When you look back at the history of new games and their sequels, oftentimes it’s not until the second attempt at a bold new idea that things really hit their stride. Following in the footsteps of breakthrough sequels like Borderlands 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2 before it, Remnant 2 iterates on the original to phenomenal effect. Combat is even smoother and more satisfying, loot and buildcrafting have been greatly improved to allow for countless possibilities and reasons to grind, boss fights have been completely overhauled to ditch spongy bosses aided by endless waves of minions, and each of the realms feel diverse and brimming with things to do and secrets to uncover. But procedurally generated, impressively replayable levels remain its killer feature, and here they have been improved in so many ways that it’s alarmingly easy to lose half a day by jumping back into the same area just to see other possibilities. We don’t have to wait for the next one: when it comes to games, the second time’s the charm.
Back in 2019 a lot of us, myself included, lovingly referred to the original Remnant: From The Ashes as “Dark Souls with guns,” and the sequel seems to nod in violent agreement with that characterization. You and up to two allies will navigate gloriously hazardous areas packed with devilish enemies who make short work of anyone without the skill or patience to overcome its intentionally challenging levels.
All the familiar soulslike ideas are present and accounted for, from limited-use healing items to enemies who respawn whenever you rest at a checkpoint, but like the first game, Remnant 2 doesn’t content itself with throwing a science-fiction skin onto a tried-and-true formula. Instead, it expertly blends the best parts of fellow co-op looter shooters like Borderlands and Outriders, including an extraordinarily deep loot grind and buildcrafting, and adds plenty of interesting twists that are all its own, like procedurally generated levels and a strong set of diverse worlds for you and your teammates to jump between. The result is a unique hodgepodge of great ideas that go together like peanut butter and chocolate, but with a whole lot more shooting monsters in the face and getting murdered by blobs of sentient meat. What’s not to love?
Just like its predecessor, the surreal story has you playing as a nameless survivor in a post-apocalyptic Earth where a race of evil trees called The Root are attempting to take over the multiverse. Super weird, right? That setup is mostly used to justify you teleporting to different realities to do really awesome looter-shooter stuff and save the day, but it only ever becomes slightly more interesting than that one-sentence premise. You get to chat with new and returning characters at your base, Ward 13, (most of whom have a lot to say while giving you as little actual information as possible), learn more about The Root and what’s going on with the multiversal war, and eventually come to a dramatic conclusion that’s immediately reversed so that you can continue playing without dealing with the consequences of the finale.
It’s not that the writing is bad – in fact, some of it is quite good and there’s definitely some interesting concepts at play here that the community will doubtless be crafting theories about in the weeks and months ahead – it’s just that very little of that has any impact on your blank slate of a character, and it’s all so high-concept it often doesn’t gel with an adventure that’s so squarely focused on shooting alien lobsters in the thorax.
The good news is that the different worlds you travel to on your journey contain bite-sized stories of their own, which are expertly told and far more compelling than your main quest. You might find yourself in a high-fantasy world of elves trying to solve a murder mystery, or aboard a starship helping a huge Gundam Wing-looking robot recover his lost cargo. Not only are those stories better, but you also spend the vast majority of your time in those worlds resolving them rather than concerning yourself with the main story. It’s just a shame that anytime I was back on Earth or dealing with the primary conflict my eyes glossed over while I listened to rambling from characters I felt I barely knew at all.
No matter which stretch of the adventure you’re working your way through, though, every second of its challenging gunplay is a total blast. Every new area is a dramatic dance of shooting, dodging, making clever use of abilities, and doing your best to not get surrounded by whatever relentless enemy is trying their best to maim and dismember you. What starts as a relatively simple toolbox containing a primary and secondary weapon, something to swing in melee combat, and a single archetype skill quickly spirals into a treasure trove of weapons, armor, highly customizable character classes, and mods that hasn’t come close to feeling stale after my first few dozen hours.
A major part of what makes combat continuously feel so fresh is that you keep hopping between different worlds in the multiverse, each with their own distinct feel and new enemies to battle. One of them, N’Erud, is a sci-fiction reality filled with violent robots, electronic gizmos, and laser guns, while Losomn is a fantasy realm with cockney elves who wear bowler hats and try to cut your throat in between what I can only assume are their busy chimney-sweeping schedules. The worlds are so starkly distinct that sometimes I could hardly believe I was still in the same game I’d been playing just minutes prior. It’s quite jarring – in a good way that makes each transition between them memorable – to go from battling stone golems in a multiversal labyrinth to hunting beasties in a lush, primordial forest, and the novelty of that hasn’t gotten old one bit. It certainly helps that every area is jam-packed with optional quests to tackle, secret areas to explore, and an extremely surprising number of legitimately challenging puzzles to noodle on.
Remnant 2 Slideshow
Really, the only thing that nags at me about combat is that, despite there being a handful of very different worlds to explore, most of them only have a handful of unique enemy types to fight, so you end up fighting a lot of the same brand of baddies all in a row. It’s not that enemy diversity is weak overall, because taken as a whole there are probably more types in Remnant 2 than in most games, but since they’re divided among so many worlds and you typically spend about five or six hours at a stretch going through each one, I did get a tad bit tired of seeing the same group of flying gargoyles and armored knights in the world of Losomn for so long. However, moving on to the next area quickly washes away any would-be monotony.
Each world also includes, as you’d expect, a bunch of boss battles, and this is one of those areas where you can tell that the developers listened to community feedback about the first Remnant’s boss fights lacking any real personality. Often they’d pit you against a forgettable enemy and then throw massive amounts of henchmen at you to artificially inflate the encounter’s difficulty. I’m extremely happy to report that Remnant 2 has not only corrected this weakness, but now counts its boss fights as one of its main strengths.
While there are certainly some uninspired fights, like a random lady who throws Molotov cocktails at you and a blob monster who’s just a beefier version of an existing enemy you see a lot already, the vast majority are not only delightfully difficult tests of your skill and your character’s build, but also have plenty of interesting mechanics. There’s one fight where looking at the boss for a few seconds makes your character go mad and die so you have to quickly turn your back while you compose yourself, and another where a ghost traps you in a haunted house and pops out of the walls to scratch your face off. My personal favorite is an unforgettable encounter where you become trapped in a maze and have to physically fight the labyrinth itself as you navigate it and avoid getting crushed by giant cubes. In fact, that encounter might be my new favorite boss fight in any game, period – it’s that good.
In order to stay ahead of the increasingly powerful enemies and boss fights that Remnant 2 has in store, you’ll need to spend a lot of time gleefully optimizing your build. The most significant and exciting decision you’ll make – and then constantly iterate upon – is your archetype (aka your class). At the start you’ll pick from four core archetypes including a support-focused Medic, a badass close-quarters tank called the Challenger, a long-range sniper and scout called the Hunter, and the Handler, which gives you an extremely useful dog companion. The Hunter, for example, has an ability that highlights all enemies on the battlefield and a passive perk that makes critical hits extend the duration of any skills they’ve got equipped, while the Challenger can do an area-of-effect war stomp at enemies in front of them and automatically gets back up after taking fatal damage. Leveling up your archetype unlocks new possibilities too, from perks that affect you and any teammates in your group, to bonuses that trigger for a limited time after you use your relic – your consumable healing item that’s the equivalent to Elden Ring’s Flask of Crimson Tears.
Remnant 2 sagely allows you to switch archetypes at will, so you’re free to experiment and level up every role on a single character instead of restarting from scratch. But the real fun comes once you unlock the ability to simultaneously equip a second archetype in the middle of the campaign; this opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Equipping The Handler and The Hunter at the same time, for example, has some great synergy where you can direct your furry ally to distract and obstruct the enemy while you pick them off with a sniper from a distance.
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Better still, there are an unknown amount of other archetypes you can unlock by completing specific quests hidden throughout the fractured worlds you’ll journey through. In one area, I made an offering to a secret vendor that granted me the fantastic Summoner archetype, turning me into a monster summoning witch. In another, I tracked down an elusive enemy that gave me the consumable-focused Alchemist archetype, which allowed me to use powerful thrown concoctions to control the battlefield. It took me a dozen hours of hunting just to find the handful of archetypes I discovered and there are undoubtedly plenty I still haven’t found, and searching for these awesome game-changers has me practically foaming at the mouth.
Beyond archetypes, there’s an absolute ton of weapons, rings, amulets, and armor to round out your build, and half a dozen ways you can further modify and upgrade your equipment to your exact liking. It’s a veritable buildcrafter’s Shangri-La, and with most of the equipment being hidden throughout the world (including many that are locked behind obscure secret puzzles and quests) and others that drop from powerful enemies, there’s always a reason to get back out there and explore. All of this combines into some of the most spellbinding combat I’ve seen in a looter-shooter in a long time, and I spent way too many hours just experimenting with different permutations of my loadout and hunting for new tools to add to my collection. In fact, I somehow have more than 80 rings so far – and I get the sense I’m not even close to finding them all!
There is one major disappointment in Remnant 2’s buildcrafting, however, and that’s in the quite underwhelming armor. While there are plenty of sets to find or purchase from vendors, there aren’t any ways to improve or customize armor in the same way you can with weapons, mods, and practically every other facet. It’s an especially surprising omission considering Remnant: From The Ashes has an armor upgrading system that allows you to invest in your favorite sets and improve your resistances and armor. I miss that.
While it only took me 20 hours to “complete” Remnant 2, that’s only the beginning of the time I’ll actually spend playing it. One of this series’ characteristics – virtually unique within its genre – is its procedurally generated levels, storylines, and sidequests that make each run feel different. It’s both impressively unpredictable and so well organized that you could play through all of Remnant 2 without knowing that anything wasn’t hand-built… right up until you talk to your friend about your respective playthroughs and almost immediately realize that you aren’t playing the same campaign. You’ll almost certainly end up in different worlds in a different order, fight different bosses, and find completely different quests. That’s possible because every world contains two possible storylines and various other permutations along the way. This isn’t just a matter of rooms being haphazardly stitched together to add minimal diversity in lieu of unique content – the differences between each run can be so dramatic they hardly even feel like they’re part of the same world.
In one playthrough of a realm called Yaesha, I spent almost the entire time indoors traipsing through dark corridors full of crazed cultists, while on another I found myself in dense woods with a blood-red moon looming overhead, and in another still I was lost amid a maze of hovering platforms, surrounded by floating aliens who bombarded me with plasma projectiles. In one run of the fantasy world Losomn, I spent my entire run among the slums and sewers of that world’s lower class, fighting off vandals and ne’er-do-wells; in another I spent most of my time in the gilded palaces of the noble elites, fighting winged angels and armored paladins. They’re almost entirely different.
You don’t have to start a new campaign to experience them, though. After you’ve beaten the final boss on your first playthrough of any given world you can immediately and infinitely reroll that area any time you want, generating new possibilities and a fresh set of quests to complete along with it. At a minimum, you’d need to run through each world two times just to see all the major stuff. And even if you manage to get some of the same sidequests multiple times, as I sometimes did, you can make a different decision at the end to see what would have happened (and which rewards you would gain) had you let things go the other way. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more effective and creative use of procedural generation before, and the near-perfect execution in that regard makes Remnant 2 ridiculously replayable.
Speaking of different worlds, since this is a cooperative multiplayer game you can hop into one of your friends’ worlds to help them out, gain XP, and share in their rewards, and see how different their worlds are from yours. Playing in co-op is an expectedly good time, though it does come with worse performance than in solo play (playing on PC I saw more frequent framerate hitches and occasional disconnects) and some questionable enemy scaling that can make combat less welcoming to groups. It’s a bit of a bummer, for example, that I was breezing through one area in solo play, then got utterly hammered when I invited two of my lower-level friends to join me. Whatever level adjusting happens behind the scenes at least ensures lower-level players won’t immediately get torn apart when joining a higher-level player, but it definitely makes it much harder for the whole group to succeed by bumping up enemy health and damage output by a whole heck of a lot. You’d think with drop-in/drop-out co-op, a game would want to welcome newcomers to join their friends and with the current damage scaling it makes them more likely to just get frustrated and leave. (Also, it’s worth noting that Remnant 2 does not currently support cross-play between PC, PlayStation, and Xbox versions.)