Putting the “lite” in “Roguelite”

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AtheistPreacher

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Edited By AtheistPreacher

Rogue Legacy 2 has just hit version 1.0, and I knew I wanted to post something about it for the release. I’m not sure I would call what follows a “review,” if only because I love this game so much that I find it hard to be all that objective about it (for the record: I’ve logged 174 hours on the early access version of the game). But hopefully someone out there will find it informative and be encouraged to give it a shot.

Background: RL1 and RL2 early access

In the lead-up to RL2’s 1.0 release, I noticed some people claiming that the first Rogue Legacy actually *invented* the Roguelite genre when it was released in 2013. Strictly speaking, I don’t think this is actually true, as the “lite” elements of Roguelites had been around for some time, even if in a somewhat embryonic and diffuse form compared to the fairly distinct genre we see today. However, it appears that Cellar Door Games may, in fact, have been the first game developer to coin the term.

RL1’s Steam page description
RL1’s Steam page description

Regardless, what is not in dispute is that the original Rogue Legacy helped to define and popularize the “lite” elements in Roguelites. By putting a heavy focus on upgrading your character between runs, it injected an element of character-building power fantasy into the more established Roguelike genre, which eschewed permanent upgrades in favor of a uniform starting point for each run.

I liked RL1 a lot. I logged 40.7 hours on it on Steam, maxing out the upgrades and clearing multiple NG+ cycles, and also bought the game on Playstation. In 2013, it really was something new. Games like Dead Cells and Hades were not yet a thought. I just knew that I really enjoyed the idea of continuing to power up my character on the way to finally clearing the game. It was fun to keep starting new runs knowing that I was not only getting better at playing the game myself, but was also entering with a continually more capable character.

Fast-forward to August 2020, when Cellar Door Games released an early build of Rogue Legacy 2 on Steam Early Access. The global pandemic had properly begun about five months earlier; weird to think that the game’s entire front-facing development cycle took place during COVID. Anyway, GB did an “Unfinished” and other games press did their own coverage.

This was the extent of the castle upgrades in the initial early access release of RL2. Not awesome!
This was the extent of the castle upgrades in the initial early access release of RL2. Not awesome!

Though the core gameplay felt pretty good even at this early stage, the game at this point was, quite honestly, very content-light and thin. It had only one “biome,” a small and uninteresting bunch of upgrades, few classes, and (to the best of my recollection) no completed bosses to fight. There are some early access games that are first released at a point where they’re already worth their asking price; RL2 was not one of them. At the initial early access price of $15.99 (which has since increased to reflect a more complete product—it’s now $24.99), you were investing on the promise of the game rather than what was actually there. I think I’d go so far as to say that Cellar Door Games probably made a mistake by releasing it as early as they did; the game might have earned better word of mouth if they had waited a few more months.

But as time went by and regular large content updates happened, the game rather quickly surpassed its predecessor in virtually every way imaginable. Let’s talk about how, shall we?

Character classes

Classes are way more differentiated this time around
Classes are way more differentiated this time around

In RL1, classes seemed like a big part of the game, but in retrospect, they just weren’t all that well-differentiated. All carried the same basic sword melee weapon, and while each had a special ability, the differences were mainly in the stats; some had more HP but less mana, others had a high chance to critically strike but had low base attack power, etc. After a while a few classes seemed to simply surpass others, and runs could start to feel pretty same-y.

The big thing that RL2 does to improve on the class system is that it gives each class an entirely unique starting weapon, along with other special properties and abilities unique to that class. Sure, there’s still the basic knight with the same sword from RL1. But now there’s also:

  • Valkyries (my personal favorite), whose spears can be aimed up or down in addition to forward, and can be quickly twirled to reflect incoming projectiles;
  • Barbarians, who use huge axes for massive damage and can also yell to temporarily freeze enemies in place;
  • Rangers, who use a bow that can be aimed in any direction, and can create platforms (on a short cooldown) to fire from wherever they wish;
  • Bards, who play lutes that send out musical notes a short distance away that float in place, dealing periodic damage to enemies in range;
  • Boxers, who build combos with quick punches that increase in damage with every hit.

And that’s just five of the fifteen classes. Each one has a unique playstyle, rather than simply being a different balance of core stats. The effect is, of course, that RL2 is much, much more replayable than RL1 ever was, simply due to the sheer variety of gameplay styles on offer.

Emphasis on the “lite”

RL2 is also just a much bigger game than its predecessor in just about every way you can conceive of. In addition to having more classes that are more meaningful in their differences, it has six “biomes,” each with its own boss, next to the original’s four, more weapons and armor to buy and upgrade, more “runes” to unlock that do things like add lifesteal to your attacks or give you more dashes or jumps (you can eventually jump some ridiculous number of times, something like twelve(!) before hitting the ground), more permanent “castle” upgrades to buy, and even a special currency that will allow you to keep upgrading your stats beyond their normal limits.

That's better!
That's better!

The fact that this game just has so many friggin’ permanent upgrades to buy is why, as I noted at the outset, I put 174 hours into the early access version of the game and reached the pre-release cap of NG+30. Yes, you read that correctly. NG+30. And I still have stuff to upgrade. Moreover, in late November I did some calculations that suggest to me that the 1.0 release may allow you to go all the way to NG+100 if you’d like (obviously I can’t confirm this at the moment, ask me again in a few months XD). Considering each run will usually take multiple hours to complete, that is an awful lot of game.

Maybe that simply sounds exhausting to you, and you’d prefer to just clear the game once or twice and move on. Which is fine! But if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep seeing the numbers go up, then I don’t think you need to worry that you’re going to eventually run out of upgrades to buy. The vast majority of players will have moved on to another game long before they’re in danger of maxing everything out. Hence one of the other problems I ran into with RL1—that I had bought all the upgrades and had achieved basically all there was to achieve in forty hours—really isn’t an issue with the sequel.

Play it your way (especially with regard to difficulty)

I could tell you that RL2 has no formal difficult settings, and while that would technically be true, it’s also grossly disingenuous. The truth is that RL2 has all sorts of granular settings that let you play the game the way you want to play it, to get the experience you want to have.

The most obvious of these is the “House Rules.” These are settings that will let you:

  • Increase (up to 200%) or decrease (down to 50%) enemy health;
  • Increase (up to 200%) or decrease (down to 50%) enemy damage;
  • Slow down time while aiming projectiles (like spells, arrows, or bullets);
  • Enable flight;
  • Disable enemy contact damage.
Look, I’m bad at this game, I just want to see the numbers go up, OK?
Look, I’m bad at this game, I just want to see the numbers go up, OK?

Enabling any or all of these options will not disable achievements or progression. In fact, there’s even an achievement for altering the House Rules for the first time. So if you’re someone who worries that the game’s difficulty is going to be a little too brutal for you, well, worry not. You can make it as easy (or as difficult) as you’d like.

And these are far from the only options that alter the difficulty and experience of a run.

  • You can add “burdens” that do things like increase enemy projectile speed, or give enemies life steal, or make the world bigger, or make hazards/spikes deal more damage.
  • You can toggle on “Prime” versions of bosses that have new tricks up their sleeves; the first boss, for instance, goes from firing straight-shot projectiles to projectiles that home in on you.
  • Character “traits,” randomized upon picking a new character/heir after dying (another returning feature from RL1), will do all sorts of wacky things, with the more negative ones balanced by giving you a gold bonus—stuff like turning the screen upside down, or making the screen temporarily go black every time you take damage, or turning you into a “pacifist” that cannot directly attack enemies at all.
Wait, I’ve changed my mind. Let’s make the game harder in some interesting ways.
Wait, I’ve changed my mind. Let’s make the game harder in some interesting ways.

And there are other game mechanics that I haven’t even mentioned yet, there’s just too much to talk about with this game, and I don’t have all day to write this thing. One other important mechanic: the relic/resolve system, which allows you to pick up powerful relics each run (they are lost upon death) at the cost of maximum health, depending on how high your “resolve” is. These do things like add a fire damage-over-time to your attacks, to changing your one big jump into three smaller ones, to adding more time to your invincibility window after taking damage, and even more esoteric things.

What a sequel should be

All in all, RL2 basically just completely blows RL1 out of the water. The amazing thing is that this really isn’t a knock on the first game so much as it is a glowing endorsement of the sequel, which truly seems to have surpassed and enlarged upon its predecessor in every way that matters. Hell, I didn’t even talk at all about the overhauled “2.5D” art style, which is pretty gorgeous. Nor did I really spend any time spelling out the simple fact that the controls and movement/core gameplay feel tight and precise and just plain good all-around. Better than merely good, really. And though I’m not going to talk any more about that, it’s only because such things are so hard to define and describe, anyway. You’ll just have to give it a whirl and test out the game feel for yourself (and meanwhile we’ll all leave Jeff G to test the mouth feel).

I saw in a recent article that one of RL1’s original two developers has said that he no longer bothers playing the first game at all anymore, and it’s easy to see why. Once you start playing RL2, it’s hard to go back. The Roguelite genre has really exploded and gone some places in nine years, and Cellar Door Games has risen to the task of creating a game that can compete with the best examples of the genre. I only hope the game finds the audience it deserves.

The game’s on sale for 20% off ($19.99) on Steam through May 9. If you’ve ever liked a Roguelite before, I think I can pretty safely say that this one is going to be money well-spent.

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rorie

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Going to have to give this a try at some point! I hope it's gotten a bit less crazy difficult since it first launched in EA!

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Joshakazam

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#2 Joshakazam  Online

Hey I really liked this write-up. I only played that very barebones first release and liked what I played but did not think it was worth buying yet.

Seems like they really made a proper sequel out of it, excited to check it out properly.

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csl316

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#3  Edited By csl316

Took out the first two bosses today and man, this is fantastic.

I was underwhelmed by the original back in the day but I'm really liking the improvement here. From the style to the gameplay tuning to the systems and upgrades. It's just a solid game (so far).

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BladeOfCreation

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Rogue Legacy was my first big foray into this genre/sub-genre, and I absolutely loved it. Steam says 50.8 hours, and I was at NG+3 or +4 when it got too difficult for me. When the early access version of the sequel came out, I was pretty disappointed in what I saw. I mostly forgot about this game until this week, when I started hearing about it again. This looks great, this was a great and informative write-up on the game, and I'm definitely gonna pick this up soon!

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chaser324

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#5 chaser324  Moderator

I tried this out when it first hit early access and it didn't really hook me at that point as it was a little too light on content, but damn, I dove into 1.0 last night and this has come a very long way in two years. They've really knocked it out of the park and surpassed the original in every way.

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alistercat

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AtheistPreacher

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#8  Edited By eccentrix

the more established Roguelike genre, which eschewed permanent upgrades in favor of a uniform starting point for each run.

Funny that you'd put it that way, because the appeal of Roguelikes for me, coming from Nethack, was always starting with a random character, so your chances of survival were based on luck more than anything.

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Topcyclist

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@atheistpreacher: Funny, The game sounds flawless and much better than the other one. I couldn't get past the first level or two of the other one and didn't get into it enough to see the good stuff, same thing happen to me for even the best rouge lits according to popularity like hades and dead cells though i was enjoying dead cells but paused when they kept putting out more updates (weird how getting more with your perfect steak makes you too full to eat the steak). Hades I liked but the overwhelming praise caused me to keep getting dissuaded when I just liked it, so I know it sounds weird, but I started pressuring myself to like it more and was worried each time I got frustrated from dying as I didn't get that relief everyone else discussed, that oh I'm getting better and upgrading all this lore etc. (I guess this is how dislikers of the souls games feel early on).

So rogue legacy like the others i liked but couldn't love as much as others or nearly as much. This one seems more my alley. But

IGN mentioned in their review that the game has an upgrade issue in that the age-old problem, you get tons of levels and powers early but it slows down to become grindy, so you have to kinda specialize if you want big stuff. Sadly, if the game threw stuff at you like Forza throws fancy cars, people would dislike that the game was short or easy. I think your take that by then the people like me, more casual will get their fill and never grind. Those into the game will like that almost never-ending ceiling to keep unlocking stuff.

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SethMode

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I just died as a Barbarian with the Contrarian trait so my axe was instead a pizza that I flung around like a weaponized disc so....yes this game rules.

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PeezMachine

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#11  Edited By PeezMachine

I'm really liking the game, but boy howdy does the blacksmith seem like a poorly considered part of the progression. Finding a new blueprint is never that exciting because (A) you probably won't have enough metal to actually buy the damn thing and (B) once you get a few blueprints deep, a lot of new unlocks start feeling like sidegrades that trade a small amount of one stat for a bit of another, and never enough to move the needle in a meaningful way. Mercifully you have the option to use the same gear loadout for all your classes -- I tried the optional class-specific loadout system and within an hour everyone was just wearing the same stuff again, so I swapped back. I'm totally fine with treating the game's progression as a "rising tide" of general improvements instead of something more targeted (like any number of "build"-oriented games), and the blacksmith feels like a clunky way to offer some choice that isn't really there and doesn't really have to be.

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AtheistPreacher

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@peezmachine: One thing I feel like I can't really comment all that intelligently about is the balancing of the progression starting from a brand spanking new game, because I played all that time in early access and my progress carried over. By the time 1.0 hit, I literally had all the blueprints and runes in the game already and had bought and upgraded them all fully. So I spend all my red aether and ore on buying souls from the Soul Shop because I literally have nothing else to spend it on (this wasn't even an option before 1.0, so I had a ridiculously huge pile of both that I couldn't do anything with at all... you start earning them pretty darn fast on higher NG+ cycles).

But I do feel like a number of the reviews say that they feel the game is too grindy, that you're expected to make too many "dead runs" before you earn enough resources to have any real chance of beating the bosses and clearing the game. Which may well be the case, maybe the beginning is just tuned too hard/slow. But of course it's also a very subjective thing, the tuning of all that.

I will say this: the separate loadouts for individual classes thing is really meant to be relevant to the late game. Early on you're better off putting the bulk of your resources into upgrading a single generalist set for everybody, but in the late game it's possible to have three lvl 100 unity bonuses on your armor, which are very meaningful things. The three I'm using give me: +20% critical hit chance (weapon), +40% armor, and +1 revive. Sure, the latter two are good for anybody, but for a magic class I'd probably want magic crit instead.

Anyway, in short: the blacksmith stuff is more meaningful and differentiated the deeper you go. But yeah, in the early game, not so much. Maybe that's something they could have done better. Runes definitely feel like a more worthwhile investment when they can give you things like life steal and extra jumps.

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AtheistPreacher

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Thought I'd just bump this to point out that patch 1.0.1 is now live, and makes some welcome changes. A few highlights:

  • Economy tweaks: Some early castle upgrades are cheaper, and ore to forge/upgrade equipment is more plentiful.

  • The "Vertigo" trait (everything is upside down) has been removed entirely, and some of the other negative traits have been toned down.

  • Dragon Lancer has been re-worked, as it was widely considered the most awkward and least effective class.

Which all sounds good to me. You can see the full patch notes at the link above.

I'm closing in on truly maxing out my castle upgrades, but I'm also interested in eventually starting a fresh save and seeing how the full release feels starting from nothing, because my beginning the full release on NG+30 was certainly a very different experience from the one most people are having.