If you were to draw up a blueprint of the ideal video game sequel, it would be a schematic of Rogue Legacy 2. The latest roguelite dungeon crawler from developer Cellar Door Games retains everything that was captivating about the 2015 original while improving upon it with some fantastic new additions. If you played the first game, you’ll notice there’s an immediate familiarity to Rogue Legacy 2’s crunchy combat and satisfying gameplay loop, yet it doesn’t take long for new wrinkles to appear that significantly alter each run through its ever-shifting world.
The basic premise of Rogue Legacy 2 is identical to that of the first game. You play as a valiant adventurer who’s sent to explore the ruins of a mysterious castle. Your ultimate goal is to find and defeat six unique bosses in order to unlock an imposing door that leads to the final area. As you gallivant across Rogue Legacy 2’s six varied and increasingly treacherous biomes, you’ll accrue golden coins by opening chests and vanquishing enemies. This wealth can then be used to purchase permanent upgrades like increased health, strength, intellect, and so on. Unfortunately for your intrepid explorer, however, they’ll never get to spend this money themselves. Each time you die in Rogue Legacy 2, you return to the beginning of the castle as your previous character’s offspring, inheriting all of the gold and upgrades they acquired before perishing.
At the start of each run, you’re asked to select from a trio of potential heirs, all eager to venture off into what is usually certain doom. Sometimes these progenies arrive with randomly generated traits that can benefit or hinder them. Sir Timothy II, for instance, was an heir of mine who had hollow bones that made him fall slowly, whereas Lady Jane suffered from a functional neurological disorder that rendered her unable to attack for a few seconds after sustaining damage.
Sometimes these traits have no gameplay implications at all, like Lady Michelle and the irritable bowel syndrome that made her fart a lot. Other times, the complete opposite is true and you end up with someone like Sir Shawn, a particularly unfortunate descendant who had a case of osteogenesis imperfecta, which is a fancy way of saying a single hit was enough to kill him. You won’t know what impact these traits will have until using them at least once, but the game adds gold modifiers to entice you to pick an heir with less-than-ideal traits, so there’s an element of risk and reward that goes into each decision.
This genetic variation ensures that each run through the sprawling castle feels fresh, yet Rogue Legacy 2’s chromosomal lottery also takes things a step further than its predecessor by introducing distinct character classes. Now, the first game did have different character classes that would grant you specific spells and passive abilities, but each scion would still charge into battle wielding the same greatsword with the same basic sword-swinging mechanics. This time around, combat has been expanded, with each class brandishing a signature weapon.
Barbarians carry an axe with a slow overhead swing and an aerial spin attack. Valkyries utilize a spear that can attack in four directions, making it one of the few classes able to strike directly upwards. Boxers build up a combo meter, with each punch gradually increasing in damage. Gunslingers, meanwhile, can rapidly shoot in any direction, with the final eight bullets in a magazine dealing a critical blow. There are also knights, chefs, mages, assassins, dragon lancers, and more, all with their own specific armaments, spells, health bars, mana pools, and so on. No two classes feel alike, which, along with the randomized traits and spells, makes each new run a unique experience.
Some of these classes have more of a learning curve attached than others. The bard, for instance, is particularly distinct: They use a lute to shoot out musical notes that don’t deal a lot of damage by themselves, but can be spin-kicked to create a powerful explosion. Each class also has a singular talent, usually acting as some form of defensive maneuver. Valkyries can spin their spear in a spry circle to deflect projectiles, while the chef cooks up a stew to recover both health and mana.
There’s an immediate familiarity to Rogue Legacy 2’s crunchy combat and satisfying gameplay loop, yet it doesn’t take long for new wrinkles to appear that significantly alter each run through its ever-shifting world
Getting to grips with each playstyle and finding which ones work for you is part of the joy of Rogue Legacy 2’s first couple of hours. Combat is engaging across the board, too, no matter which of the 15 classes you’re using. There’s a lovely heft and chomp to the action, with enemies erupting into a shower of gold as you dash between fiery projectiles and slice through them with emphatic momentum.
The delightfully varied enemy types that congregate in each biome are also a significant reason why Rogue Legacy 2’s combat is so enjoyable. From detached, floating hands wielding knives and mallets, to poison-spewing mushroom creatures and zombies who suddenly emerge from the floor, learning each one’s attack patterns and knowing how to counter them is crucial to staying alive. It makes each encounter a tense and dynamic affair.
When you’re not fighting for your life, you’ll be exploring a procedurally generated world that’s rich in aesthetic diversity. The cold stone walls of the initial castle eventually give way to snow-capped mountaintops, an opulent study where paintings come to life, and a cavernous underground cave system that feels like it’s descending straight to the Earth’s core. The gorgeous new art style does a fantastic job of bringing these areas to life, foregoing the previous game’s 16-bit stylings in favor of a cartoon look that utilizes sharp lines and vivid colors. The backdrops are all entirely hand-drawn while the characters and objects are 3D, making the action really pop off the screen.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the map can sometimes feel a little too big. You might spend multiple runs going through room after room without ever finding the boss, resulting in plenty of backtracking as you return to areas you’ve already cleared. These don’t feel like wasted runs if you’re able to accumulate enough gold to buy a few upgrades, but it does add an unsavory element to Rogue Legacy 2’s monetary grind. Progressing through each biome isn’t a straight run to the boss room, either. You may have to collect a couple of keys or defeat a miniboss or two before being able to face the area’s final challenge.
It’s here where Rogue Legacy 2 adopts some light Metroidvania trappings. Throughout the game, you’ll gradually acquire a variety of permanent abilities called heirlooms that let you reach previously inaccessible areas. These include a double jump, in-air dash, and more. Aside from acting as a key to unlock new biomes, these abilities also have a fundamental impact on every other aspect of Rogue Legacy 2’s gameplay. Echo’s Boots, for instance, is an heirloom that allows you to use spin-kicks to bounce off what are called “resonant platforms,” increasing your platforming range by launching you into the air and resetting your air dash. But you can also use those kicks to destroy the resonant projectiles some enemies hurl at you, adding a new wrinkle to some combat encounters.
If there’s one way in which Rogue Legacy 2 is most like its predecessor, it’s the punishing difficulty curve, but there are more options for dealing with it here than in the original. This is a challenging game, but Cellar Door has made some concessions this time around to make it more approachable. The addition of House Rules lets you tweak the difficulty to your liking, whether that means making the game slightly easier or ramping up the adversity for an even tougher challenge. There are a couple of sliders that let you tweak global damage and health down to a minimum of 50%, and you can also toggle contact damage on or off and give yourself flight if a platforming section is proving insurmountable. House Rules are a welcome addition, and though it can make the experience easier, it doesn’t suddenly turn Rogue Legacy 2 into an easy game. Your missteps just aren’t punished as harshly, giving you a little more leeway to make mistakes.
Although Rogue Legacy 2 is built on a grind to purchase more upgrades and become stronger, it always respects your time. If you use a key to unlock a door, that door will remain unlocked forever. Minibosses don’t return after you’ve beaten them, and you can pay a fee to permanently unlock teleporters at the beginning of each biome, letting you jump ahead without having to find the area’s entrance again. There’s also an architect who will lock the world for a percentage of your gold, preventing it from changing at the beginning of each new run. This way, you can easily jump straight back into a boss fight without having to fight your way to it.
All of this makes Rogue Legacy 2 difficult to put down. The “one more run” effect is in full force as you choose yet another new heir to embark on another perilous journey. The introduction of distinct classes with their own unique weapons is a masterstroke that elevates this sequel by building on what was already a fantastic premise and satisfying roguelite loop. House Rules make it more palatable for a wider audience but also give players an opportunity to tailor the challenge to their liking, even if that means increasing the difficulty. The breadth of its biomes can sometimes induce backtracking as you search for the path forward, but this is a minor blemish on what is a fantastic game. Sacrificing your family tree has never felt so good.