Video game

Rogue Legacy 2 review: Dopamine in video game form

cellar door games

There was something insidious in The Legacy of Thievesthe 2013 “roguelite” platform game developed by Cellar Door Games.

I remember sitting down to play the game for the first time on a Friday, and the next thing I knew was Sunday night. I came out of this game with cloudy eyes and bewildered, totally unable to realize the destination of my weekend.

Rogue Legacy 2, which started life as an Early Access title in 2020, was fully released late last week, and it looks like Cellar Door has done it again. I go to sit down to play “just a race” before starting my day, and all of a sudden it’s dark outside and I realize that I’ve skipped two meals. For a certain type of player, this game is a black hole.

Like its predecessor, Rogue Legacy 2 puts you in the role of an adventurer who embarks on a quest to kill monsters and take their belongings. You jump through 2D levels and attack bad guys with swords, bows, magic wands, and various other instruments of death. Starting out as a weak weakling, you gradually level up your character to become strong enough to take on the game’s six bosses, who rule over the game’s six biomes.

In fact, that’s not entirely accurate. Instead of upgrading a character, you upgrade your “legacy”. The game is a “genealogy roguelite”, according to the developer, which means that each new character is the son or daughter of your previous character. At the start of each “race”, you have a choice of three new characters to play; they are the “heirs” of your kingdom.

Each character comes with their own classes and special abilities.
Enlarge / Each character comes with their own classes and special abilities.

Rogue Legacy 2 is a roguelike (or “roguelite”, if you prefer, we’ll get to that in a bit), meaning it deals in procedurally generated dungeons, random items, and permadeath. Permadeath is perhaps the defining feature of the genre; when you die during a run, that’s it – your character is done and you have to start over. And you will die. In general, roguelikes are known for their overwhelming difficulty, obscure mechanics, and propensity to mock handling niceties like “instructions” (Rogue Legacy 2 is much friendlier when it comes to tutorials).

The reason roguelikes are so compelling to theory- and numbers-obsessed role-playing game fans is that they distill the long, slow arc of character progression of a traditional RPG into a snack the size of a mouthful. In The Binding of Isaac– a modern example of the genre and one of the best games of all time – you start each game as a wimp who is barely fit to take on the game’s weakest enemies. Forty-five minutes later, you are a true god, filling the screen with colorful waves of destruction. Roguelikes provide that familiar dopamine drop of constant character progression, just sped up and condensed. But when a race is over and you want to start over, you’re back to square one.

The Legacy of Thieves was different. The game pioneered a now popular offshoot of roguelikes – often referred to today as “roguelites” – which emphasized “meta-progression”. In these games, you don’t necessarily become more powerful during a race; you rather progress Between short.