Rogue Legacy 2 is a rogue-lite 2D platform/slasher from Canadian coders Cellar Door. It’s the follow-up to the beloved 2013 original and while it’s been around on Steam since 2020, it’s finally landed on PSN this month as a surprising PS Extra freebie. We’re not sure why it’s taken so long to get here though as these games are perfect for consoles but, anyway, we’re happy it’s here and even happier that it’s free (if you’ve paid your subscription).
The original Rogue Legacy was a supremely addictive rogue-lite where you ventured into a castle full of enemies and died pretty quickly. However, any money you found along the way could be spent on permanent upgrades for the next character, which meant you’d hopefully get a little bit further each time.
That’s the ‘Rogue’ part of the name, the ‘Legacy’ was the cool bit. When your character died, they’d be succeeded by an heir who’d have their own unique traits that affected how they played. So you got a different experience every time you played. We loved it a lot and have been waiting impatiently for a follow-up ever since and so, now that Rogue Legacy 2 is finally here, we can say right away that it does a good job of sticking to the original winning formula while adding A LOT of new elements to warrant its own release.
After a short tutorial that reacquaints you with the basics of combat and jumping, while introducing you to the new spinning kick move (which is used more as a platforming tool than a combat technique), you’ll be back into the castle. As before, every room, and the overall layout, changes with each visit but essentially you’ll still get the same mix of room types and enemies, just slightly remixed each type.
As before, when you die any gold you collect can be spent on your skill tree which expands out as you unlock new elements. The skill tree allows you to upgrade fundamentals such as your max HP, damage resistance and weapon proficiency but it also allows you to access a whole lot more such as additional classes to play as and new merchants.
The classes have very much been filled out now. Aside from the usual Knight, Barbarian and Mage classes, you now get Assassins, Dragon Lancers, Boxers (!) and Chefs (!!!) and many more. They’re not all that well balanced (Rangers are a faff to play as while Gunslingers are similar but easier to use) but they’re fun to try out and add a whole lot of variation. And when you combine that with the returning trait system, which can do all sorts of things to your character such as making them tiny, giving them colour-blindness, double their jump height, affecting how they react to damage and so on, you’ve got a lot of different ways to approach the game. It’s still very cool and one of the best things about the game.
The merchants are a new element too and they’ll allow you to create and use new gear if you can find the blueprints or runes in a run. The Blacksmith creates armours that give you defensive boosts while the Enchantress’ runes add useful perks such as magnetism (for pulling in coins from a distance) and various stat upgrades.
However, if we had a main knock against the game, the merchants are a good example of it. Each one has a secondary currency that they use. It costs gold to use their services but the Enchantress also wants ‘red aether’ and the Blacksmith needs iron. There’s also a Soul Shop that uses ‘soul stones,’ and Architect who can fix the layout of the castle for one turn, a money box that acts as a bank of sorts and more. It’s a lot to take in. And that’s before you add unnecessary nonsense like weight limits.
Where Rogue Legacy just felt intuitive to play immediately, the sequel feels like it’s just full of unexplained things. And when things are explained, it’s usually by way of little markers that have a text description that can tend to waffle on a bit. There’s just a weight to it all that makes the game feel a bit more densely packed.
A good example is what happens when you reach new areas. There will be some sort of barrier to progression, be it a jump you can’t quite make, platforms that have no substance or actual barriers you can’t get through. You’d think that by beating the boss of the previous area, that’d give you what you need to progress but, no, there’s a whole other thing about heirlooms where you need to pass a trial to get the bit of kit you need. It’s all fine but it’s never that well explained. A quick Google usually sorts it out but we’re just aware that we never really had to do that with the original.
Once you get these heirlooms, you’ll find these new areas will become accessible but they usually require some serious platforming to get them. New abilities such as double jumps, upgraded dashes and new spin kicks combine to allow progression and this definitely puts more of an emphasis on platforming skills than before. You’ll find yourself needing to jump (), dash (), spin kick () and then use a teleporter ()all in quick succession which can be quite testing. That said, we were able to bypass a fair bit of one level because we’d earned a triple jump from a relic (oh, yeah, there’s a whole thing about relics too) which made progression a lot easier but we’ll probably not see that trait again in a long time.
But while this all ends up being a lot to take it, the addictiveness, playability and charm of Rogue Legacy 2 is still very apparent. The game is a joy to play (most of the time) and while there are some seriously mean difficulty spikes when it comes boss battles and some new areas, the constant sense of progression is reassuring, letting you know that eventually you’ll get there.
There’s always a thing with rogue-lites where we wonder what would this game be like if they took out the rogue stuff and just had it play with a set difficulty level (essentially like a Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins or Wonderboy in Monsterland type of thing). Would it still be as compelling? And for Rogue Legacy 2 we think it probably would stand up thanks to its crisp controls.
If you do run into difficulty, or indeed want to up it for some reason, there’s a whole section of the menu that lets you tweak things such as damage taken and given as well as being able to turn off contact damage with enemies. Use it wisely as it could make the game reasonably trivial to play but it does definitely make the game more accessible and can speed up the otherwise slightly glacial progression. It’s a great addition to the game and gives a sense that Cellar Door respect the player’s time a bit more this time around.
The game’s presentation is much the same as before with a clean, cartoony look that looks nicer than the average indie game and nice, smooth animation that really helps the player to accurately judge both the combat and platforming elements of the game. The music is good also but we’d have maybe liked some voice work to go with all the dialogue in the game.
As a sequel, Rogue Legacy 2 had to go bigger and it’s definitely done that. The new classes, traits and upgrades are all gratefully received but not all the new elements are quite as welcome for us. There’s probably just a bit too much in here now and when combined with some opaque progression and unexplained (or over-explained) new things, Rogue Legacy 2 can feel a bit bloated compared to the near-perfect original. But, as they say in football, class is permanent and this sequel still offers some of the best rogue-lite, hacky-slashy platforming around.
+ Tons of great variation
+ Addictive rogue-lite progression
+ Very nicely presented
+ Free (for now) is a great price
- The new focus on platforming can get a bit much
- The way ahead isn't always very well-explained