Rogue Legacy burst onto the scene back in 2013 as an indie darling, and that reputation was well deserved. A rogue-lite with RPG and Metroidvania elements, the game’s central conceit was that once your character dies, that’s it. They’re dead. However, you immediately start over with a family member from the next generation. This brilliant twist allowed for an element of permanent progression while also embracing the rogue-like elements of randomized level design, punishing difficulty, and incredible replayability.
Seven years later, its sequel, Rogue Legacy 2, has been released in early access. And after playing through dozens and dozens of generations, I can say that it will be a worthy successor (but only after some more development time).
The plot of Rogue Legacy 2 is still in development but follows much the same path as the previous game. There is a castle full of gold/evil, and your job is to loot/destroy it. The problem is that your initial hero is so weak that they will likely be killed in under a minute. And so it falls to the next generation to take up a sword, wand, axe, or bow and return to the castle to fight the evil within. And so on, and so on, and so on…
At the beginning of each run, you choose between three potential heirs. Their classes are randomized, as are their traits. These traits can be positive, negative, or simply benign. An example of a positive trait is the ability to jump incredibly high, while a negative trait could be something that impairs your vision, like nearsightedness. Finally, an example of a benign trait is IBS (you really need to be wearing headphones to get the full auditory effect of this trait in all its glory).
In the previous game, there was really no advantage to choosing an heir with a negative trait, aside from providing an extra challenge. In Rogue Legacy 2, however, a gold multiplier is attached to each negative trait; the worse the trait, the more gold you can pull in per run. If you get the right mix of negative traits and can handle the difficulty, you can really bring in the dough.
And believe me, you’ll need lots of it to spend on the upgrade tree, which takes the form of building your own castle. Here, you can boost your stats, HP, carrying weight, and more. You can also unlock the two shops in the game: the blacksmith, where you can purchase armor, and the enchantress, where you can purchase runes that enable special abilities.
The upgrade tree also allows you to unlock the other classes in the game. Initially, you’re a humble knight, wielding a sword of a size that would make Cloud Strife blush. But it’s not long before you also have the option of playing as a slow but powerful barbarian, a weak but suited-to-distance-combat ranger, and a mid-range mage. Each class brings its own unique challenges, and I recommend trying a different one with every generation until you find your favorite. (For the record, mine is Ranger.)
Gold isn’t the only thing in the castle with value. You can also find blueprints and runes. Once taken to the blacksmith or enchantress, these items can provide you with powerful stat and ability bonuses. For example, one rune allows you to double jump, while another lets you absorb life from the monsters you kill.
Purchasing and upgrading armor from the blacksmith seems to be the only way to boost your stats after you’ve maxed out the still-restricted skill tree. However, given the early state of the game, you can unfortunately only upgrade each armor piece two times. It’s the same with runes. While you can still find upgrades for them in the castle, you can’t purchase them right now, as they require “red stone,” a resource that hasn’t yet been incorporated into the game.
As another form of meaningful progression, you can find and earn heirlooms that provide you with special skills, like the ability to dash or talk to spirits. These family heirlooms are passed down from generation to generation, providing a great in-game explanation as to why these abilities are shared between runs. To get an heirloom, you must best a series of puzzle-solving and combat challenges. I love the idea that you need to prove yourself worthy of these abilities, rather than just finding them randomly while searching the castle.
Speaking of the castle, Rogue Legacy 2 seems to be going for a much more expansive world than its predecessor. Rather than just a single castle, you are exploring an entire kingdom beyond the rampart walls. In early access, only the first and third areas of the game are fully in place, with the second still under development. Moreover, you can currently only beat the first boss, with the third being inaccessible.
That is, if you can even get to the boss room. The difficulty of the third area is so far above your currently capped stat level that trying to make your way through it is like playing a kaizo level. In the full game, it won’t be a big deal, as dying and sending your slightly more powerful kid to continue the quest is the central gameplay loop. But since the skill tree is capped for now, there’s an air of futility when you reach the last area. And that’s a shame because, by that point, the first level is way too easy.
But unbalanced difficulty isn’t the only casualty of early access. There are also a ton of bugs that need to be ironed out. The most annoying one was when, after running into an obstacle in the second area, my character would suddenly start walking at quarter speed. Dying and moving onto the next generation did not fix this (apparently game breaking bugs are hereditary). Thankfully, a quit and restart fixed the issue, but this bug did sabotage more than a few promising runs.
At first glance, you might think that the graphics of Rogue Legacy 2 haven’t received a major upgrade from the original, but you’d be wrong. The entire game is now fully rendered in 3D, albeit on a 2D plane. The art style keeps the charming, cartoony aesthetic of the original while adding much more depth and detail. It’s a deceptively simple graphic style, and I’m excited to see new areas and enemies as they are added into the game.
Alas, the game’s music has yet to be fully implemented and occasionally cuts out. For example, my epic battle with the nail-bitingly difficult first boss was accompanied by a pulse-pounding soundtrack of dead silence. However, the various themes in each area are distinct and never get annoying, so I am looking forward to hearing the rest of the music in the completed game.
If you are planning on purchasing Rogue Legacy 2, remember that it is still in the first stages of early access. While the basic mechanics are all there, the full scope of the game is not. However, I still had a blast sending my series of heroic descendants to their inevitable deaths. Based on my playthrough, I believe that Rogue Legacy 2 is going to be something special, just like the original. If you want a taste of what is to come, I highly recommend purchasing it now. But if you want the full experience, I suggest holding off until the game is a bit further along in development.