You know, sometimes it’s really best to stick to what works. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they say. And that, I can proudly proclaim, is the case here with today’s game, Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy 2.
I don’t usually let on exactly how I feel about a game in the opening paragraph, but this wonderful blend of rogue-lite and metroidvania deserves it. I was a definite fan of the first game, Cellar Door’s first truly successful title as detailed by them within the game itself, and so I’m quite excited to bring this to you.
Developed and published by Cellar Door Games, Rogue Legacy 2 was released on April 28th, 2022, for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. The PC version was played for this review.
Choose Your Heir… Again
If there is a weak point, and I’m not saying that there is, it’s the story. Now, odds are you aren’t playing this game for the story, but if you are, there is plenty…but you have to be looking for it! The game is seeping with lore and much of it contains clues to help you progress. This is a game, and a story, for the bold explorer. And much like the games that define the metroidvania genre, many key pieces have to be earned. It’s all delivered with a unique mix of darkness and silly humor as well.
The basics of your mission are much like the first game. You are a member of a long line of heroes, who infiltrates an old castle to investigate what happened to the Estuaries, leaders chosen by the kingdom’s… king, Unfortunately, this castle and its surroundings are filled to the brim with deadly dangers, far too much for one hero to realistically bear. And when you almost inevitably die, one of your children shall take your place and try to finish what you started.
Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, but suffice it to say, they did an excellent job of using lore to make the game more interesting while also not letting it get in the way of the gameplay itself. Whether the story matters to you or not, you’re in for a ride.
Building a Legacy
The core concept of Rogue Legacy 2‘s merging of rogue-lite and metroidvania is simple. A ball-bustingly difficult proceedurally-generated platformer that can be played by anyone, yes, even you over there that stinks at platformers. “But you said it’s really hard!” I hear you say. Well, yes. Can you beat it in one go? Theoretically… I think so. Will you? Not unless you can beat I Wanna Be the Guy in your sleep, most likely. Yikes.
But don’t worry, that’s okay, because you’ll undoubtedly collect gold and other resources as you explore the castle. When you die, your heirs will receive those resources, which can be spent to upgrade the family manor, granting you access to equipment, upgrades, and training in new classes. You’ll get stronger, dig deeper into the castle, blast more enemies with your weapons and magic, die, train a new heir to be stronger, and so on, until you’re able to win.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because yes, this is exactly how the original Rogue Legacy worked. But that game was a cult classic (if a bit rough around the edges), and so rather than reinvent the wheel, the developers just took that same addictive one-more-try gameplay and polished it to perfection.
Your core skill set, the basic layout of the castle/dungeon/etc, it’s all very similar in Rogue Legacy 2. There’s tons of improvements. Required abilities to unlock to access new areas, a staple of any metroidvania, are new (RL1 featured many unlockable mobility skills, but none are actually required), even featuring that statue-holding-an-item trope. The controls are improved and it never feels like you’re being cheated when you get hit or fall or die. There are many new classes (The Chef with their frying pan is my personal favorite), and they all feel more distinct from each other. Many new spells, abilities, and items exist to be found as well. There is a new challenge mode that can be accessed before entering the castle, and serious players will no doubt have a lot of fun trying to optimize it.
Minor pain points in the original are addressed as well. For example, when you unlock a new class, you are given a one-time opportunity to switch to the new class instead of having to play your current one and die before you can try it. Negative traits don’t seem to spawn quite as often on your heirs and if you choose a hero with one of these faults, you are rewarded in bonus gold for coping with the extra challenge. The in-game explanations of every attack, ability, buff/debuff and feature are all much better.
Finally if you’re struggling to advance (or if you are a masochist and want to amp things up a notch), you can enable the new House Rules. This is where the game also lets you know that the game’s systems are designed to allow all players regardless of skill to eventually reach the ending (It’s just a matter of how many heirs you’ll need!). The House Rules allow you to substantially modify the game difficulty up or down. Most importantly, unlike some games of the genre, Rogue Legacy 2 does not shame you for using these features to make the game easier, and there is no penalty for using them. There’s even an option to display the overall difficulty rating from these settings on-screen, which is a nice nod to live streamers who may want to race or compete with each other.
Painting a Kingdom
Rogue Legacy 2 features a just plain beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic. The walls of the castle, the dank depths of the caverns, the characters, enemies and obstacles – everything looks downright amazing, and much more free-form compared to the original. Then the art is further enhanced with fluid animation and the mostly 2D world pops with 3D effects that really feel like they belong, not just added for the sake of being there. The colors, the visual effects, everything comes together really well to create a remarkably immersive experience for a 2D platformer.
Not to mention the music – of course I will, because it’s great too. It’s all brand new, while also evoking memories of the music from the first game which was good in its own right. It’s all very solidly put together, down to the little details. There’s little transitionary tones when you change regions so it never has to completely stop playing, and the whole has a generally ominous, imposing vibe to it. Perfectly suited to the decrepit castle and it’s surroundings that you’re delving into.
Doing it All Again
Rogue Legacy 2 is a wonderful, beautiful, crazy-hard-and-yet-not-at-the-same-time game. I can hardly stop playing it long enough to finish writing this review. It is hard to find flaws in this game without resorting to extreme nit-picking. Every aspect of it just oozes polish. The replayability is off the charts, even after you finally reach the ending.
Even if roguelikes/rogue-lites or metroidvanias scare you for their reputation of being too hard for the average gamer, play this one. It absolutely deserves a spot right up there with the best of them, including its genre’s namesakes. You may have never heard of Cellar Door Games unless you played the original Rogue Legacy, but I truly and honestly believe you owe it to yourself to give it a try.