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Impressions: Risk Of Rain Beta

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At the very centre of the crossroads between roguelikelike and metroidvania lies Risk Of Rain. It is a ridiculously compelling procedurally generated side-scrolling platform survivor-me-do, with multiple characters to play as, single and co-op play, and some of the hardest-hitting deaths I’ve experienced in such games. Recently Greenlit, and due out very soon, I thought I’d plunge into the beta.

The trick behind Risk Of Rain is the speed and generosity with which it gives you your special abilities. Drawn from a mammoth pool of possibilities, the game quickly starts improving your characters with bonuses that feel too good to ever lose. And then you get killed. And then you throw open your windows and bellow your fury to the world, and start again.

And when you do, there’s a surprising amount of variation, from completely different locations, to the huge variety in dropped or “bought” bonuses that entirely change how you go about surviving. I just died with a character equipped with the following:

Infected! – enemies that touch me get covered in green, life-taking goo
Increased attack speed – self-evident, but oh-so useful
Enemies drop chunks of healing meat – in other rounds I’d have been delighted, but they were superfluous here
Increased maximum health by 8% – these bonuses are all stackable, so this can go up and up.
Killing an enemy permanently increases your health – I’ve only had this one the once, and losing it was agony

On top of that lot, I had two floaty robots healing me. This time out, playing as the Huntress, I was a healing machine. TAKE THAT, KIERON GILLEN. Still, it wasn’t quite enough for the nine hundred billion enemies that I’d allowed to all be attacking me at once. I panicked, ran into a crowd rather than getting away, and yelled aloud as I felt the loss of all those bonuses.

The game is primarily about getting to a teleporter. Getting there involves killing an awful lot of spawning enemies. Doing that requires juggling your four special abilities – a basic attack, a special movement, and two cool-down beefier attacks – and running away an awful lot. Each class type has a different set of skills, that significantly change how you play. The Commando is your generic gun-wielding hero, whose biggest advantage is that his weapon fire knocks enemies backward. Or you could pick the Acrid, a strange beast dragging a ball and chain behind him, with a primary melee attack and some ghastly acid-spitting skills for brief ranged moments. There’s HAN-D, a big robot, who is your tank. An Engineer, who unsurprisingly uses mines, turrets and grenades, but also harpoons!

The Miner offers an interesting take on a slightly ranged tank, whose pair of pickaxes can beat the ground and damage nearby enemies without directly hitting them, while his specials all require close proximity. Finally, and best of all, is the Huntress, whose ranged arrows can be fired backward as you run away, making her the most interesting character to play. Her specials are all ranged too, meaning she’s fantastic at managing mobs. But of course horribly vulnerable when it all goes wrong and they surround you.

You gather money and experience as enemies die. Currently experience doesn’t do anything but increase your level, and thus improve your health and strength. It’d be really nice to see a skill tree added in here, especially as by the time you’re on the second level (which is as far as I’ve gotten so far) it’s so astonishingly hard. Difficulty increases with time, urging you to race forward and see how far you can get before it’s too tough. But I think right now that’s happening much too quickly. Perhaps the Huntress just isn’t strong enough to deal with it – I’m not sure. But selectable skills would help with balancing this. The coins are used for opening chests which contain bonuses or more money/experience, and for activating statues, which may give you bonuses, or enemies, or some combination of the two. And don’t worry – it’s all in-game money. Oh, and the music! The music is really splendid, and never more so than when it spookily throws in some church bell chimes.

The result is a death-heavy platform roguelikeish, that delivers metroidvania-style gathered abilities in fast-forward. And that’s a splendid thing to have. Although the difficulty level is way off by the time you’re searching for the second teleport, the game spawning literally dozens of enemies in that you have no reasonable chance of beating. And since activating a teleport requires staying alive for 90 seconds after, and then taking out all the enemies that spawns, you’re going to need to fight them eventually. The bosses it creates are great, insofar as they’re consistent with the rest of the game, beefed up versions of what you already know, but I cannot beat those of the second teleport.

It sounds crazy recommending a game I can’t beat the second level of, but replaying the first offers not just the variety of procedurally generated levels, many enemy types, and even entirely different locations, but also that chance to experiment with different classes, or even just what happens to a particular class with a different set of extras. For long-term love its going to need to calm itself down a touch, but Risk Of Rain has certainly entertained me good and proper today. As the work of a couple of college students, this is quite the thing.

The full game is due out “soon”, but it looks like that’s a very “soon”. If you pay $10 you can pre-order the whole thing. Fork out rather more at $25 and you can download the beta right away. That’s all via the game’s website.

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