With Respect to My Time — Rogue Legacy 2 and Downshifting the Grind
I bought Rogue Legacy 2 over the weekend. I remembered playing the OG Rogue Legacy a lot back in the day…even if I couldn’t tell you exactly what period of time it was. I remember enjoying it, enjoying the grind, pushing just a bit further into the creeping castle over days, weeks, potentially months of on-and-off gaming. And playing Rogue Legacy 2 with that in mind felt good! It felt familiar, and fun, and quirky! But it also felt slogging. It felt frustrating. It felt grinding, and in the worst way.
In the Old Times, I had less going on. My work was less frequent, or I’d established everything I needed and could let things run on autopilot, or I was a terrible student who would rather apply himself to games than studies. But now, in the beginning of a new job, I just wanted to relax, enjoy myself, collect some loot, beat up some cartoony baddies, and feel like I was making progress. Rogue Legacy 2 helped me get there, in time.
Rogue Legacy 2 is a Roguelite game, defined by its use of Roguelike elements (permanent death, procedurally-generated maps/encounters) married with a sense of play-to-play progression: upgrades, enhancements, and the like. It is, by name and definition, a Lite version of more traditionally-punishing Roguelikes. Roguelites are fantastic for long-term gaming, grinding, and improving; any player, with enough gumption and patience, can build up enough power in-game to topple the challenges and enemies within. There is a true and quantifiable sense of progress to them.
But for some, that progress can feel like a trickle. It can feel, or it can flat-out be, miniscule. Grinding away at one section, just to get strong enough to progress to the next, or beat the boss at the end, or whatever the barrier is. And the longer the game, the longer the ramp of difficulty climbs. Each of the seven sections in Rogue Legacy 2 denoted an increased “Risk,” demonstrated by the strength and power of the enemies within. For each section, that meant incrementally more difficult encounters, requiring incrementally stronger upgrades, and incrementally more time chipping away at both.
Games have been in a constant state of evolution and adaptation. The oldest home video games were incredibly short by today’s standards, but also brutally difficult. You couldn’t save because, for the most part, you didn’t need to save. Play your cards right, you could beat a game in a couple hours, if it didn’t beat you first. The difficulty spike started high, and ended higher. To beat those games called for mastery, for revisitation, for an exhaustive understanding of the game. The more time went on, the more games evolved, the larger they became, they more they could ease up on the difficulty. The time spent playing as normal could easily outlast the time spent building up a mastery over a couple hours’ worth of gameplay. The difficulty became more a progressive ramp instead of a hard uptick.
That brings us to now. But with that manageable difficulty, that surmountable challenge, there came more and more games to play. Accessibility of the new morphed with the challenge of the old, while seemingly still on an upward trajectory for Content and Play Time. When it comes to games, be they massive or narrow in scope, I just want to feel like I’m making progress. There’s only so many times I can play the same area, procedurally-generated or not, because it starts to wear me down in service to The Grind™.
Say what you will of the quality of the creations, but we exist in a period of narrative and experiential plenty. Be it books and written stories, or TV series and movies, a hundred different streaming services…or games exploding out from independent developers and established studios the world over. No one can feasibly experience all of it in their lifespan (yet), but with so many games to play, or interactive experiences to have, I want to actually experience some of them. I don’t want to be hung up on a grind-based difficulty for longer than I have to be. Sometimes, you just want to be a little more reckless, or a little tougher in the face of adversity, or actually just have a chance to amass enough in-game gold to afford a single upgrade point.
That’s where Rogue Legacy 2 excels. Allowing players to adjust certain facets of the game difficulty, adjusting it to their taste, their ideal experience, helps it shine far brighter than its predecessor. It’s less a dial that you gradually turn to “More Difficult” or “Less Difficult” so much as it is a series of sliders called “House Rules”: enemies have this much less (or more) health; enemies do or don’t damage you on contact (sans attacking); enemies do this much (or more) damage to players; and other options. And no matter how much players adjust these settings, Rogue Legacy 2 doesn’t penalize players. Other games may lock out certain achievements, or otherwise hammer in that you’re playing the game wrong, or it wasn’t designed like this. Rogue Legacy 2 just wants you to have fun by your definition.
By my definition, I wanted to play something familiar, but not feel hung up on it. Feel like I was making progress without pouring hours into the experience. I wanted to see the areas, encounter the new bosses, see what was new and different from the original Rogue Legacy. And the House Rules let me do all of that without feeling burnt out from a game. I appreciated that option. And I’ve been on all sides of the Difficulty/Challenge argument: learning and adapting to the set patterns in Dark Souls, grinding through the old Gears of War trilogy on the Insane difficulty, cursing the “you can skip this level” pig and ?-block in Donkey Kong and Super Mario, and dropping the difficulty to the demeaning “Can I Play, Daddy?” in Wolfenstein II’s last level. I’ve gone into each game, and each of those experiences, looking for something different, and they’ve all been able to deliver by their design and their accessibility in challenge.
None of those ways to play are better or worse than the other. Sometimes, it’s a lot of fun to adapt to the gameplay, a unique challenge to overcome. Sometimes, it’s more fun for the gameplay to adapt to us. Sometimes, we enjoy ourselves the most when we get to feel like we’re making progress, and it feels even better when the ability to do so is baked into the game itself. Rogue Legacy 2 outshines its predecessor in every way I could think, the most of all in its appeal to everyone: hardcore sadists can ramp up the difficulty. Progression-driven players can knock it down a few pegs. Everyone in-between can find their own sweet spot. Everyone can spend however much time they want to on the game. Everyone can have fun by their definition, with whatever time they want to devote to it. It’s a joy to see more and more games pick up on that philosophy.