a new painterly 2D art style that expertly suits its inherent zaniness.
You’ll begin your adventure as a humble nobody, accruing a small amount of gold before swiftly dying (likely at the hands of a pesky fire-throwing Flamelock). From here you’ll slowly expand your castle to unlock more classes and lasting attribute improvements, ensuring you’re better equipped to survive a little longer next time. So far, so familiar.
The main way Rogue Legacy 2 differs from the original, however, is in how much the signature “trait” system has been expanded and improved. For those unaware, traits serve as gameplay-altering quirks that sit separately from deployable talents and spells, either helping or hindering how your next heir will handle and perceive the world. For instance, choose a character with associative agnosia and all enemies will appear blacked out. Opting for someone who’s a pacifist, meanwhile, will completely render you unable to attack. And these are some of the tamest trait examples!
The trade off for selecting a character with a particularly annoying trait is that your income could be increased tremendously. Sure, you might be struggling to see further than one foot in front of you or have a rainbow trail following you around, but if you can just make it far enough to open a good number of chests, you could significantly boost your income to invest in new skills that will translate over into all your future inheritors. This risk/reward system worked well seven years ago and it proves just as satisfying now.
Rogue Legacy 2’s new hand-drawn art style marks a major step away from the previous game’s pixelated look. While the modern indie scene was still in its infancy in 2013, and developers were still figuring out how to best engage the eye, there’s a sense in this sequel that this is the artistic vision Cellar Door Games always had in mind. You only need to look at the details. From the little tuffs of dust that fly up by your feet while running to the multi-layered scenery of the environments offering added depth, Rogue Legacy 2 maintains the original’s aesthetic charm without losing an iota of personality. The Nidhogg problem of growing too unfamiliar has been avoided.
Eventually, you’ll reach a point in this Early Access where you’ve exhausted all the lineage upgrades available to purchase from your castle. Your health amount will reach its max, all four classes (Knight, Barbarian, Archer, Mage) can now be accessed, and both town vendors have been unlocked. All that’s left to do now is dive back into the first castle biome in the hopes you’ll find a useful heirloom. What are heirlooms? They serve as unique items of power discoverable by finding specific statues that may or may not appear in your current dungeon run.
Unlike your main castle upgrades that affect your hero’s stats incrementally, however, once claimed heirlooms grant you all-new abilities that really aid your chances of survival. The first you’ll find is the Ananke’s Shawl book, which enables you to dash. This might seem like a small upgrade at first but when using it correctly it improved my experience drastically, making it much easier for me to navigate enemies’ ranged attacks and avoid spiked platforms. Only two heirlooms have been added so far, but already I’m eager to see how future ones will help me improve my runs.
The dash ability is what allows you to eventually leave the castle and reach the next biome, which upon entering will prompt a response from the developer: “The Bridge biome is set to be our second biome, but is not ready to show just yet.” It’s in instances like this where the veil falls away and Rogue Legacy 2’s Early Access status is revealed. Rather than kick you back to the castle, though, you’re instead treated to a small glimpse of what the third, snow-laden biome has in store. Spoiler alert: There are wolves. Lots of wolves.
Even in its unfinished state, Rogue Legacy 2 impressed me in how it managed to balance the familiar elements of the original with an all-new art style and several mechanical tweaks. The plan is for Cellar Door Games to patch the rogue-lite with fresh content every 60 or so days throughout 2020, all in the hopes of releasing the final product sometime in 2021.
There being only one full biome available at present makes it tough to recommend purchasing right now. However, if you’re a dedicated fan of the original and can’t wait to repeatedly kill your ancestors in the name of chivalry, the level of balance and polish in Rogue Legacy 2 bodes well for what’s to come.
Rogue Legacy 2 is currently available on Steam and the Epic Games Store for a discounted price of $17.99.