Is 3D The Right Choice for Risk of Rain 2?

2014’s Risk of Rain was an indie darling. But comments on Reddit had a mixed reaction after learning that it’s sequel is venturing into the third dimension. While I don’t think a change from 2D to 3D is necessarily disastrous, it has proven to be a tricky transition judging by prior attempts.

With the change to the third dimension comes a swathe of differences, strengths, and limitations. If the fundamental identity of a game is it’s game play, then we should essentially expect an entirely new game with Risk of Rain 2. Consider the immense change in the actual combat: in a platformer/shooter such as Risk of Rain, the shooting mechanic can be boiled down to merely lining up with the enemy on the same plane; thus, platforming is ultimately the essence of the challenge.

With a third-person shooter, which is what Risk of Rain 2 is shaping up to be, the combat dynamic completely changes. Aiming and shooting becomes the primary challenge and controlling the game becomes more complicated. Your field of view is also greatly reduced. The amount of action that you can see and react to is also reduced as a result. Think of the difference between Minecraft and Terraria. In Terraria, you can see a lot more from your perspective than your actual character would be able to otherwise. You’re able to see the entirety of the underground section beneath you, as well as what’s behind you and above you. Much of Risk of Rain boils down to the strategic herding of enemies via platforming. Being able to see a large area around your character goes hand in hand with this style of play. And this is exactly the kind of game play dynamic we probably won’t be seeing with Risk of Rain 2, due to the transition.

The developers themselves are aware of these challenges. As Duncan Drummond said in the interview, “We can’t translate anything directly from 2D to 3D in terms of actual gameplay because it’s so different.” They go on to specific examples, touching upon how the added sense of range that comes with a third-person shooter completely changes how certain weapons and abilities function, which greatly affects their balance. In the original game, you were only able to shoot as far as the edge of the screen at most. They also mention the reworking of certain enemies that become too easy to kite with the added third dimension, such as the golem, which was a melee-only enemy.

And yet despite these admissions, the devs still claim: “We were nervous about announcing the 3D project. We wanted to show players this is still Risk of Rain.” Being nervous is understandable considering the stylistic departure. But trying to grasp onto the identity of the first game, a game that has been usurped by a new style of play, is a mistake. This is very clearly NOT Risk of Rain, but rather something entirely different.

And frankly, that’s fantastic. Because Risk of Rain 2 looks outstanding.

What I am most excited for is the potential for level design, which requires a totally different methodology in three dimensions. Instead of merely designing ‘levels’, they are designing worlds, which have to make sense when engaged in a third-person perspective.

Ironically, the switch to shooter-focused third person game play also happens to amplify the platforming – maneuvering within a 3D space requires more control and coordination, which is another opportunity for improvement. Think of the change from Super Mario World to Super Mario 64. While the former is a legendary platformer, the latter is simply more nuanced due to the added dimension. The inclusion of the joystick on all major consoles coinciding with the popularization of three-dimensional games is no accident – it is required for the demands set by the added freedom of movement.

The pair of developers did not commit to a 2018 launch date for Risk of Rain 2 in the interview, and yet based on what little we’ve seen I’m highly anticipating it. But to reiterate, part of me wonders if the drastic change in genre should have justified going in a different direction with an all-new IP, rather than clinging onto the remnants of a game that it no longer resembles.

This brings up some concluding questions – what makes a proper, or successful sequel? Is it simply reiteration and improvement, or significant innovation? Risk of Rain 2 clearly leans toward innovation. But perhaps they’re not mutually exclusive, and this is a false dichotomy. But perhaps that’s an article for another day.

Once again I find my most anticipated games in the near future are indie games – Risk of Rain 2, Wargroove, Frozen Synapse 2, Into the Breach, and Spelunky 2. With such great games on the horizon, how can you not root for the underdog?

–Lou

Pick up Risk of Rain now for 75% off on the Steam Winter Sale – $2.74 CAD or your regional equivalent.

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