Sharing, the kindergarten teachers like to assure us, is caring. I’d love to make them all play Risk Of Rain 2 with strangers for 20 minutes, and see how long those feel-good principles could possibly hold out.
As the Early Access sequel to one of the most compulsively action-heavy Rogue-lites in recent memory, Risk Of Rain 2 is already in remarkably assured shape. The hook is simple: Take the first game’s loot-heavy, brutally escalating approach to science fiction danger, and transform it from two dimensions into three. The original’s frantic run-and-gun side-scroller action is thus swapped out for equally hectic third-person shooting, while still heavily emphasizing character abilities and randomly dropped equipment—pried out of money-locked shipping containers—in order to keep yourself alive. The end result works shockingly well; the game’s look is primitive in places, and bugs and rough edges are in strong evidence. But the core loop—stolen shamelessly from the original game—of killing monsters to open chests to get loot to kill monsters to open chests to etc., etc., is already firmly in place, the sort of addictive power curve that can easily turn an hour of playtime into two or even three. And if it’s buggy, or the netcode lags in places, well—this is Early Access, after all, where technical glitches and hiccups are always being updated and patched out.
It’s just a shame that the same process can’t be applied to human nature. Because dear god, but are the players of Risk Of Rain 2 a collection of greedy, devious bastards. It’s not exactly their fault, though. Rather, it’s a natural consequence of the game’s first-come, first-serve nature (and emphasis on playing with a crew of internet strangers), which ensures that life-extending items go to whoever’s willing to run fastest, and farthest, in order to hoover up a level’s limited supply of loot. Hypothetically, you and your team are all on the same side—with a power-up for a partner contributing to the success of the whole. But in practice, it’s a dog-eat-dog, crab in the bucket, absolute rat race of tortured animal metaphors, one that drags everybody down to the same grimy level. Because while you’re sticking to your principles and trying to take only your fair share, the other guy just scored their fifth Soldier’s Syringe, and is well on their way to snagging another electric Ukulele. (It’s a weird sort of game.) The only way that equilibrium can be maintained, then, is if everybody makes the same mad race to score more, more, more, for themselves, all of which, now that I think about it, makes Risk Of Rain 2 a more chilling capitalist dystopia than any number of more obviously Orwell or Huxley-inspired works.
Anyway, the game itself is great; it’s people, as always, that suck.