Risk of Rain Returns review: Revisiting a rogue-like gem
The second I heard Risk of Rain’s iconic, galaxy-sized synths blaring while scrolling the options menu, I felt right at home. I hadn’t even started the game yet, but if there’s anything that could dispel my fears this remake might not do it for me, it’s that soaring soundtrack.
Risk of Rain 2 is my favourite rogue-like. It’s an overdose of bullets in foreboding, barren environments populated by immense enemy hordes. That said, I never played the original, so the sequel was my first introduction to the series - as I’m sure it was for many others, which makes Risk of Rain Returns such a compelling prospect. It’s a chance to revisit the game that started it all, a far simpler-looking game which hides just as much chaos as its 3D successor.
But I was tricked a little by this game being a remake of an older title. I figured the sequel would feel dated or lack the same vice grip Risk of Rain 2 had on me. The reality is quite the opposite. Risk of Rain Returns isn’t as fluid or snappy as Risk of Rain 2, but this upgraded version of the original has earned the right to be revisited by offering tons of new content with a fresh coat of paint that feels modern and retro all at once.
Risk of Rain Returns might not be quite as free-flowing as its 3D successor, but it's a brilliant recreation of the original title that started it all. It hooks you and keeps you playing, dying, then playing again.
Risk of Rain Returns has a ridiculous amount of content to unlock. Characters and items are hidden behind myriad challenges. Logbooks hiding lore can be randomly dropped by enemies or found in secret locations. The key to a good rogue-like is making each run feel worthwhile even if you fail spectacularly, and Risk of Rain easily pulls that off with its seemingly endless unlocks.
You might find a new item you’ve never seen, which adds it to all future runs. Maybe you’ll stumble into a hidden area or find the right combination of items to unlock a new character. Whatever it is, there’s always something exciting to discover. You’ll want to head right back in after dying to see what else you can unlock. It’s a slow drizzle of gratifying content drops that give you the dopamine you need to keep going for one more run.
Risk of Rain Returns is a time-eater - it’ll absorb your evenings and before long you’ll realise you’ve spent the last 3 hours playing after you promised yourself you’d stop. The gameplay loop is just as addictive as Risk of Rain 2, and while I haven’t counted the exact number of unlocks, it feels like there’s even more to uncover in this game. And you can even do it all with friends in co-op mode.
Battles are a satisfying mass of enemies and projectiles, but the large, vacant maps make finding things quite the gargantuan task sometimes. It can be quite confusing to navigate the game - levels are extremely vertical compared to Risk of Rain 2 and the terrain looks pretty samey. It can be easy to get lost or miss the teleporter to the next level.
This would be fine if it wasn’t so punishing - the longer you stumble around, the harder the game becomes over time. While it’s satisfying to ramp up your power, it’s a double-edged sword. Early levels can feel a bit repetitive and traversing huge maps can get dull when you’re not finding anything of note. Chests can feel pretty sparse too, and their absence means you’ll be weaker for longer.
Aiming leaves something to be desired too. You can only fire in the direction you’re facing, which makes it particularly annoying to deal with enemies that can fly, divebomb you or jump around. At times I wished for the unrestricted gunplay of Risk of Rain 2, as that game mastered the art of shooting. Risk of Rain Returns is a bit stuck in the past in comparison.
Don’t let that dissuade you from getting stuck in though. The downtime isn’t a huge issue - in its more chaotic moments you’ll be wishing Risk of Rain gave you a reprieve. Enemies come in hordes, bosses are huge and intimidating and the constant management of your ability cooldowns and movement is exhilarating. It’s impressive to look back at how much Risk of Rain 2 was able to take from this game despite the drastic change in dimension.
Hopoo Games just knows how to execute a gratifying rogue-like formula. Whether it takes place in a 2D or 3D realm, Risk of Rain’s gameplay flows brilliantly and hooks you for run after run. It might not reach the heights of the sequel for me, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to go back in for more.
The new Providence Trials are brutal. This mode is a series of challenges that test you in various ways. It’s like a side dish for the action-packed feast offered by the main game.
One trial might be a simple combat challenge, while another puts you in control of a flying drone shooting targets across the map, all while dodging an increasing number of bullet-hell-style enemies. Some are more like races against the clock, but the trick is they force you to use new skills on the fly. These skills will then be unlocked for the main game if you can succeed.
The variety of skills on offer helps you tailor your gameplay in a way that fits your playstyle. The customisation is impressive - you can change the difficulty of the main game, or you can alter sliders to affect enemy damage and player damage.
This game is unforgiving, but I found that playing with 75% enemy damage made things much more accessible. Other players might prefer to turn these sliders up and punish themselves. It’s all up to you as an individual, and Risk of Rain Returns gives you the freedom to explore almost any options you could want.
The new additions made to the overall game are excellent too. There are more maps, enemies, characters, and items - really just more of everything you could want.
Risk of Rain Returns is a love letter to the original and a masterful recreation. It offers players an impressive hoard of new content while keeping the charm of the original intact.
The base game is still lacking in a couple of areas the sequel managed to rectify, so Risk of Rain 2 fanatics might not fully mesh with its more dated aspects, but you’d be mad not to at least try it out if you loved its successor. If you do, you’ll find a huge amount of unlocks to uncover and an addictive gameplay loop that makes finding everything seem feasible.
Risk of Rain Returns is a dangerous game. It’s harsh and overwhelming, and you’ll die time and time again. Then you’ll load back in, start over and scour stages for loot like nothing happened. It will eat your days, or weeks, without any sense of remorse. It’s the best kind of rogue-like and a very solid remake.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.