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Rogue Legacy 2 review: a dense roguelike you'll want to invest in

A worthy heir

After a year in early access, Rogue Legacy 2 has born a 1.0 heir, and it's a game I've become well-acquainted with over the last few days. They're a complex individual with violent tendencies, but invest in them and they'll flower into a roguelike that you won't be able to detach yourself from.

The game is a worthy successor to the original Rogue Legacy, and one that builds on it with a wealth of incentives to make your runs more rewarding. Upgrades up the wazoo, gold bursting from your breeches, double-jumps and air-dashes. Progression is a pleasure, basically, and it's something that never becomes a bore, no matter how good you are at staying alive. I mean, the game is built with death in mind, after all.

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Rogue Legacy 2 adds a genealogical spin to your regular roguelike, making things a family affair. You're to invade the kingdom of these evil mega-beings called Estuaries - who look nothing like tidal mouths of a large river – and defeat them one by one. Only once you've flushed them out will a golden door open and something happen. You reach the Dead Sea? You headbutt a super yacht? It's a mystery.

As the game's a roguelike, you're not expected to beat all the Estuaries in one dazzling run. If this game had a motto it would be: Perishing Is Progress! Just like the first game, each time you die your children succeed you. This means that any randomly generated Traits could stay in the bloodline, like Gigantism, or IBS, which makes your character fart a lot. Sometimes an old favourite's child will appear, and it'll bring you sheer joy.

A neat improvement over the original game lies in giving you incentives to branch out into the ill-begotten bits of the family tree. Sometimes the gene pool is muddied, making certain characters much trickier to take for a run. A chef might have vertigo. A lancer might be a pacifist. A mage might struggle to see anything... at all. Where before you'd ignore them, or resign yourself to a swift death, the game now plonks percentage gold bonuses under those with the greatest ailments. With one simple bribe, the game slips enticing challenge runs into the mix.

Sir Gordon the ranger's stats in Rogue Legacy 2.
Ahhh, Sir Gordon. He had a short but fulfilling life.

And what does a run involve, exactly? Aside from death, you're moving through a procedurally generated map formed of procedurally generated rooms,trying your procedural best not to die. That's to skeletons who lob bones and hovering shankers and eyeballs that sling fireballs. And that's only in the first area! Later, deadly blobfish and sentry turrets await. As you mosey around you'll encounter different biomes, each with their own risk ratings and requirements. Namely, defeat the previous area's boss and get your mitts on a precious Heirloom.

Rogue Legacy 2 is great at drip-feeding you clues and biome teases throughout successive runs, so you never feel like you're barreling aimlessly between rooms. Heirlooms are the obvious prize, as they act as permanent platforming abilities that'll let you access these new biomes. We're talking double-jumps and mid-air dashes, which don't sound all that exciting but are totally game-changing. They're the classic metroidvania anchor, not only giving you a clear next step, but making backtracks through earlier rooms a little more luxurious.

But if you're struggling to beat a boss or reach the fabled blobfish, Rogue Legacy 2 gives you plentiful options to shatter those goals. Chests and enemies grant gold, which can be spent between runs on the Manor, an ever-expanding hub space that's home to NPCs and permanent upgrades all designed to make your life last a little longer. There's so much to invest in, it's kind of ridiculous. Everything from permanent health and mana boosts to the equivalent of a pension pot. Pour money into one thing and another offshoot appears. Upgrades of upgrades! An entire house that has unique challenge levels! New classes! Thing is, it never once feels overwhelming.

The classes are a blast, too. The Archer in particular sums the rest up nicely, as it's home to nice touches, like the ability to hang in the air as you fire off a shot - which is followed up by the tiniest bunny hop, granting you a split second to readjust in battle. Each class comes outfitted with two abilities as well, with the Archer's token ability being an ivy canopy that blocks projectiles, infuses your arrows with quick-acting poison, and lets you chill in mid-air for a while. I adore it, mainly because it also acts a great way to break a fall (and I fall incredibly often). The Dragon Lancer's another cool pick, with fiery charges and explosive jabs. My fave's the Gunslinger, who rattles off powerful bullets but must watch their ammo count, lest they hear that hollow click mid-fight. Oh, and they're armed with dynamite too - dynamite is everything.

Talking to the Pizza Delivery Girl in Rogue Legacy 2.
Occasionally you'll stumble into NPCs while out exploring. I met this pizza delivery girl who let me permanently unlock teleporters between biomes... for a hefty fee, of course.

With the help of the Manor and the Classes and the Heirlooms, each successive run never once enters chore territory. Like a frozen conker, the game is dense. Some rooms have Relics in them, which are temporary upgrades that'll stay with you for one run: poison mist trails left after dashes, weapons applying burn, max HP boosts, that sort of thing. Occasionally, rare or super rare weapons enter the fray. I found a magical lute once, that fired musical notes that didn't do all that much damage, but if I spin-kicked off of them (an early Heirloom ability), they'd explode in an "ooo" and "aaa". Proper fun, if a touch lackluster if you don't meet their demanding playstyle.

Did I mention that equipping Relics costs Resolve? It's linked to your equipment weight, so the heavier your armour, the less Resolve you've got to spend before you start eating away at your HP bar. So, before each run, you'll want to literally weigh up whether you want the benefits of chainmail or embrace the life of a Relic sponge. And that's not even getting into the Blacksmith's armour sets or the Rune lady and her magical runes. Hey, did I mention Fairy Chests, now that's -

Just know that the game has a bazillion rewards tracks to invest in, all of which aren't ever a slog. No matter how good or bad you may be, it won't take that long to stick some gold or whatever else into an NPC's purse, or into the Manor, and receive something that'll truly aid you in the quest to dry up the Estuaries.

Now, I wouldn't say that Rogue Legacy 2 features an area or a weapon or otherwise that's utterly bonkers. There is nothing on selection here that's all too different from other roguelikes or metroidvanias. Still, it doesn't matter. All of its many, many, systems coalesce into a roguelike that'll give you a great big "one more run" itch. And it's an itch that rewards you, no matter how much you scratch.

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