Time to Die in Risk of Rain 2

6min read

Time always moves forward whether you like it or not. In the blink of an eye, the present becomes the past and the future becomes the present. Every moment spent standing still is a moment not spent moving forward. We’ve all been standing still for far too long, until we can move around again, let me tell you about a game where you won’t be able to stop moving.

Risk of Rain 2 is a game that forces you to come to terms with the passage of time. Each decision you make has to be evaluated against the time it’ll take to follow through with it combined with the expected value of the rewards you’ll get.

Risk of Rain 2 asks you to be quick on your feet and to think strategically, by working with what you’re given and making the best of it. The core gameplay loop involves killing monsters, gathering items which make you stronger, triggering the level’s boss fight, and, finally, teleporting to the next level where it starts all over again.

Imagine if you took a dozens of hours long Diablo-like game and condensed that entire experience into tight forty-five minute runs of pure third-person shooter action; that’s what Risk of Rain 2 feels like.

Playing well means getting as many items as possible as fast as you can because as time passes, enemies get stronger and more of them start showing up. Each level is randomly populated with chests, containing items, that you can open with the money you gain by killing enemies.

Risk of Rain 2 requires you to use your intuition just as much as your reflexes because many of its interwoven systems depend on a random number generator and because the difficulty increases with time. This makes the probability math you have do in your head to play optimally tough to do in the heat of the moment.

Should I stay and gather more loot or travel to the next level? There’s rarely an obvious answer to this question, and it’s a question the game keeps asking you, forcing you to make risk vs. reward choices constantly and having you face the consequences.

Risk of Rain 2 makes this question even more difficult to answer by allowing you to play as one of ten different characters. Each character has four basic abilities; these abilities can be swapped in and out with a few more abilities that you can unlock by tackling tough challenges. Although the game doesn’t feature much player progression outside of each run, players can unlock characters and secondary abilities for the characters they already have through play.

Another example of a risk vs. reward choice present in Risk of Rain 2 are the Scrappers and 3D Printers spread across the levels. Scrappers allow you to convert items into scrap, which have no tangible benefit on their own but can be used on 3D printers, each of which can build one kind of item. This allows you to convert situationally crappy items into great items. This gives you some power to influence the random number generator, and strikes a good balance by throwing random items at you while giving you enough agency to manipulate what you get, and, finally, turning these items into what you want based on the items you already have.

Figuring out which items you want is already hard, but imagine how difficult this gets when playing with other people. Although, Risk of Rain 2 can be played alone, it really shines in multiplayer. The game makes you feel a constant sense of urgency, encouraging you and your friends to stick together, cooperate and move toward your common goal quickly. Sessions are short enough to be easy to fit into a busy schedule while being long enough to feel meaningful. The default difficulty is “just right”, it’s not too easy, it’s not too hard; but if it isn’t to your liking then you can tweak it. There’s minimal player progression outside of a run and so players can easily play with each other no matter how much time they’ve put into the game.

Even though playing in multiplayer is my preferred way of enjoying Risk of Rain 2, I should mention a few of its downsides. Players can’t jump into the middle of a run and runs are long enough that this becomes more than just an annoyance. Also, dying in multiplayer is painful because you can miss out on loot which leads to you dying again and this negative feedback loop repeats itself over and over again.

Despite these flaws, I prefer playing in multiplayer because the game doesn’t seem to be built from the ground up to support my playstyle in singleplayer. For example, my favorite character is Loader. She’s a melee brawler who swings around with her hook shot, unleashes gigantic punches and generates a barrier whenever she hits an enemy giving her a lot of survivability.

Although, theoretically, she can handle any kind of enemy the game might throw at her. In practice, dealing with strong flying enemies or fireball spewing lizards by yourself can be quite hard unless you find the right items. To make matters worse, playing in single player makes getting the items I need to be effective as Loader even more unlikely because there’s less variety of loot and less of it. In multiplayer, I can play to her strengths while other players cover for her weaknesses. There’s more loot to go around, so we’re more likely to find the specific items I need (eg. Focus Crystal, Soldier’s Syringe) to make Loader strong.

Whether you’re playing in singleplayer or multiplayer, Risk of Rain 2, for better or worse, keeps you engaged by never letting you know what to expect around the next corner or in the next chest. One could say that Risk of Rain 2’s main game mechanic is the Skinner box.

In a world where Skinner boxes in video games are mainly used to scam kids out of their parents’ hard earned money, I’m not offended by Risk of Rain 2’s use of the Skinner box. Unlike many of its AAA brethren, it’s a cheap game with no microtransactions. I’m a “human being” twenty four hours a day, I don’t feel bad for activating the primal part of my brain for a few hours here and there.

That said, addiction is addiction, and so I wouldn’t recommend Risk of Rain 2 to someone with a history of addiction. The cost of becoming “addicted” to games like Risk of Rain 2 might seem relatively low, compared to the alternatives, but as someone who dove out of the womb, and immediately started smashing open chests in the original Diablo game, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like today if not for the Skinner box…

Risk of Rain 2 is a great game, and a great sequel. It smoothes away the rough edges of the original Risk of Rain, adds another dimension, literally, by making the game 3D instead of 2D and makes the game playable with friends online. I’ve had dozens of hours of fun in Risk of Rain 2 with friends and I highly recommend it. I intend to spend many more hours in Risk of Rain 2 as long as I’ve got people to play with.

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