It was Double D who said, “Summer rains, you can never predict ’em.” The randomness of Risk of Rain 2 is its secret sauce that has kept me returning round after round. No matter how well I memorize map layouts or enemy attack patterns, I’m never fully aware or prepared for what’s in store.
Risk of Rain 2 is a Roguelike shooter where you fight waves of enemies that grow increasingly difficult over time. Your objective is to find and activate a teleporter on each map, attack the boss guarding it, and travel to the next stage to repeat the process. If you die, and trust me you will die, the game ends, and you have to start all over again.
Man, oh man, is this game a blast. I generally don’t have the time or drive to play many video games anymore. Critically acclaimed hits like Horizon Zero Dawn and Red Dead Redemption 2 sit unfinished while I have 40+ hours in Risk of Rain 2 since it launched two weeks ago.
Hopoo Games went above and beyond to transition the first Risk of Rain’s core concept on a 2D side-scrolling to a 3D environment with omnidirectional movement. Characters are fun, polished and feature unique abilities that cater to multiple play-styles. The third-person combat is intuitive and satisfying. All in all, it’s a well-made game. I’m surprised it’s still in Early Access.
We often don’t understand why we feel and act as we do, hence the phrase “it be like that sometimes.” While it often do be that way, I wanted to explore why I was driven to pour an entire work week’s worth of hours into Risk of Rain 2. What was that X factor which made it so damn addicting.
The short answer is items.
Items randomly spawn throughout maps, locked inside chests, terminals, shrines and 3D printers. There’s your general stat boosters, i.e., common drops. Rarer loot act more like the “Ceremonial Dagger” that fire honing knives after every kill. Get multiples of the same item and its effect stacks. With enough “Will-O’-The-Wisps,” and “Ukeleles” enemies practically kill themselves.
Speaking of stacks, your character will accessorize with nearly any item you grab. It’s a fun little bonus feature. It was this concept that drove the devs to make Risk of Rain in 3D. Go figure.
Items are arguably Risk of Rain 2‘s most important mechanic. Players who want to survive long runs must focus on getting as many items in as little time as possible. Based on its current build, the game becomes unmanageable with skill alone fairly early into the fray.
Sure, items are fun and essential, but they act as addicting elements that activate the pleasure centers of our noggin.
Unlike the first Risk of Rain, items are more abundant and accessible in the sequel. The reason is likely due to the 3D perspective and lack of level permutations. As a result, you’re continually receiving gratification, small surges of dopamine that provide pleasure. It’s like Christmas or those unboxing videos. The game’s high randomness and need for risk-taking elevate the experience.
You unlock item chests with gold, which you’ll mostly get from killing enemies. You can grind a stage as long as it takes to open every chest, but you probably won’t want to. Difficulty increases with time. Spending 15 minutes on the first two stages to grab ten items will likely put you at a disadvantage on later rounds. It’s a rush of adrenaline that makes us feel alive. You’re always weighing the costs and benefits of your actions. I could spend less gold on this chance shrine. It’s not a sure thing, but I can’t find chests anywhere.
Should I stockpile for this bigger chest? There may be something rare inside, but I’d forgo getting two things. I could donate half my health that the blood shrine for gold, but I’m being surrounded. I could probably get just one more item, but the scale’s about to hit “Very Hard.”
The game’s shrines are roulette machines. Spending gold on a Chance Shrine costs less than a chest, but you might get nothing. Blood Shrines allow you to donate half your health for gold. Shrines charge more every time you use one. 3D printers are similar. It randomly exchanges one of your items for another one. It’s great for stacking, but it takes items at random. You might not be tempted at these options early game, but over time they become more viable.
Items chests cost more with every stage. To receive that desired gratification, you’ll have to put in more work. Not only does it take more time, but these enemies can kill you a lot faster. Permadeath means that every decision carries more weight and gets heavier the longer you survive. While staying alive is the priority, you want those items and are willing to put your life on the line.
We can’t mention cost/benefit without discussing Lunar Items. These scarcely found items cost hard-to-obtain Lunar coins. They offer enormous benefits with an equally large trade-off. The “Brittle Crown” gives you gold for every hit but takes it away when you take damage. “Shaped Glass” increases base damage by 100% but cuts your health in half. These are the riskiest items you can get.
Many players, including myself, love to create rankings and tier lists for games with multiple characters. Each of the playable survivors in Risk of Rain 2 has drastically different mechanics, strengths, and weaknesses. The community seems adamant to figure out which assortment of items is ideal for each one: the perfect character build.
I mostly play as Mercenary, a melee character that specializes in taking down multiple enemies in quick succession. My ideal build involves stacks of speed and chain attack items, which especially complement his abilities. I like to hold the Primordial Cube, which creates a black hole that brings enemies to me. If I have the Berzerker’s Pauldron, chain attacking enemies increases my attack and movement speed significantly.
I can only hope to obtain this load-out during each play-through. Of course, I have no way of controlling that. But when the stars align and that perfect build is mine, I feel a euphoric and oddly proud satisfaction. It’s a high I continue to chase.
Sometimes, though, I lose my bets.
During a play-through, I used a 3D printer to get a
“Will-O’-The-Wisp.” It cost me my Berzerker’s Pauldron, the reason I wanted that item in the first place. Having lost my prized object, I used the printer beside it to get ten pairs of glasses that ensured me 100% critical hits. Next round, I received the “Harvester’s Sythe” that healed me for every critical hit I landed. I was beaming.
As much as I strive for perfection, I enjoy do enjoy the lack of deliberate choice Risk of Rain. I’ve discovered dozens of item combinations that led to memorable experiences.
Does everything I’ve talked about sound a little like gambling? Because it is on some level. Is that bad? No, not necessarily. Just because playing Risk of Rain 2 might evoke similar emotional and chemical responses as playing a slot machine, it doesn’t make it dangerous. But I’ll stop there. My only goal was to understand a potential reason why I found a video game particularly fun. Knowing why I love the things I do makes me appreciate it more, and I hope it does for you too.