For many, Rogue Legacy's more tangible sense of progression elevated it above other titles in the rogue-like indie boom. Pioneering the rogue-lite some 10 years ago, the first game was a very stern challenge, but one that you'd eventually overcome thanks to meaningful, permanent upgrades. The loop of running through the game, using the gold you earned to become more powerful, then doing it all again is undeniably brilliant, and the added layer of each character having unique traits made each attempt memorable. Rogue Legacy 2 recaptures all of that, but builds on that simple design with an unfathomable amount of variables, delivering a more than worthy sequel.
As mentioned, you don't play as just one character, but an entire lineage of heroes aiming to storm a mysterious, ever-shifting castle and the other realms it leads to. After a tutorial, you'll begin your first run through the castle — which has a randomly generated layout, though the rooms themselves are designed — and inevitably die. With the run over, you choose an heir to carry on the mission, and each of these characters are also randomly generated. Part of the appeal in this game is discovering all the possible traits and abilities, which can be beneficial, detrimental, or just plain silly. And this is how the whole game goes.
Before you set out on a run with your newly selected champion, however, you use the gold you've gathered to build your own manor from the ground up. This is essentially a skill tree, and it starts small with simple health boosts, but grows to be enormous. The rate at which it expands depends on how much gold you have to spend, but the amount of options presented to you in this tree is outrageous. What's more, it grants access to new character classes, which greatly expands the variety of heirs you can choose from when a run ends.
So far, so Rogue Legacy. However, the sequel's character classes are much more diverse. Every class has a unique weapon, moves, stats, and abilities that make them all very fun (and very different) to use. The knight is a safe all-rounder, but you can also play as an archer, which forces you to hang back and fight from a distance. The valkyrie can attack up and down as well as to the side, while the gunslinger uses a rapid-fire revolver but can't move while attacking. There are 15 classes, and they all have their pros and cons, but what's remarkable is that they all feel interesting and, more importantly, viable.
On top of your character, the game quickly layers on a host of other elements that can seriously impact your chances. The blacksmith can outfit you with better gear once you find the appropriate blueprints, and there are all kinds of considerations here to make alone. Then there's the enchantress, who sells gameplay-altering runes you can equip. Eventually you'll unlock the soul house, which opens up a whole host of challenges as well as yet more game-changing upgrades. You can even level up each class, and doing so permanently buffs your overall stats.
When you first start out, it's a lot to take in. You're unlikely to understand everything until you've put in a few hours and wrapped your head around what affects what. While this information overload can be intimidating, the good news is that everything feeds into everything else brilliantly. No matter how you play Rogue Legacy 2, you're making progress, or unlocking ways to help you do that. This is a complex, layered game pretending to be a charming, cartoonish action platformer.
But it is also that. As mentioned, every class feels really fun to use, and part of that comes down to simplistic controls. Though they have different moves and abilities, all your actions are the same regardless of the character, and it all feels responsive. Each room is full of obstacles and challenges to test your skills. Enemy layouts can be devilish, and combined with hazards, are surprisingly tough to deal with. Eventually you'll see the same rooms popping up so you can learn the layouts, but once you reach another biome, it's a whole new story.
Unlike the original, biomes are very different from one another. The second is a series of long, horizontal levels instead of the Metroidvania layout of the castle. The third is a snowy landscape with its own unique hazards. Oh, and each area introduces new mechanics, like an air dash and a double jump — fundamentals that you'll wonder how you managed without. Capping off each world is a boss, and again, these are far more advanced than in the first game (although can be pretty spongy). They're visually very distinct and super tough, with lots of attack variety to keep you guessing.
While they're mechanically fun fights, we will say that we weren't very enamoured by the narrative. There's a story permeating Rogue Legacy 2 that's largely told through diary entries. While we're sure it'd be an interesting tale if you lay it all out, in-game, when you're flitting around collecting gold and dodging fire traps, it just doesn't feel very important. The game, thankfully, is more than compelling enough without a plot to pull you through it. We appreciate that it's there, but it doesn't really do much for us.
As we said, the game is doing more than it needs to in order to keep you coming back. The sheer amount of variety in terms of character build, plus the modifiers you can apply, plus the tight controls, makes for an experience that's incredibly addictive. Unless you're stupidly good, runs rarely last longer than 20 or 30 minutes, and these bitesize chunks of action only add to the overwhelming "one more go" appeal.
There's a lot we've barely talked about here. This version of the game includes all the updates it's received over the years, which means that, when you're done with the vanilla campaign, there are extra modes to enjoy. The House Rules function is an excellent accessibility feature that lets you tune the difficulty in minute ways. The visuals are great; it has a super detailed cartoon-like quality that's much more appealing than the chunky pixels of its predecessor. There's a lot to like about this game.
Rogue Legacy 2 is an excellent sequel that takes the compelling magic of the original and throws the kitchen sink at it. It more than lives up to its own legacy with smart additions to the formula and an incredible amount of variety. Unlocking meaningful upgrades and discovering the deep layers of gameplay keep it fresh dozens of hours in. Once you get past the tidal wave of mechanics and information thrown at you, it stands among the best rogue-likes and -lites available.