In general, developers don’t want people to “break” their games. They put a lot of effort into making sure the experience is just that, and they take exception to players poking their noses into every corner, or abusing the systems to find ways to bend the game to their will. Risk of Rain 2 (and of course Risk of Rain 1, which has also made it onto the Switch) is an exception to this rule. Hopoo Games wants you to go crazy, leaving nothing but a smoldering ruin where their opus once stood.
“Breaking” a game can mean many things. Personally, I’m talking about difficulty, not intentionally causing game-breaking errors, or snapping the disk in half after Ornstein and Smough smash you into a puddle for the umpteenth time. I’m interested in reaching the point where you get so ridiculously overpowered that the game stops being a challenge and you become a ball of chaos. You wield such massive weapons that can wipe out entire hordes of enemies at the push of a button, like a Dynasty Warriors character who’s had one too many Red Bulls.
It’s undoubtedly fun to have as an invincible jugger, but it’s usually a fleeting feeling. As anyone who played the original Doom with god mode can attest, omnipotence usually gets boring fast. As much fun as it is to mow your way through the legions of demons, unchallenged, there is very little to keep you interested in the long term. That being the case, why allow Hopoo games, let alone encourage the possibility of being totally overpowered in Risk of Rain 2? How can that be a good design?
All of this ties into a few difficulties with how Risk of Rain games work. Both the original and the sequel are action-rogue-lites with a unique gimmick, as time goes on the enemies get stronger. You must fight your way through a series of stages and defeat a final boss, balancing the collection of items and XP against the ever-increasing threat of the monsters and aliens hunting you. Spend too long turning over every rock on stage two looking for better loot and by the end of stage five you’ll be completely overwhelmed.
On normal difficulty and higher settings it is quite difficult to stay ahead of the curve. You have to make constant split-second decisions and know what elements to be on the lookout for. They all have very different effects and understanding what to take is the key to success. Busy Mushrooms, for example, which heal you if you stand still, are almost useless on high-mobility survivors like the Huntress and Mercenary (check out our full character list here), but can be devastatingly powerful in the hands of the Engineer, whose stationary turrets also get buff.
Unlike turning on god mode in Doom, breaking Risk of Rain 2 requires skill, forethought, and the ability to think on your feet. You don’t just get omnipotence handed to you on a plate, you have to earn it, which makes a huge difference. Choose the right equipment, stay one step ahead of the enemy until you get a foothold, and thereafter Figuring out how to turn the tables on them is an incredibly satisfying experience.
I remember one of the first times I ever got close to a “god run” (which basically became unstoppable) was by playing as a mercenary and stacking Soldiers’ Syringes, which massively increased my attack speed. I then added a few Wax Quails and Hopoo Feathers, which allow you to boost forward by jumping while sprinting and increase the number of jumps. This meant I could dodge incoming attacks and move into position with ease. From there it was a simple matter of getting a few stacks of Will o’ the Wisps, which cause enemies to explode on death.
I was far too fast for anything to catch me, and my increased attack speed allowed me to cut even the toughest enemies to shreds almost instantly, which then set off a chain reaction of explosions that could clear an entire screen. Later in the race I found some defensive microbots (that shoot down incoming projectiles) and then I was really untouchable.
If I had somehow hacked the game to achieve this, or even if I had just done a large amount of grinding and blown all the stats out of proportion, I don’t think I would have had nearly as much fun. Sure, the game had stopped being a challenge, but that was my reward for playing so well early on. I hadn’t been arbitrarily handed the deity, so I was still having fun. The fact that Risk of Rain is a rogue-lite helps too. If and when you get bored, you can roll a new character, try a new build, or use an artifact (see how to unlock them all here) to add an interesting game modifier that just creates elite or massively increases your damage, but reduces your health to 10% of maximum.
The fun is in chasing that tipping point, where you sizzle in front of the difficulty and become unstoppable. It’s a brilliant way to reward highly skilled players, so much so that many ignore the final boss completely and loop the game until they break it completely. It’s also a fascinating piece of design, showing what can be done if you take a fresh approach to established concepts.
Next: Gearbox Acquires IP Rights to Risk Of Rain Franchise