I have high hopes for Rogue Legacy 2. When developer Cellar Door Games announced its deserved, but unexpected sequel back in April, I didn’t realize how excited I’d be to play it. The 2013 original, with its then-unique progression, was my gateway to the roguelite and is still one of the best blends of an RPG and a run-based roguelite structure.
That’s high praise, and it begs the question: How do you top that? In the seven years since Rogue Legacy launched, the roguelite genre has expanded. Countless games have riffed on the blend of run-based Roguelike mechanics and RPG-style progression it helped popularize. What could Cellar Door Games possibly do to make its sequel feel as fresh and revelatory as the original? After spending more than six hours with the current Early Access version of Rogue Legacy 2, the answer isn’t clear. The game doesn’t try to meet those expectations.
Rogue Legacy 2 is building out, not up. The sequel expands on the ideas that made Rogue Legacy stand out years ago, like adding more ways to earn incremental progress between runs and creating flashier, visual-forward family traits. However, the overall experience hews very closely to the Rogue Legacy fans know. In each Rogue Legacy run, you control a new generation of a long-time adventurer’s bloodline, who all explore the same mysterious, dangerous castle and usually die in the process. Between each adventurer’s journey, you have the ability to spend the gold their predecessor amassed to upgrade the family castle, improving the prospects (and stats) of future generations.
Despite a visual overhaul, Rogue Legacy 2 feels more like a riff on the original so far. The opening area is a castle, just like the opening area of the first Rogue Legacy. Some of the room designs, despite being randomly generated, fall into the same categories–long halls of spikes, large open rooms full projectile-spewing opponents, and so on. Many of the original’s enemies, including floating wizards and menacing eyeballs, are back, too.
And the rogues feel similar, as well. There’s a larger emphasis on using the downward-slicing bounce attack as a tool for getting around and solving puzzles, but the line of knights you control in Rogue Legacy all feel the same. They’re light as air, jumping high with a weightless sword/bow/axe strike. Though there are nuanced changes to the classes added to the game so far, jumping into these new warriors’ shoes feels like coming home.
That isn’t to say that the game is identical, but even the changes feel like they expound on the idea behind Rogue Legacy, rather than creating a new identity. For example, in addition to planting a boss for you to beat in each area, every incarnation of the world features entrances to two mini-dungeons where you can earn heirlooms–permanent upgrades that impart skills like an air dash and the abilities to interact with spirits. You need at least one, but, realistically, both heirlooms to open the door to the first boss, so they become permanent checkpoints on the way to completing each zone (and the game). These sub-goals fall right in line with Rogue Legacy’s distinct flow–by earning gold, or accomplishing some small but permanent achievement, you take a step forward. This way, fewer runs feel like “wasted” effort.
That accommodation is Rogue Legacy’s signature: the idea emanated from all of its design choices in the original, which kept me coming back. While I’m happy to feel it in the sequel, I’ve been wrestling with the nagging feeling that I wanted more. While I’m having fun playing Rogue Legacy II because it’s the same, it is not the same kind of fun. It’s familiar and comfy but seems incapable of inspiring the same surprise and delight I felt in 2013.
Part of me thinks it’s a matter of expectations. Video game series have a tendency to come into their own in sequels; Zelda, Resident Evil, and Assassin’s Creed all come to mind as franchises that had a good idea the first time around, but for many, didn’t become the series they love until their later entries. That history has conditioned me to look for progress in each successive sequel: Is each new game innovating, making smart changes to enhance that “north star” idea that makes the series special?
Rogue Legacy II forgoes that convention, playing it safe. Its changes are small, made to preserve the ideas of the original, rather than improve it. That leads to the very distinct feeling that Rogue Legacy II will be “more of the same.” That’s generally not what I look for in a game, sequel or otherwise. I value innovation and hold these kinds of sequels in lower regard than those that create new, exciting experiences.
Despite all that, there aren’t many games that do what Rogue Legacy does, and personally, I like having more of it. In the last decade, both players and developers have strongly embraced the notion that more of a good thing can’t be bad–it’s why we get a new Call of Duty every year, and why one the most highly anticipated PS5 launch games is Demon’s Souls, a remake of a 2009 PS3 game.
Does a sequel have to break its mold and surpass the game(s) that came before it to win our adoration?
But the feeling you derive from a game experience you love is different from the one that surprises and delights you in an original way. The “safe” sequel is rooted in a nostalgia-adjacent comfort. Even when the levels are new, you have an idea of how you’re going to enjoy yourself. But I find that kind of experience delivers diminishing returns. Too often, games that are too precious about keeping what players loved before–ranging from major mechanics to small details–only lead to stale, samey sequels. Eventually, you have to move on.
Hence the question, which I don’t have an answer to, and I don’t expect to know until the game is finished: Does a sequel have to break its mold and surpass the game(s) that came before it to win our adoration? I want to say no–that’s the unpretentious answer, and the one that lets me celebrate what I’ve enjoyed so far. But I can’t shake the feeling that, at the very least, playing another Rogue Legacy game that trades on my love for the original will leave my love for it faded. The original left me wanting more. Who knows how I’ll feel by the end of the sequel?
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