The Rogue Legacy 2 doesn’t make much initial noise. In fact, at first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to see what’s changed from 2013’s Rogue Legacy and Cellar Door Games’ sequel. Despite the move from 2D sprites to 3D world rendering, it is close to the aesthetic of the previous game. While this lack of deviance from the original’s template is a leitmotif of Rogue Legacy 2, it features a host of changes that make the original’s version bigger and better in almost every way.
Everything may be rendered in 3D this time around, but Rogue Legacy 2 retains its 2D platformer roots. As the heir to a long and somewhat tragic lineage, you run, jump, and attack using the weapons of that character’s class. To add a few more tools to the combat repertoire, each heir has a special class ability and a random spell tied to individual face buttons. There is also a nifty spinning kick used to dodge enemies or dangerous objects, which is very important to master in order to get deep into dangerous dungeons. Controls are tight and precise – make jumps and attacks without cursing. The game is easy to learn and get used to, and, more importantly, it’s easy to return to it after some time of absence.
At the start of your playthrough, you choose an heir to your bloodline with certain hereditary traits that make that character’s generation your own, for better or worse. I love all the different warrior variations that these traits create and that you get rewarded for choosing someone with “bad” genetics. This adds depth to the rogue-lite concept. One fighter may have the characteristics of a giant towering over his peers. Another might be colorblind, converting the presentation to grayscale. Someone with an annoying dizziness is turning the world upside down for this race. Any traits that make the game more difficult result in a significant modifier, allowing you to accumulate more gold throughout your life. These modifiers bring in more than enough wealth to make up for the extra effort involved.
With this gold, you can build a bloodline castle and a port city underneath it. Skills can be acquired after each launch, adding a permanent stat boost to every character you play as; strength, intelligence, health and more can be increased, as well as unlocking more classes to play with. In the city, you can craft new gear that also offers stat bonuses and more with a full set of armor before you lose the rest of your money and embark on a new adventure. I’m glad the constant updates are back, but I’m having some issues with the system in general. As more upgrade ranks are acquired, the price of the next level increases at the same fixed stat increase, offering diminishing returns on character upgrades as upgrade costs skyrocket. There are also too many duplicate upgrade nodes with the same stat upgrades as others that will cost you even more gold. By the end of the game, the castle building menu is cluttered with redundant slots and ends up being a much more confusing system than it should be.
However, class identities are more straightforward and have been greatly expanded from Rogue Legacy. This time, each heir’s class determines what type of weapon he uses and what additional ability he has at his disposal. Knights are armed with a large sword and can block attacks with a shield, while Mages shoot fireballs from their wand from a distance and can use two spells instead of one. Rangers can aim and fire their bows, and create leafy shooting platforms in the air. The pirate can fly the airship, firing cannonballs at enemies in sight. I love the identity of each class, even though I found about half of the options hardly suited my playstyle. I gravitate towards some specific enemies like Ronin with a katana and Boxer who create quick combos and get things done with a devastating scythe. Classes like the Bard, who creates musical notes that you blast with a spin, or the Gunslinger, who fires a volley of his pistols, require too much finesse in my opinion.
As with Rogue’s visual style, Cellar Door Games decided that the gameplay loop was here to stay, which is great because I didn’t have any other way. Heir platforms through ever-changing, increasingly challenging areas to take down six estuaries, the big bosses that guard each biome. During these battles, you will often die, upgrade your castle and equipment, and then repeat the process. Each visit to the citadel is a chance to advance, collect gold and treasure, and look everywhere for relics that improve abilities to increase your chances of survival. The layout of the world changes each time you die, making every life in Rogue Legacy 2 basically unique until you understand how the world is populated.
Each area has a unique aesthetic and feel. You start in the stone structure of the Agartha Citadel and move into the 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’s a tall tower to climb into stormy skies offering a fun and challenging platformer to get to the mouth at the top, and underneath the citadel is a deadly and dangerous area that I hated going into but I love the difficulty it creates next to end of the game. Exploring each area rewards you with armor blueprints that can be crafted in the city and important mobility abilities that unlock subsequent biomes. These include various types of dashes, double jumps, and abilities that interact with mysterious objects in the world that stop your path forward. I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to have a form of progress tied to research, and not just tied to strength gained from castle upgrades. Not to mention, these moves make getting around so much easier and more fun, which is why I was always in awe when I stumbled upon one of these. These little bits of joy only happen a few times throughout a playthrough, but what makes the life of an heir interesting are the permanent items for that playthrough that affect attacks, abilities, or stats called relics.
Like the various weapons that are an integral part of every class, relics are another addition to the Rogue Legacy formula that wasn’t in the original, making every playthrough more interesting. In each main area, special rooms can be found in which to find a relic. Some of these are minor tweaks, such as increasing critical strike chance for attacks or granting a maximum health boost at the cost of some HP, while others skew the way you play.
Items like the marble statue that unleashes a small projectile-neutralizing shockwave when your feet hit the ground are a blast to find and strategize around. I’m also a fan of the poison and fire effects that deal damage over time, adding a bit of power to each attack. However, there is a downside to collecting relics and it will cost you HP. Relics are powered by a stat called Resolve, which is tied to the life force of that heir. If you have enough relics, your maximum health drops based on the cost of resolving a magic item. It’s a risk/reward system that I understand would be too powerful if Relics weren’t controlled in some way, but I lamented that the game doesn’t let you go crazy with every upgrade you find, like other scammers do it.
Even after spending dozens of hours scouring the dungeons of Rogue Legacy 2, there is still much to do and find beyond defeating the estuaries and the final challenges that lie ahead. The story rooms feature diary entries that tell the backstory of the estuaries and the territory they hold, which is intriguing, though not as important to the enjoyment of the game. Your seaside port city also offers enemy gauntlets, improved boss encounters, and class challenges to test your skills beyond what’s available in the main explorable regions. I know I’ll be back to reveal more and try to clear up these more complex scenarios.
Despite my niggles, every new discovery, skill gained, and boss defeated erases any sadness and replaces it with deep satisfaction. There are a lot of things to clean up with the main progression systems to make the ramp more even from start to finish, but I’ve enjoyed most of my hours battling countless generations of my stupid little bloodline. I am very glad that the entertainment legacy of this series has remained intact.