‘Rogue Legacy 2’ review: a triumph of procedural game design

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It took a colourblind vampire to kill Estuary Lamech, the first major boss in Rogue Legacy 2‘s gigantic, ever-shuffling deathtrap. The ancient spellblade, who had slain generations of knights, barbarians, Valkyries and, um, chefs, simply couldn’t keep up with Sir Tommy II’s ability to regenerate health with every successful attack. It wasn’t exactly a noble victory, but believe me, it was well-earned.

Sir Tommy didn’t survive much longer, sadly. He fell to his death while climbing a tower to obtain some magic boots. But his name goes down in history with all the great heroes who preceded him. Like Lady Josephine, the first to navigate Fort Agartha to Estuary Lamech’s chambers. Or Sir Teddy, who uncovered the secret hidden within the Tower of Lights. Oh, and let’s not forget Lady Pepper, who successfully obtained the fabled Aesop’s Tome.

There’s much that separates Rogue Legacy 2 from its predecessor, from its expanded character generation system to its vivid, cartoonish new art style. But it’s how characters are defined by their deeds as much as their traits that is perhaps the biggest difference between the two. The sequel takes the first game’s premise of funnelling an entire dynasty of heroes into the jaws of an extremely nasty dungeon, but it gives those heroes much greater opportunity to write their own chapter in the story. Now, Sir Shawn isn’t just the Duellist with blue skin who suffers from panic attacks. He’s the Duellist who defeated the Void Beasts of Axis Mundi.

Structurally, Rogue Legacy 2 is similar to the first game. You guide a hero through a series of 2D labyrinths filled with traps, monsters, and treasure. Your goal in Rogue Legacy 2 is to kill the “Estuaries”, curiously named demigods whose collective lifeforce is bound to a magical door at the heart of Fort Agartha.

It’s a quest which your first hero is doomed to fail. In fact, they probably won’t get five rooms deep into the fort before being slashed, burned, crushed, or spiked to death. But every failure brings progress. The gold and other loot your deceased hero collected are returned home by unspecified means. Here, they’re used to upgrade your castle to provide better equipment and training for your hero’s descendants. In this way, the next brave warrior to venture into Fort Agartha will be slightly stronger, and will get six rooms into the dungeon before keeling over with something large and pointy protruding from their chest.

While you’re still sending weaponised grist into a giant, skeleton-filled mill, both the types of heroes you can field, and the things they can do, have been greatly expanded. Rogue Legacy 2 adds a bunch of new classes to accompany the knights, barbarians, and archers returning from the first game. These include the Dragon Lancer, who can impale enemies from great distances with his powerful charge attack, and the Valkyrie, whose polearm can be used to attack vertically as well as horizontally. Surprisingly though, the best new class is the humble Chef. Not only do they possess the incredibly useful ability to cook healing meals for themselves, but their frying-pan attack can deflect enemy projectiles back at them, making them effective both in melee and ranged combat.

Rogue Legacy 2. Credit: Cellar Door Games

Heroes are further defined by individual traits that can positively or negatively affect their ability. This might come in the form of a relic, like Fate’s Die, which instantly kills every sixth enemy you hit. Others are somewhat crude representations of physical or psychological conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome, which adds a cooldown to your spells and abilities, or synaesthesia, which makes every on-screen character leave a glowing coloured trail behind them.

Each hero will pay the boatman Charon to take them to the entrance of Fort Agartha, where they will, eventually, meet their fate. But while the layout of Rogue Legacy 2‘s dungeons may be random, progression through these areas is more strongly defined. Accessing new areas revolves around heirlooms, special equipment that gives heroes new abilities, and are passed down the generations. These include Ananke’s Shawl, enabling your hero to dash in midair, while Echo’s Boots let you rebound off specific objects with a precisely timed Spin Kick.

The nature of these heirlooms hints at the other major change Cellar Door Games has made. Rogue Legacy 2 is much more of a platformer than the previous game. Not only can you bounce off enemies and projectiles to stop yourself taking damage, whole sections of the game are also built specifically as platforming challenges. Axis Mundi, the second area you explore, is a ruined townscape half-sunken into churning black waters. Tumbling into this dark abyss will catapult you back to the nearest dry land, so progressing requires you to use your platforming skills.

Rogue Legacy 2. Credit: Cellar Door Games

The platforming takes some getting used to, but it’s never as demanding as, say, Celeste. While certain items let you circumvent it entirely, like a Relic that enables your character to fly. But alongside giving Rogue Legacy 2 more dynamism, finding these heirlooms is a meaningful event, and you’ll remember the heroes that successfully tracked them down. The same goes for heroes that defeat specific bosses, or uncover the secret behind each area’s unique room.

Combined with the vast array of upgrade systems, which includes a huge skill tree that sees you build a literal castle as you unlock new abilities, alongside blacksmiths and enchantresses who improve your armour and furnish you with passive abilities, almost every run sees you make meaningful progress in one way or another. That said, there are ways the game could make more of this. Deceased heroes are memorialised in a hall of portraits. But the portrait is all they seem to get. There’s no record of their individual achievements, which, considering how the game gives heroes more specific feats to accomplish, seems like a missed opportunity.

This isn’t Rogue Legacy 2‘s only flaw either. As you unlock new classes, it quickly becomes apparent that some are better than others. Mages, for example, can only fire their primary attack directly ahead of them, making them fiddly to play. Moreover, no matter how interesting a specific character is, they’ll always be beaten out by any hero with healing abilities, such as a vampire or a chef, simply because they survive longer.

If Rogue Legacy 2 had better class balance, and was a little more active in recording the deeds of your heroes, you’d probably be looking at one of the best roguelikes ever made. As it stands, you’ll have to be content with a superb iteration of the previous game’s core concept. A fun, challenging, and intensely rewarding dynastic adventure.


Rogue Legacy 2 released on April 28 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S

The Verdict

Combining a superb character generation system with challenging dungeon exploration, Rogue Legacy 2 is an engrossing blend of action-platforming and emergent storytelling.

Pros

  • Expanded legacy system
  • Some classes are better than others

Cons

  • Character deeds aren’t recorded
  • Creative framing can sometimes be a hinderance in combat
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