Risk of Rain 2: Beauty in Isolation

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| February 6, 2023

The UES ‘Safe Travels’ drifts through the vacuum of space toward the uncharted planet Petrichor V. The ship is a large, unwieldy hunk of steel, alloy, and circuitry. No guns, no weapons. Only freight and cargo and the personal effects of those onboard. This is a colony ship, not outfitted for a mission like this. But the ‘Safe Travels’ has found itself on a rescue mission, the only capable responders to a frantic distress beacon.

The signal mentioned men and women fighting for their lives, monsters relentlessly railing against them across the planet. The crew is scared. They don’t believe in their equipment, and they don’t believe in themselves, but the captain’s steely resolve urges them onward. They board their drop pods, coordinates attuned to the surface of Petrichor V. With a final prayer to their gods, they pull the release, plummeting down toward the planet below.

A space freighter flies toward a giant green planet. It is on the verge of entering the atmosphere. The subtitle reads, “We’re here, Captain. The distress beacon came from this exact coordinate.”
The UES ‘Safe Travels’ approaches Petrichor V – the crew unaware of what awaits them.

This is the start of Hopoo Games’ third-person roguelike, Risk of Rain 2, a game about brave men and women standing alone against forces they can’t even begin to understand. The aforementioned story is all the player learns before they’re set loose in the world, absent of purpose, searching for meaning just as the characters themselves are. The lore is shrouded in mystery, and, much like a FromSoftware game, players are rewarded for their own inquisitive queries into the going ons of Petrichor V.

Risk of Rain 2 finds players fighting for survival against the flora and fauna, who seem to forge a unity in their mission to kill foreign interlopers across the planet. Each map that a player might find themselves fighting through in a Risk of Rain 2 run is mysterious, beautiful, and pockmarked with secrets that lay in wait for only the most inquisitive adventurers. The landscape is reminiscent of a pastel painting, characteristic of the game’s unique graphical style. My favorite map, the Scorched Acres, is streaked through with lush greens and hues of royal purple, outcroppings of nature rising from desolated ruins.

I suspect many new players will find themselves stricken with awe as they maneuver these environments. Remnants of past civilization run roughshod across the planet’s surface. Rallypoint Delta, for example, is an entire military base camp abandoned and overrun by beasts. The iced-over buildings represent a moment frozen in time, both figuratively and literally. What are the implications of these ruins? Are these buildings, statues, and temples all left to be reclaimed by the planet? 

I’m sure there is some common consensus amongst fans that pulls all of the lore together into one cohesive story; I’m willing to bet that none of the questions I’ve posed actually go unanswered. But I’m much more enthralled by the snippets I naturally stumble upon. The mystery of the game is part of the draw, at least for me.

The engineer player character bobs and weaves in combat against a golem defender of the alien planet. In the snowy distance, there are alien ruins constructed around trees that grow tall into the sky.
The ruins in Risk of Rain 2 often blend with the planet itself, a merger of the synthetic and the natural.

Whenever I pick up Risk of Rain 2, I’m constantly left in awe of the delicate atmosphere it manages to cultivate. This is a game with core mechanics revolving around blasting away aliens with unorthodox item synergies and explosive abilities. It’s a roguelike experience with bite-sized, arcade-y runs. It’s the lovechild of The Binding of Isaac and the entire genre of third-person shooters.

Even still, the game is chock full of moments of contemplation. The characters are stranded, fighting for their lives on a hostile planet – but this alien world has an ethereal beauty to it, as well. Before the difficulty of a run ramps up, I sometimes find myself for a brief moment staring into the horizon of the map and simply beholding the fragile existence of this simulated world.

The engineer player character stands under an archway, staring into the horizon at a pillar of alien construction. The sky is a hazy orange out in the distance.
Ruins like this one leave questions in my mind. “What purpose did a structure like this serve?”

Those horizons are bittersweet, even melancholic, no doubt in large part because of the role the player assumes. You’re the wolf that needs to chew off its own leg to survive: the sole survivor. Assuming you’re not playing a co-op session, it’s very easy to internalize the loneliness of Risk of Rain 2. Between the fights for your life, there is only isolation, and these quiet moments end up feeling tremendously weighty.

The game’s soundtrack adds to this air of gravitas. I’m not an expert on music by any means of the word, but the compositions of Chris Christodoulou never fail to shore up a well of emotions from deep inside of me. The shrill trilling of the synths and keyboards on most tracks feels alien, and paired with the decrepit world around the character, they make me feel a little empty inside.

The railgunner player character stands on the moon of Petrichor V, looking out at the planet and the ruins in the distance. A spaceship is locked under a forcefield to the right of the player.
The final stage has you fighting across Petrichor V’s moon, starting back at the planet you were on mere minutes ago.

One of my favorite pieces in the soundtrack is “…con lentitud poderosa,” which plays on the final stage of the game. It’s solemn and contemplative as the player forges a path through the ruins of the last couple areas before the boss fight, and then swells triumphantly, serving as a celebration of the player for overcoming the trials and tribulations of Petrichor V. 

It’s beautiful. It’s one of the few video game soundtracks I regularly listen to outside of the game itself. I highly recommend listening to Chris Christodoulou’s commentary on the game’s soundtrack to understand his artistic process; it’s really interesting, and it provides unique insight into this work of art.

The moon of Petrichor V orbits the planet, shattered and floating through space. The spaceship containing the survivors of the events of the game flies off toward new frontiers.
The survivors of Risk of Rain 2 escape the clutches of Petrichor V, but they will never be the same.

All of Risk of Rain 2’s requisite components come together to create a singularly unified thematic identity. It’s one of the loneliest feeling games I’ve ever played, and I find beauty in the isolation of Petrichor V.

Have you played Risk of Rain 2 yet? What do you enjoy the most about the game? Sound off, and let me know in the comments down below!

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