“Early Access” Review: Rogue Legacy 2 and the Conversation About Early Access
By: Stephen Machuga
When the original Rogue Legacy came out in 2013, it was a legendary piece of software. Developed by Cellar Door Games, it took the term “roguelite” and turned it up to eleven. In case you’re not familiar with the term roguelite, it is a term describing a game where, upon death, you retain some of your abilities and resources for your next playthrough. For Rogue Legacy, each death brought the next person in your family tree, each family member with their bizarre quirks and talents, along with their abilities (and more importantly wealth and gear), to the next attempt at taking on the randomly generated castle and clearing it of its demons. It was praiseworthy, and easily on many “game of the year” lists for 2013.
But we’re in the year 2020 now. A lot has changed, not just in gaming, but in roguelite style games. It has been seven years since the barbarian and mage have walked across the gates of their procedurally generated castle. Many games like Dead Cells, Crypt of the Necrodancer, and even Void Bastards have continued to iterate on the style of game that Rogue Legacy built on.
The team at Cellar Door Games had a tough act to follow. No band wants to put out a second album that can’t match a meteoric first album release on the charts, and there’s a fairly good chance that people were still buying the original Rogue Legacy into 2020. So going directly back to the well in 2020 and simply giving the original Rogue Legacy a fresh coat of paint with new cartoony/cell-shaded graphics, but nearly having nearly the identical game, is a little tough to swallow. They had seven years to do things differently; to completely just make “another one” at this point…
It’s a safe bet. It’ll sell like hotcakes. Hell, I’ll play through it...when it’s done.
And there’s the other issue. Seven years to crank out a nearly identical game...and it is in early access right now? I was excited as hell to get my hands on an early code for the game, thinking for sure, I would spend the week prior to release grinding it out and getting to see an end screen. Sure, it would be a little light in content, but I figured it would have at least been ready for prime time. No. I mean, there’s a game there, but there are some pretty glaring things omitted.
The original Rogue Legacy was broken into the four wings of the castle, which more or less came out to a “north-south-east-west” mentality. During your wandering around the castle wings, you would eventually just come into a new area, where everything was twice as hard as the wing before it. You would happily grind the prior area, die repeatedly, and being reborn to do it all over again until you were strong enough to tackle the next area. However, Rogue Legacy 2 tells you flat out that “Hey, the second area of the castle isn’t ready yet. So we’re bringing the THIRD area of the castle up so you can play around in there until the second area is ready.”
Now. Would anyone in the world outside of the Cellar Door Games people know that the second area is simply not the third area if they hadn’t have said anything? No. The “jungle” biome would have just been the second area. But they actually made an issue of telling the player, “Look, our second level is just not ready, but we’re going to zip you ahead to the third area and scale up the creatures to that difficulty.”
This is exactly what happened with Dead Cells. I played the bajesus out of the game in 2017 when it first came out, only to be told, “Oh, the game isn’t anywhere near being done.” And they were right. The Dead Cells game that exists now in 2020 is almost a sequel worth of new content to the Dead Cells that I played in 2017. Which is infuriating. I am someone who plays a LOT of games. I don’t generally go back for downloadable content, no matter how good, because my personal pile of shame is through the roof. The same with SuperGiant Games’ Hades, another roguelite that has been in Early Access hell for years. Played it, enjoyed it, but in the back of my head, I kept thinking, “I’m probably not getting the full experience here.”
The other problem with Rogue Legacy 2 is that the gameplay that was a treat in 2013 and enjoyable has been eclipsed by several other games in the similar style. Dark Souls style games like Salt & Sanctuary and Blasphemous (and yes, Dead Cells) allow you to respond to movement with frame perfect accuracy. Want to get out of a dodge roll or block in midair while you’re dashing? No problem, the game allows you to do that the second your fingers hit the inputs. Rogue Legacy 2? No. Movement is clunky and slow, with attacks being deliberate and impossible to cancel. You swing that sword or fire that fireball, you’re stuck. The number of times I tried to attack then jump in the middle of it, only to finish the attack and fall off a ledge...I lost count.
And here’s a surprise. Frame rate issues. I understand the screen has a lot going on, with Rogue Legacy 2 being one-part bullet-hell shooter at points, but the frame rate issues were enough for me to take notice. There’s a surprising amount of lag happening during loading when you’re moving between rooms, but more concerning, when you’re doing battle with baddies. It’s bad enough Rogue Legacy 2’s combat and action is sluggish and outdated, but drop a few frames as your game scrolls from left to right or when projectiles are incoming on top of it?
It sounds like I’m beating up on Rogue Legacy 2, and yes, I am. When I got my hands on the remake of Resident Evil 2, I wasn’t expecting much, but it took me back 20+ years to when it first released, and my brain made the bizarre leap of “This is absolutely what the game looked and felt like 20 years ago!” I wanted to have that same feeling with Rogue Legacy 2; I wanted to be transported back to 2013 and having the time of my life. But too much has changed out there for me to be excited about where Rogue Legacy 2 is at now. I’m sure it will eventually get there (yay, Early Access), but right now? You might want to hold off on a buy.