Risk of Rain is kind of an action Roguelike: no saving, death means starting from scratch, and it’s all about combat. You’ve got four skills in an RPG-like hotbar, with RPG-like cooldowns, but it feels more like a shooter. You pump out damage rapidly and accurately, and you’re physically dodging enemy attacks to survive.
I really didn’t like it, and almost entirely because of a weird little message on the New Game screen.
It warns you that your ‘progress is not saved’ on Easy mode. The main form of progress in the game is unlocking new characters to play as – there are 8 or so, and the starting one is very straightforward, so it’s a waste of time to play in a mode where you can’t unlock any new ones. So I tried Medium, and ended up not unlocking anything anyway because it’s so brutal. The game felt monotonous.
In actual fact your progress is saved on Easy, only a few achievements can’t be earned, and the game is dramatically better this way for beginners. You can progress, unlock new characters, learn which enemy attacks are particularly vicious, which items are awesome, and what the best way to handle the time-based difficulty ramp is.
From there it’s easy to graduate to Medium, fun to try out all the new characters you’re unlocking, and suddenly it gets really good.
Combat is extremely satisfying. It’s an efficiency game, all about getting huge mobs into the right formations to be hit by your area-of-effect attacks, stacking that with special items and the right combination of skills, and watching them all explode in a spectacular shower of money and experience.
Each playthrough sees you evolving a different character build as you find a huge number of randomly placed passive-boost items. Sometimes you’ll get loads of health regen kit, other times you might find 6 drones to boost your firepower, or one of the crazy super items like the one that makes dead enemies come back as ghosts on your side. These mesh interestingly with your choice of character, and which ‘smart bomb’ type item you choose to keep.
Once you’re good enough that they’re not unfeasible, the achievements needed to unlock other characters are a pretty good motivator to keep playing. All characters play very differently, and while there are a few duff ones (the Sniper in particular seems useless in a game where mobs are the primary threat), there are so many that I already have several favourites.