Rain World: Downpour

Mar. 24, 2023

{== Some kind of riff on David Lynch/George Lucas headache video and Downpour lore? Explanation vs. criticism set up as a theme? Seems sort of bitter, want the review to be overall positive. ==}

{== just do the rain joke again, it will continue to confuse people. ==}

Rain World Downpour is a massive expansion to the base game released in January of this year. If you like the original, Downpour is probably more of what you liked about it; there are tons of new areas and five new characters along with a couple new modes that are surprisingly fleshed out. All of that stuff costs money, but there's also a free update that adds Steam Workshop support and a whole bunch of accessibility and difficulty options.

Akupara games gave me a code for Downpour, but I didn't sign anything and I'm confident that this video would be the same with or without a free copy. I took it to get early access to the game and a head start on this video. If you have any concerns about it, please let me know.

Anyway, as somebody who thinks Rain World was pretty much perfect, I played on the "classic" difficulty preset. Some of the things I criticize in this video can be modified or turned off, but for review purposes I wanted to use a default. A new player won't even know what most of the settings do, so they are likely to stick to a preset.

Downpour started off as an amalgamation of a bunch of community mods, so my biggest concern was that it wouldn't integrate very well into the base game's story and world. Thankfully the vast, vast majority of Downpour fits perfectly with Rain World's tone, although it's not without its share of flaws. More often than not, it reinforces or develops Rain World's existing themes through its five new characters. At it's best, this is done with the same grace as the original.

This video is going to be very critical, but only because the game is so good; Rain World deserves serious attention and that means honestly trying to understand its strengths and weaknesses. On the whole Downpour is an incredible success and it builds on Rain World's rock-solid foundation. I will be focusing on what's been added to the game, because I don't want to just make the same Rain World review again.

If you haven't played the expansion yet, now is the time to check it out; it took me two or three tries to really get into Rain World but if the game looks cool to you you're better off experiencing it than spoiling yourself.

Gourmand and Artificer

You unlock the first set of new characters by beating the Survivor's story. I'll be talking about the new slugcats in the order that they unlock, and jumping around as needed. We'll start with the Gourmand, {== maybe French TTS for the first one? ==} whose snacking journey has brought him all the way to the Shaded Citadel. That's pretty close to Five Pebbles, so I'll be waddling over there as I discuss the good and bad of Gourmand's character.

Gourmand is heavier than the Survivor, so his movement carries a lot of momentum and he tires quickly if you're doing anything fancy. This comes into play most often with spears; Gourmand puts a lot of weight behind his spear throws, so they do a lot of damage but throwing a spear also sends him careening forward and tires him out for a few seconds. In practice, this means that you have to commit to every encounter, you can't just throw a bunch of spears and somersault away like you could with the survivor or hunter.

While playing as the survivor is very fluid, Gourmand is stop and go: you carefully plan a path through a room while regaining stamina then explode into action. It's a fresh twist on the game, and I had a lot of fun mastering it. Rain World's movement system is very dynamic and open-ended, and it allows you to develop your own playstyle and tricks. You can cover a lot of horizontal distance with spear throws, and I often used them for crossing gaps since Gourmand is otherwise not very maneuverable.

Gourmand also has the ability to craft things, which is a strange direction to go but it works pretty well. Holding items in either hand allows you to craft them into something new; the recipes aren't random but they're not intuitive either so you have to play around with the system to make anything useful. Gourmand's description says that he "carries the world in his stomach" and the ability to craft fits the concept that he's a master of worldly things who doesn't care for any of that metaphysical stuff.

The crafting ability is introduced with a tutorial message. Addressing the player directly damages immersion, and while I was hoping to see less stuff like this in Rain World I can understand why it's there. The inputs you have to perform to craft items are less intuitive than the base game's character movement, so I can imagine the developers would be uneasy just leaving it for players to discover. Thankfully we're left to discover and remember the recipes on our own.

Crafting does slow you down even more though, and I found that playing as Gourmand was a lot more stop than go; the difficulty is turned up high so I died often and his frequent need to take breaks makes traversal, and especially backtracking, a chore. To be fair, I somehow failed to understand how the Gourmand's quest worked and it led to a lot of unnecessary running around.

It's worth noting that, when playing Gourmand, players are already familiar with the game and the more spiritual aspects of its world. That leaves a sort of thematic vacuum, because Rain World was, for me at least, driven forward by the realization that I was on some sort of spiritual quest and then by my desire to complete that quest.

The Gourmand fills that thematic vacuum with food, and I think he's Downpour's weakest character. Gourmand's quest is explicitly video gamey; he is assigned some creature to eat through a glowing icon next to the food meter, and your job is to eat it. I think the point was to offer players a kind of re-introduction to the game, a low stakes exploration-focused mission with a new character, that lets you see the sights without getting too attached to them.

While the Gourmand does serve that purpose I think it could be handled better. In the base game nothing ever gets between you and the world; goals were communicated by characters and dreams and the game's sparse UI was only there for information that couldn't be displayed any other way, like your level of hunger. The Gourmand's quest indicator isn't a big offender, but Rain World was a refuge from obnoxious game interfaces and it was a huge show of confidence to simply leave players alone.

Setting the Gourmand's goals through dream cutscenes rather than a UI element would keep the interface simple and would have prevented me from getting confused about what Gourmand was supposed to do. Gourmand has to eat 22 specific things but they can be eaten out of order, and the icons that would sometimes pop-up, sometimes not, confused me enough to ignore the system for most of my playthrough. That's on me, of course, and I don't blame the game for it, but setting a simple clear goal in a dream would offer a perfect amount of guidance. The Artificer, another character, already has interactive dream sequences so it seems very doable in Rain World's existing engine.

These dreams could even act as little sandbox tutorials on how to kill some of the harder enemies, although that might be a bit corny.

The existing system uses icons, several of which are very similar to each other, and I had to consult the game's wiki a few times to figure out what I was supposed to be eating. We can assume the Gourmand knows what he wants for lunch, and if I can't figure it out then I'm subtly divorced from the character, a problem that the base game's UI never caused.

Resting at a shelter continues the theme of more interface, as we now get a killfeed and a checklist for pickups at the end of each day. To be fair, the hunter did get a killfeed in the base game, but I think it fits the hunter much more than the other characters. The hunter is a hunter, the sort of creature that would ruminate on their kills, and beating his story requires so much routing and game knowledge that it was effectively a challenge mode anyway, totally different from the Survivor's meandering journey.

I always imagined Rain World's interface as an extension of the slugcat's mind, and giving Gourmand a list of what he ate every day would be a subtle, fun way to reinforce his character. Although really I would prefer if the killfeed were not there at all. The pickup checklist is even more remote from anything a slugcat would care about, it refers to various unlockable arenas and sandbox items. The pickups were very unintrusive in the base game and it confuses me that a game ostensibly about breaking the cycle of death and rebirth would cater to completionists, who will endlessly replay the game in search of cheevos.

This is all one aspect of a problem that just kept rearing its head as I played. The original game has a pretty stunning commitment to keeping you in your character's perspective. In terms of controls you get access to everything you could reasonably expect a slugcat to do, while the game's interface is contextualized as your character's memory and inner sense of karma, hunger, and time. Our experience is centered on our character, who is in turn situated in this massive, dangerous world. Once the game clicks it creates a deeper level of immersion than any other game I've played. We genuinely become the slugcat engaged in this horrible violent struggle to survive.

Unnecessary interface elements are a part of the problem, but the illness runs a lot deeper than that. In my previous Rain World video I argued that the game really did not need tutorials, the fun part of Rain World is overcoming your own struggle with the controls and developing a sort of intuition for its movement and combat. Again, forcing players to do this builds immersion, because figuring out how to survive is literally what you would have to do if you were in the Survivor's situation.

Gourmand's systems are grafted onto the existing, intuitive movement system in a way that demands these explicit tutorials. You press grab to grab and jump to jump, but you press up and grab to craft something. I know that holding grab would normally swallow or regurgitate an item, and the use of the up key implies a heightening or refinement of whatever you're holding, but the bottom line is that the crafting mechanic is not something you would try to do in normal play.

It requires a tutorial because nobody would ever think to do it. Some games can get away with that, but I hope you can see that in Rain World, it erodes the connection between player and character. It implies that Gourmand has access to some information that I don't, which means that I am not my character, but instead a person playing a game. Continuing that theme, Gourmand's ending is a surprise to the player but not to him, a massive step down from the base game where, to everyone's surprise, a lonely rodent is enlightened and then unraveled by god.

I know that's kind of a baroque piece of criticism, but it's these little details that elevated Rain World above just being a fun game. Its premise was simple: you got separated from your family, see if you have what it takes to survive. A lot of the new content, while being exceptionally good, cracks Rain World's simple perfection just a bit. It remains to be seen if the game will break apart entirely.

{== montage ==}

Artificer's Start, World, Gameplay

This mysterious door gives me a perfect opportunity to talk about the Artificer, who is a huge step up over the Gourmand. We take control of Artificer right as she finishes killing a hideout full of scavengers. She can propel herself explosively, which is just as fun as it looks, will eat just about anything, has a unique unarmed mauling attack, and can mysteriously see the karma level of scavengers she kills. Again, Artificer's ability is introduced with a tutorial message because it's not super intuitive; press jump and grab while in the air to explode.

She can also convert junk into grenades, and spears into explosive spears at the cost of food. As with the Gourmand, this ability makes no sense and no other creature in the world can do anything like it, but I found on-demand grenades a lot more useful than Gourmand's crafting.

A little bit of exploration tells us we're in the Garbage Wastes which, as you might imagine, is the worst place for somebody who is hated by scavengers. With increased maneuverability comes increased challenge, and the Artificer is plagued by roving bands of scavengers who seem to have eyes everywhere. Her story is without a doubt the most difficult one, and it might lead you all over the world depending on how you play it.

The first few cycles are particularly grueling; Artificer is permanently stuck at the lowest karma level, which means she can't really go anywhere. I spent quite a while coming to grips with the new controls, killing and feeding on scavengers, and trying to figure out where to go. While learning the controls, you might mull over the fact that garbage wastes looks different now. The landscape is punctuated with blue plants and water, rather than the familiar old green. You might also have an inkling of what that means gameplay-wise, but there's a scavenger outpost blocking us from exploring further. That just leaves the karma gate going into Shaded Citadel.

{== You can go through Garbage Wastes but there's no compelling reason to at the moment. ==}

For a while I felt sort of beaten down by the onslaught of scavengers; I explored everywhere but was no closer to leaving the area. My first theory was that I could absorb karma from scavengers, but that proved fruitless. The real answer is kind of a master stroke for setting a tone: you have to drag scavenger corpses to the gates and use their karma to get through. The concept itself is very grim, but it's also tightly knit with the gameplay: carrying corpses changes Artificer's physics a little bit and leaves you defenseless, while this twist on the karma system calls into question whether or not we can even beat the game. The system is also introduced in a way that really gels with Rain World: it's something you figure out, a strategy that arises organically from a need, the same way an animal might adapt its behaviour to its environment.

Thematically, it gives the impression that the Artificer is doomed, and we'll also see that reflected in the state of the world. Because nothing was ever going to get better in Rain World; it can only decay more and more until what the Ancients built is completely gone. Even the great Iterators are little more than bickering teenagers hooked up to super computers, genuinely tragic characters forced to consciously endure their own deaths as the world slowly falls into the void. We can't even fathom how long they've lived, and the way the world changes does a lot to convey that.

A lesser game would take an idea like this, of a doomed world slowly falling apart, and make each character's story more dangerous than the last, but Downpour offers a lot more nuance.

To that end, when Artificer arrives at shoreline it's pretty much unrecognizable. The water that made this place a shoreline is mostly gone, leaving us to walk along the exposed bed of the area and giving us access to a series of brutal towers reminiscent of chimney canopy. The apocalyptic flavour of the area, especially as you climb further up into the dark sky, made me think that Artificer's story was set at the end of the world. It would make a nice complement to Gourmand, whose story predates the Survivor's and has a happy ending.

The final nail in the coffin was discovering that Moon was completely inaccessible.

But... the structure of this Waterfront Facility is in better shape than shoreline, it even connects up to Five Pebbles through a zone that resembles the underside of Pebbles' structure. Part of Moon's facilities have collapsed, but Artificer's story takes place even before the Hunter's. Garbage Wastes has a bluer palette because the rot there is still fresh, the Daddy Long Legs are patrolling the area at full strength and pools of burning acid are plentiful, not yet leeched into the ground.

Artificer offers us the first of many variations on the world itself. Sometimes these changes are small, sometimes they're a complete overhaul, but changes to the world design are Downpour's most effective form of storytelling.

Each change interrupts your existing mental map and changes how you interact with the world; it suggests that something is different and then we get to experience that difference through platforming. Each collapse brings repercussions for the game's real main characters, the Iterators, and we're free to consider what it all means because this happens without interrupting gameplay. Each change makes the journey to the iterators a climactic one. The experience of meeting them for the first time can't be replicated, but getting to Five Pebbles was still a memorable moment in each of my playthroughs.

Downpour's world changes and additions do bring in a few problems, though. I found myself using the map a lot more than I did with the Survivor, and the map now shows nearby enemies and hidden pipes. As far as I know the base game only had hidden pipes leading to scavenger hideouts, but they're more common now. Usually, one end of the pipe is hidden while the other is not, the idea being that you'll discover the shortcut after going through a section and can use the unmarked side next time you're there.

But you can just check the map and see that there's a connection. This incentivizes players to stop in every room and scrutinize the map, which slows the game down and defeats the point of pipes being unmarked in the first place. If they are supposed to be secret, connections should only be highlighted after you go through them.

Downpour's more maneuverable characters also make it very easy to find the boundaries of the world. Sometimes they push you backward, and sometimes you can just walk offscreen, but I just kept finding places I couldn't go, and they can make the world feel smaller than it really is.

{== Up to Metropolis ==}

We've finally got access to that mysterious gate, and it offers passage into a brand new region, the city atop Five Pebbles' structure. It feels like a fleshed out version of this stretch between the Wall and Five Pebbles, but it's also been designed specifically for Artificer. Up to this point the Artificer was a difficult character to play, but not in the same way that Survivor and Gourmand were; traversal as the Artificer is very easy, you can just blast yourself over pretty much any hazard you come across. The difficulty comes in with the game's combat: you're going to be ambushed by scavengers once or twice every cycle.

Metropolis is a breath of fresh air in that regard; scavengers are still plentiful but the area also has platforming challenges purpose-built for Artificer. That alone makes the aggressively vertical Metropolis a great inclusion, even Artificer's ability to pull spears from walls comes in handy when climbing here.

{++ edit below like a regular game review, cut around to demo what I'm talking about ++}

None of the new areas were quite as surprising as Metropolis: needless to say it's beautifully rendered, but it's also massive and well-integrated with the surrounding area. Lower parts, closer to Five Pebbles take on the low gravity and aesthetic of his facility while higher parts feel uniquely lived in. They're exactly what I imagined looking at those distant cities atop the wall. Some parts have also collapsed, either from the fallout of Moon's collapse or Pebbles' own decay.

{++ Montage 30s to echo ++}

Depending on what you decide to do, Metropolis will either be the middle of your playthrough or the end. The scavengers' leader isn't far from here, they're located in a huge dome, sitting on a makeshift throne.

I decided to go the peaceful way, because I was curious about how the Artificer's ascension would be handled. I assumed that the echoes were off limits, but the new one in Metropolis suggests that we can also reach the others, although doing so is another layer of challenge. {== I actually found one before this but y'know ==} You need to be at max karma and have a karma flower to activate the first few echoes, which adds an interesting but punishing new dynamic to the mix.

In the early game, with your karma stuck at 1, there's nothing to lose. Now the game's usual karma system is superimposed on Artificer's much more punishing world. She can still use scavengers to pass gates, but getting echoes means reaching max karma. Scavengers never get less dangerous, and I was pretty frequently put in situations where I had to farm karma.

{== VO session 1 ends here ==}

Artificer's Story

{++ Cut out these 5 paragraphs and edit background vid to an appropriate length, show echoes for at least a second each, dialogue not necessary. Figure out the length BEFORE YOU START EDITING!! ++}

As you slowly make progress, Artificer begins having dreams about her past. This happens even before you meet an echo, and the main thing they establish is that scavengers killed the Artificer's two pups. After that they just feature her killing scavengers. The premise is interesting, inherently tragic, and fits the game's brutal ecosystem, but it could be conveyed a little better.

Artificer's story falls back on a structure that works better in movies, it's that classic "I bet you're wondering how I got in this situation" thing. We start in medias res, with Artificer killing a bunch of scavengers, and her motivations are only revealed later on. This falls flat because it means that Artificer and I have different motivations at first even though I'm supposed to be playing as her. The survivor deals with this by having a very simple premise, but I think Artificer could be handled just as elegantly.

Be warned, I'm going to make suggestions here and I'm not a game developer so take this with a grain of salt. I'm trying to think about it in terms of what's already in the game, for whatever that's worth. I would prefer if the dreams became the opening cycles of the game; maybe a safe cycle where Artificer has to feed her pups then one where an overwhelming number of scavengers show up and kill or kidnap them.

The cute factor makes it easy to get some kind of emotional attachment to the pups, and slugcat pups are in the game now, so I think it would be a very efficient way to set up the Artificer's story and bring my interests into alignment with hers. Ambush is already Artificer's central gameplay challenge, and the start I'm suggesting would make me feel like my kids got torn away from me, which is clearly what fuels the Artificer's quest for revenge.

The existing dream sequences also take place outside of the main game, which lowers the stakes and consequently the attention that players pay to them. Time spent in shelters is explicitly a break between cycles. The dreams don't damage immersion, but I also don't think they convey the weight of what happened to Artificer. If we got something like the opening I described, the dreams could also be used to great emotional effect but as is I was underwhelmed. It is still easy to root for the Artificer once you know the story, though, both because of the tragedy and because she's cool.

Gourmand's Story

A similar presentation problem effects the Gourmand too, and his relationship to the karma system exemplifies it well. It's reasonable to think that Gourmand's karma should initially be capped at level four, which represents gluttony or the desire for sustenance. {== visual here ==} Rain World takes great pains to be internally consistent, so a character who is defined by how much they eat ought to be stuck at level four. There's actually a good reason that he can reach level five, but the player only gets access to it at the end of the game.

Overall, I found Gourmand's campaign frustrating, but that was mostly a result of misunderstandings with the UI and missing a single climbable pipe that leads to the end of the game. These probably doubled my playtime, and I enjoyed subsequent playthroughs much more. Speaking of that pipe I missed, Five Pebbles opened a gate leading to the Sunken Pier, which is directly west of Subterranean and blends its rail yard environment with an underground jungle.

This is part of the larger Outer Expanse region, which has a totally unique atmosphere. It is still full of industrial structures, but it's dominated by this ornate, almost Gothic temple-looking place, and it's easy to tell that nature has reclaimed it much more than the other areas. Plants, soil, and a constant light rain give the place a greenhouse feel and justify its more chaotic level design and backgrounds.

It's a fresh interpretation of the game's premise: an ecosystem emerging in and adapting to an abandoned place. As you travel further west, the area becomes almost entirely natural.

{== ending ==}

Gourmand is, in reality, scouting forward for his pack. The food quest is him building up a catalog of edible creatures and threats, and bringing food back for his pack. It's a good idea for a story, and helps to announce that Downpour will be focused on creatures trying to survive rather than ascend, but the Gourmand's quest isn't realized through gameplay like the Survivor's. There's no turn from survival to a higher purpose in either the character or the player, and Gourmand is still just following abstract, user interface instructions.

The truth is hinted at in the drawings of Gourmand that are shown periodically between cycles, and they suggest that the Gourmand's story is an object of slugcat folklore. It would make sense that his more outlandish abilities would be an invention of the story, but the Gourmand is also obviously a real character who can craft grenades, both because we play as him and because he returns to his pack at the end of the game.

Although it's not perfect, this ending did largely redeem his character for me. The Gourmand works really well as a folklore character: the fiction of his story exaggerates his survival skills, which is exactly what you would expect a sentient but physically weak species like the slugcats to fixate on. He's a mythical figure because he's good at eating and making useful objects.

Artificer's Story and Gameplay Integration

While there may be missteps in presentation, Artificer's karma system is a big improvement on Gourmand's. Her motherhood feeds into the way her karma system works. The karma of any scavenger you grab is added to yours, which implies that the Artificer is attuned to the spirits of others. The connection between her and her children is severed, but she is able to weaponize that in the quest for revenge. Her heart must be set on this, because, as Pebbles says, she's trapped and can't raise her karma by normal means. It's not clear if this is true, but it forces us to wonder if Artificer can ever find peace. It also works out nicely that karma level 1 represents violence in the Ancients' religion.

That's why I'm conflicted about how frustrating her gameplay can be. It becomes obvious at some point that revenge is the easier path, and the almost comical level of difficulty feels like the world itself is trying to drag the Artificer down into violence. It really organically sets up a moral choice between the short-term satisfaction of killing the scavengers' leader and the uncertain promise of ascension and escape. This isn't a choice that's narrated to you, although characters do hint at it; instead it's a moral choice that arises in the player's head purely because of the gameplay.

The only reason I dislike it is because Artificer's gameplay is pretty one-note. Without unique platforming challenges, each area is only really distinguished by its colour scheme. The game instead has to rely on combat, which becomes painful when you spend a significant chunk of every cycle doing it. The only two strategies that really work are keeping the high ground or camping in pipes. Everything else is sort of a tossup; scavengers move erratically and have a sniper's precision so whenever I couldn't camp safely I would either run away or just pray that they would get out of my way before the rain came.

It's not always fun moment-to-moment, but it does link nicely with the Artificer's character, and it is still an engaging, new way to play the game, so I think the level of difficulty is ultimately for the best. I would still have appreciated some platforming challenges that use her mechanics though.

The final punch in the gut is realizing that there aren't enough echoes to reach max karma, Artificer ends up one level short if you get them all. I had an inkling of how I could still ascend but after spending many, many cycles getting killed in the penultimate area, I decided that Artificer really was doomed. Filtration System doesn't play to her strengths at all so it ends up being one of the hardest stretches of the game, and I decided that I had had enough.

I don't think Rain World's AI is up to the task of single combat between two sentient creatures; the cracks definitely start to show when you fight the Scavenger King but for most of my attempts it was a very difficult fight, with the King jumping all over the place and easily killing me. Here's what happened when I eventually got it.

I kind of wish this was her only ending. I know that sounds horrible, and Rain World doesn't have to be Blood Meridian or anything...

...but the gameplay has been feeding into this ending for the entire playthrough. Artificer makes you feel completely doomed, both moment-to-moment and when thinking about the karma system. Allowing us to reach the second-to-last karma level and then denying entry to the Depths would be a crushing moment, depicting Artificer as truly trapped by revenge.

But that's not to say that the other ending is bad; getting and keeping your karma level high is important, and it incentivizes the player to actively avoid conflict with scavengers, which is the whole point of taking the peaceful way out. Even as you reach higher karma levels, a scavenger's karma gets added to yours so keeping your level as high as possible makes the ending more attainable. If you're at level nine, every scavenger you kill will give you enough to beat the game. If you're at level seven, you still have to get lucky.

If you didn't guess, you can get into the Depths if your karma plus a scavenger's karma add up to ten. It's not clear exactly what happens when Artificer enters the void, except that she is reunited with her children for a time. After completing her story she is shown as a spirit, the same as the Survivor, but the void worm didn't unravel her and she is unplayable afterward. Maybe she's just floating around with her kids down there, or became an echo.

So this first set of characters is a mixed bag. In some respects, they play to Rain World's strengths; they change the way your character moves through the world in meaningful ways, offering interesting variations on the original game. Changes to the world are also a very smart way of progressing the story of the iterators, and they deepen our sense of Rain World as a real place with a history.

But the immediate plot for both characters was mishandled, and is not integrated well with the gameplay. Although it weakens the impact of both stories, both are conceptually good and expand what Rain World can communicate. Gourmand and Artificer both want something material, and sentimental, and they don't look for it in some abstract void but in the world. Even Artificer's journey to the void is a spiritual means to the material end of seeing her family. If you ascend as Gourmand it doesn't even count as finishing his story {== doesn't unlock Rivulet/Spearmaster ==}.

The only looming problem is that all of these stories take the same form: you are largely journeying through the same old screens and regions, so even if the character's goals are new you're still completing them the same way the Survivor did. It takes a radical change to the world or an extreme limitation like the Hunter's 20 cycle lifespan for the game to really break new ground. My most enduring memories for Gourmand and Artificer were those new regions, but the game is largely the same as it was in 2017, so a streak of unlucky cycles could leave you feeling like this is mostly filler.

{== VO Session 2 ended here ==}

Honestly though, it's ridiculous to ask for more with the quantity of content on offer in Downpour. If anything, I would want fewer, shorter, and more memorable campaigns.

{== I want shorter games with worse graphics ==}

Rivulet and Spearmaster

Rivulet is a Breath of Fresh Air, Character Overview

Thankfully, the next characters we have access to are Rivulet and Spearmaster, who both fit the bill. I have a soft spot for Artificer, but the Rivulet is probably the best character both because her story is tightly designed and her abilities are very believable. Everything you need to know is communicated by her start: she is quick, agile, and can swim for long periods of time. Days are very short. No tutorials are needed for us to understand this, and it might be a better introduction to the game than the Survivor's first cycle.

Rivulet can be played at the earliest as your third character, and that leaves Rain World in kind of a bind. Survivor introduces players to the world's history, characters, and metaphysics, while Gourmand and Artificer are huge and time-consuming mechanical challenges. Personally, I was pretty much exhausted after completing the first two characters so I'm glad to say that the game takes its foot off the gas a little at this point, and Rivulet's quest instead revolves around everybody's favourite iterators.

Anyone who has put a lot of time into the game knows the default path--go to Five Pebbles, say hi to Moon, then ascend--and Rivulet elaborates on that instead of subverting it like the previous two characters. In practice, that means you more or less know where to go instead of having to wander around. The main source of difficulty early on is the very short cycle times which have you sprinting between shelters and avoiding enemies whenever possible.

Rivulet also gives players a chance to see some areas they likely avoided, all of those difficult underwater sections are now trivial. Rivulet starts right in the middle of one, in the lower section of Drainage System. The only tweak I would really like is if she were weaker on land; she can jump so high out of backflips and runs so quickly that it almost feels game-breaking. Making Rivulet strong in the water but weak on land would incentivize us to take those underwater paths more often. As is, I do like the pace of the campaign and the speed is warranted.

Because of the heavy, frequent rain, the Rivulet is also very susceptible to shelter failures.

Randomly, a shelter can open before the rain stops. It's not raining hard enough to instantly kill you, but traversal is more difficult since the rain will pin you to the ground, and some areas will be flooded. You also can't hibernate at a shelter after it fails, you have to find a new one for the next cycle. Most of the slugcats can get shelter failures but they are common for Rivulet, and her aquatic nature often makes them more of an asset than a threat, since they extend the day a little bit.

Rivulet is also interesting because she can survive for a significant amount of time after it starts raining. Most screens can flood, so they offer a new kind of challenge at the end of each day. I often found myself desperately swimming toward shelter as the area filled with water, especially in the first few cycles. This renewed focus on movement was a breath of fresh air after Gourmand's slowness and Artificer's trench warfare.

New Regions and World Changes

I'll make the customary journey to Five Pebbles as I talk about some of the new regions. I've already said that Downpour's world design is very good; the Steam page boasts ten new regions but what escapes that bullet point is that the existing areas are also fleshed out and blended into the new ones. Sadly the game doesn't do much to make you explore the new stuff. There is only one new area that every character can access, called Pipeyard, and it's a massive region that connects to four others.

Pipeyard is both an area that offers plenty of difficult sections for any character and a useful piece of connective tissue. The trouble is that, for returning players, there's no reason to wander around Pipeyard. If you're playing survivor for the first time and discover it, it could come in handy, but I had no trouble playing through the game with my existing mental map. Since we're seeing the world at several different times I think there was a missed opportunity to block off the usual paths and force us into Pipeyard. There are also no echoes or new characters to find there, so a returning player has little incentive beyond curiosity.

With that said, once you're there it's a pretty cool area, and it does a good job merging and blending the style of its four connected regions. There are a number of large vertical pipes, and smaller capillaries full of centipedes. Navigating it does get a little confusing due to the size and irregularity of its geometry but I think it was a worthwhile inclusion.

On the topic of fleshing out existing regions, Chimney Canopy has a new sub-area called the Gutter. It's got plenty of sewage, long jumps, and a connection to Drainage System. All of the new additions and connections made it feel like the world just kept going no matter where I explored, and even if I rarely used the new areas for traversal they make the world feel much more filled in.

To this end, there is even a connection between the Outer Expanse and Outskirts, where the Survivor's story begins. The implication is that this pit is the one the survivor falls into at the beginning of the game.

{== The developer commentary points out a possible lore issue with the area but I don't really see it. There's a time gap between the Survivor's/Monk's fall and the start of the game, but that time could easily have been spent in the Outskirts "pre-region." I really don't see the problem, but a Steam review also pointed to this as an issue. ==}

Different characters also see variations on existing areas. There are more of these than I can even fit in a video, but I've been showing off all of the major ones, and I liked every one that I found. Even the amount of rot in Five Pebbles' complex changes very slightly between Survivor, Hunter, and Gourmand, which shows an incredible commitment to consistency.

That brings us back to Rivulet, who sees a very different version of Memory Crypts. There are no Scissor Birds this time around, but they've been replaced with blooms of rot. The Underhang is what made Memory Crypts and Shaded Citadel so dark in the first place, and much of it has collapsed, bringing orange lizards and rot down with it. It's significantly easier than its former state but hints at what we're about to find.

And indeed, Five Pebbles has been completely consumed by the rot. His complex has been transformed into a sprawling maze where the walls eat you. Gravity switches on and off intermittently, and traversing the area is a test of timing, platforming ability, and navigational skills. Before now this sort of gameplay was only available in the Unfortunate Development region, which is very short in comparison. The area has no rainstorms, so the game switches gears into being a straightforward but incredibly difficult platformer for a while.

It reminds me of the best of the Survivor's story, where traversal often felt like a puzzle to get from pipe to pipe. The most outrageous ability we had back then was the pounce, a slightly longer jump. The Rot pairs Rivulet's expanded movement abilities with rooms that are challenging enough to make you stop and think.

Seeing Five Pebbles like this was kind of emotional for me. I don't care to speculate on the lore, but the base game's scant dialogue is incredibly well-written and well-presented, and bits of it have stuck with me since I played it a few years ago. Finding Five Pebbles is also such a strange encounter: a sentient, helpful, person in a world full of murderous animals. Rain World exercised a restraint with its writing that made every piece of it razor sharp. To get even an inkling of why the world is the way it is you had to undertake this challenging quest of delivering pearls to Moon, and that struggle gave the reward a lot of weight.

The Rot is always reminding you of what it used to be, with enough visual clues to help you navigate and ruminate on how existentially screwed Five Pebbles is.

{== rarefaction cell ==}

This thing expands Rivulet's maneuverability even further with longer, higher jumps. As you might expect, it's paired with even more difficult platforming. It reduces Rivulet's friction as well; she's already kind of slippery and the gravity generator can make some pretty trivial platforming tasks way more difficult. These pipes in Memory Conflux were particularly frustrating, and frustrating in a way that felt unintentional. There's no punishment for missing them, you just slip all over the place and waste time. It works well for the more open platforming segments, and getting this strange item that transforms your controls does give a sense of escalation and progression as you approach Five Pebbles' can.

{== 5P ==}
{== Maybe just montage to Moon? ==}

Cycles become much longer after you leave Five Pebbles, implying he gave up trying to flush out the rot.

Things are pretty rough for the iterators. The game is rightfully confident that you'll want to help Moon, offering no real reward but expecting you to do it anyway. It's similar to the pearl quest in that it's something you do because you like these characters, not because it gives you a legendary crystal helm or something. You can go ascend if you really want to, but it's clear that the goal of all this is not to swim in the yellow sauce. Downpour's thematic success really hit me at this point; in the original game ascension is unambiguously good. It's generally presented that way, and I also think that living forever would be hell.

Downpour is not as keen on presenting the ancients' way as the right way; our characters are largely driven by love now. In the case of Gourmand and Artificer it was familial, for the Rivulet it's Moon. It suggests some kind of enduring happiness that can be found as long as these characters are together. I think I can speak for most people when I say that we conceptualize immortality as something individual. Hypothetically, everybody else dies, but I live forever. The base game plays into this; we see the echoes that stand alone, pining for better times. The iterators are also alone, forced to endure their own decay because they're caught somewhere between subjective life and the objective reality of a building.

{== VO Session 3 ended here==}

But, even for the Survivor, the drive is not toward physical annihilation. He seeks the end of his life but he clearly isn't suicidal, he wants to reunite with the other slugcats, and the void is his only avenue for achieving that. We can even say that Five Pebbles, the source of the rain, is falling apart and hurting the world because he isolated himself from the other iterators. We have good reason to question the ancients; they made sentient beings and trapped them in the same cycles they were trying to escape. They probably even made slugcats; a pearl suggests that nearly everything currently alive is a purposed organism. The ancients themselves were obsessed with material possessions. Their obsession with releasing themselves from desire is kind of telling, it's like being really into NoFap or something. They act in self-serving ways but cover it over with this edifice of a religious struggle.

The moral universe of Downpour, and retroactively of the base game, rewards those who are loyal to and open to one another. And there might be something to that. Conversation never stops producing new ideas, and an enduring community might be the real answer to the great problem. At least everybody could last much longer without going crazy. I can't live forever to check, but it rings true to me much more than the ancients' system. Rivulet and Spearmaster's stories prominently feature communication towers, and both are about Five Pebbles' self-imposed isolation versus Moon's attempts to reach the outside world. That's certainly not an accident.

Rivulet's quest takes her to another area, this one entirely new. It connects Shoreline to Moon's complex through this conspicuous new room. For the most part, it's collapsed and flooded, offering another twist on traversal. This section brings even Rivulet pretty close to drowning at times, although the rarefaction cell speeds you up in the water. The early sections are dark, but as you ascend the area takes on Shoreline's calm colour palette. It is similar to Five Pebbles' structure, of course, but is still unmistakably Looks to the Moon; peaceful, sunlit, and overgrown.

Finally, there's this nerve-wracking sequence. The heartbeat sound that plays here reminded me of the one that plays when you're near clumps of rot in Five Pebbles, and the heart imagery reinforces the game's point about isolation and community: Pebbles' heart rots because he's alone, Moon manages to stay alive through the aid of a stranger. It also reminds us of the iterators' duel status as both inert objects and living people.

With Moon's rarefaction cell replaced, we end up in Bitter Aerie, a small but unique little area on top of Moon's compound. It's snowing here, and while there are lots of paths to take the area only connects to one other: Moon's can.

While these new areas are cool, I can't help but feel they were underutilized. The way they are laid out does make sense, but they are difficult for other characters to access and they don't connect to anything, instead just looping back to Moon. There's no reason to go here normally, and that leaves it feeling like a story section. Bitter Aerie has great visuals but lacks any sort of gameplay gimmick, so it is easy to forget.

I really liked the gutter, and its only gimmick was a few long jumps and some puddles of sewage that change how swimming feels. So I'm not asking for a Memory Crypts-level gimmick. Moon's submerged complex was a great addition for the Rivulet, but Bitter Aerie still lacks an identity.

The base game does not have any regions that are just there for the plot. Even at its most cinematic, in Memory Crypts, story progress is also physical progress. In fact, in the base game story progress and physical progress are the same thing. The Survivor is always working toward something, rather than going out of his way to do things. Moon's original, tiny sub-region is an obvious exception, but it has no enemies and takes less than a cycle to get through.

{== Note: next thing to cover is how the story is over-written from this point forward. For Spearmaster, talk about co-op and other new Downpour stuff. ==}

99% of Rivulet's story acts as a perfect centerpiece for the expansion, but the ending is somewhat overwritten. First and foremost, it takes us out of the character's perspective, we're no longer grounded in the world. Rain World's dialogue works because it is such a powerful contrast to the wordless cruelty of its gameplay. The message here struck me as a very intentional tearjerker, not because it's poorly written but because it's abstracted from the game. For better or worse, any time gameplay stops the game is telling us that there are no stakes and we don't need to pay that much attention. This is true of basically any real-time game. An ending cutscene is a kind of video game equivalent to the post-credits scene. It has the same aesthetic as the movie, but it's also tacked on at the end.

That's why Survivor's ending sequence is so effective; even though the gameplay is trivial--you're just swimming down--the story is heightened because it happens within and contrasts with the survival gameplay loop. It's meaningful because we have the regular gameplay to compare it to, you're not suddenly taken out of the game to watch a movie. I think the idea of showing Moon coming back online is a good one, but it could be handled with a more tasteful ambiguity. Simply show the three communication towers coming back to life and Five Pebbles receiving the message. It says the same thing without any words.

A Steam review I read really brought this into relief for me; they identified Downpour's central problem as a lack of restraint, and that's really the best description of it. Although each piece of new content, taken by itself, is outrageously high quality, the game is always talking for slightly too long, slightly too loud. It's indicative of a game caught between what made it great and what the community fixated on. I'm not here to shit on the Rain World community, this is a game that deserves a following and neither my first video or this one would be nearly as good without the data mining, research, and speculation of the community. The game only came out in the first place because people supported it on Kickstarter.

With that said, a fandom is inevitably going to end up talking about which iterators are dating and what their pronouns are. It's going to produce melodramas between characters, and imagine these rich inner worlds for them. Someone is going to call a slugcat a "smol bean." Rain World was so perfectly light on details that there's a lot to fill in. For better and worse, that's what Downpour does. It gives us information that the slugcat we're playing as has no business knowing simply to feed our headcanon.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the contrast between the Hunter, from the base game, and the Spearmaster, from the expansion. Both are couriers sent by distant iterators. The Hunter appears in Farm Arrays and has no dialogue until reaching Five Pebbles, just a couple of items. Spearmaster--the earliest character in the timeline--is followed by a new overseer who directs us toward Five Pebbles. Spearmaster can also pick up radio broadcasts, which are chatlogs between Seven Red Suns, who sent us, and No Significant Harassment, who will later send the Hunter.

These dialogues technically happen in gameplay, but they effectively pause the game and control is taken away. They tell us what the stakes are, and they tell us how to feel as the story plays out. Again, the game would be better served by not having any of this stuff. Five Pebbles literally ripping something out of my character and throwing it at my feet told me exactly how I should feel about it with no dialogue whatsoever. I don't need somebody pinging me to offer their condolences and say Pebbles is being unreasonable.

The Hunter's cycles count down from 20, and that little detail is more than enough to establish the stakes. The neuron fly in his hand tells us where he needs to go. The spear on his back is sick as hell. Additionally, the Hunter's internal rot {== don't facetime hunter long legs at 3AM ==} effectively hints at how the other iterators are doing without words.

Spearmaster is the same old Downpour story, a very fun character marred by a lack of restraint. It can only eat by stabbing things with the spears that grow from its tail.


Having access to spears all the time changes the game's flow quite a bit, you can play much more aggressively, although the armoured lizards remain a pretty big hazard. Spearmaster ends up being a lot more dynamic than a character like Artificer. It gets nutrients through a delicate vein that connects it to its spear. If you miss a throw, the thread breaks, and that leaves you with a decision to make. You can reuse a spear to simply kill the enemy, or, if you want to eat, you can stay defenseless for a second and spawn a new one. This creates a nice balance between risk and reward, between eating and being eaten. The constant shift between offense and defense keeps you moving, and since regular enemies are more manageable than the Artificer death squads you can actually use your skills to kill enemies.

The ability to spawn spears at will is nearly game-breaking at times, especially if you can find a way to safely attack vultures. That by itself doesn't bother me, though, because Spearmaster is an engineered creature. But the answer for balancing all of the character abilities in Downpour is increased spawns and enemy variety, sometimes to an extent that strains the concept of Rain World as an ecosystem. It's hard to point to one area, since they can vary so much between cycles, but there's a noticeable increase in the number and variety of enemies everywhere. It often feels like there's not enough prey for all the predators, much more of a gauntlet than the carefully balanced base game.

This is exacerbated by the new creatures in Downpour, which are almost all hostile. The most common one you'll see is the caramel {== pronounce it karmull ==} lizard; it's heavy and awkward but can leap through the air and spit at you. There are also aquatic centipedes, scissor vultures, leeches that steal your food, and several others that I've shown off already. The most interesting one by far is the Stowaway, a completely new enemy similar to a Half-Life Barnacle. They're very easy to accidentally avoid though, I only saw two in my entire playthrough.

{== please don't comment that I missed creatures, we both have access to the wiki and we've both played the game so I don't need to be an encyclopedia. ==}

These additions aren't necessarily bad but the need to make Downpour difficult comes into conflict with making a believable ecosystem, and depending on your luck areas can suddenly become overcrowded, to the point of being almost unplayable. Restricting certain creatures to different points on the timeline would add a lot to that feeling of Rain World having a history, and could introduce some novel challenges without damaging immersion or making the game unnecessarily frustrating. The final character does exactly that and it's Downpour's biggest success in my opinion.

There are also a host of new plants, which are well designed in and of themselves but not well-balanced. For the most part they're good, adding some extra variety to the world. Glow weeds are a highlight in Rivulet's story, where you might actually use them as both a food and light source. The only plants that bothers me are the Gooieducks: they fill two pips and they are so abundant in Subterranean that the area is pretty trivial as the Survivor. I think they were meant to offset the more difficult creature spawns, but in practice Gooieducks just make it easier to farm karma after something suddenly kills you, more of a swing from impossible to trivial than a balance.

Anyway, Spearmaster's unique region is pre-collapse Moon, which mimics Five Pebbles but is still pretty distinct. While the Exterior is very linear, Moon's equivalent offers some branching paths, a new colour palette, and an abundance of spiders. There are a whopping 23 lizard spawns in the Leg-slash-Underhang equivalent which make it feel uniquely overrun. However, since the area is mostly populated with orange lizards and spiders I think it still succeeds at feeling like an ecosystem because it's not just a whole bunch of different creatures thrown together.

I also neglected to mention one of my favourite new features: each species of lizard makes a different sound now, and it gives them a lot more character. In areas where they're all mixed together, this works to the game's detriment. In regions where one or two species predominate, they give the area a stronger identity.

In Moon's complex proper, the heart imagery is dropped for a structure and naming scheme that's pretty similar to Five Pebbles', and there are no enemies. Moon's equivalent to the Wall is sort of a coda to the whole climb, not difficult but very visually appealing, combining Shoreline's green tones with the dreamy, above-the-clouds visuals you get as you climb the wall.

I enjoyed the Spearmaster's campaign but gameplay-wise it's another variation on things I've already talked about, so I'll take this time to discuss the other new features introduced with Rain World Remix and the DLC.


Judging by a lot of the Steam reviews, one of the biggest selling points for Downpour was its co-op mode. Like the new slugcats, Jolly Co-op was originally a mod and it still has some of the instability you might expect from a mod. I played the old version around a year ago with three other people. It uses Steam Remote Play, which does not seem to work for everybody but once I got it up and running it was seamless and extremely fun. Co-op Rain World is not good for a first playthrough, but it is a blast for a second playthrough.

As far as I can tell, the mod has been brought over with minimal changes. There's a new UI for customizing your slugcats, but it is still plagued by a glitch that sometimes doesn't let you rest in shelters. I played it locally with a friend on easy difficulty, which means only one player needs to make it to a shelter, but sometimes the game would hang after resting or simply not let us rest, and we would lose a day's progress. I noticed this a lot more with the old version, but I imagine it could still be pretty frustrating.

The co-op is really just an extra mode for messing around, so redoing a couple of cycles didn't bother me. There have already been a bunch of patches since the DLC released so I have no doubt that any major issues will be fixed within a few months. I actually didn't encounter anything too bad in my playthroughs; I clipped into a couple walls, some of the bottomless pit indicators were missing, and I somehow duplicated a pearl as Spearmaster.

Slugcat Pups (and Survivor II)

The most egregious glitch was that we couldn't feed this slugcat pup we found, and I'm pretty sure that was fixed. The pups are a pretty interesting new feature. Taking care of them is a lot like the pearl quest, something the game trusts you to do just because you're invested in the world, and it absolutely worked on me. I ended up getting one as the Hunter and carried him all the way to the end of the game.

{== VO session 4 ended here ==}

Beating the Gourmand's story unlocks pups for future Survivor, Hunter, and Gourmand playthroughs {== and Monk ==}. They just show up sometimes, and you can help them if you want to. I don't think it's worth even trying to make a logical timeline for how this works, it's more like a free play mode for future Survivor playthroughs. It does cheapen the Survivor's story, though: the abundance of pups makes it seem like Rain World is pretty easy to navigate, even for a baby.

Beating the Gourmand also leaves the Outer Expanse gate open for other characters. The Survivor can actually return to his homeland on a second playthrough, and I found the ending depressing.

We could take it as ambiguous, but it seems to me that the Survivor doesn't find his or any other tribe and just eats pupa for the rest of his days, and the developer commentary actually confirms that [1]. Ultimately it's not too sad, since you can only do this on a second playthrough, and you can always continue on to the void anyway. I just thought it was kind of a strange addition with a surprising amount of work put into it.

Expedition and Challenges

Expedition is a whole new mode that gives you semi-random challenges that reward experience and tie into a battle-pass type progression system, with unlockable music, perks, and burdens. We're beyond the point of talking about whether one feature or another should be in the game; it's strange to have a traditional progression and quest system superimposed onto Rain World, but since it is separate from the game's story it can be taken by itself.

I think Expedition will shine more a year from now if I want to play Rain World for a couple hours without committing to a whole playthrough, but right now I find it more punishing than rewarding. If you die on the lowest karma level, the current expedition just ends. While you can survive pretty consistently by playing defensively, parts of Sky Islands, Chimney Canopy, and Subterranean can present situations where you either have to starve for a cycle or die. Most of my deaths in Rain World come from hitting some sort of wall, an area that will kill me a whole bunch of times before I make progress.

Whether it is technically fair or not, the only reward you get for completing an Expedition is XP, so the prospect of having to restart after a couple of bad cycles put me off of the whole mode. If the concept of a mode like this appeals to you, it's very well-implemented, but I don't think this kind of rigid structure is a perfect fit for Rain World's chaotic ecosystem. When a death is unfair in the regular game, it usually isn't a big deal, but the stakes are extremely high on an expedition.

The hidden compliment here is that not even a progression system can tame Rain World's ecosystem, so despite my earlier criticism I think the game ultimately still feels like an organic world.

What works much better are the short, enclosed challenges added to Arena mode. There are 70 of these, and each was individually designed and balanced. They are generally short and pretty fun, mixing pre-set goals with the chaos of the game's AI. They succeed for me where Expedition fails because they are designed as interesting little puzzles, rather than adding score-based challenges to the regular game, and dying on a challenge only loses you a few minutes of progress.


Finally there's Safari, a no-stakes mode where you can watch the ecosystem play out in absence of the slugcat, and take control of most creatures. I'm sure someone will come up with interesting challenges based around Safari, but for most players it will be more of a virtual fish tank than a game mode. Controlling other creatures is fun for a little while, but they're all pretty awkward and obviously aren't as fleshed out as the slugcats. It's fun, but since it's not exactly a game there's not a lot to praise or criticize about it. Definitely a worthwhile inclusion, and I'm excited to see what people can do with it.

Difficulty Options esp. Loading Screen Tips

{== cut this down, use the strong arguments cull the weak ones. ==}

Before moving on to the final character, there's one more thing I have to address, and it might quietly be Downpour's biggest problem. Rain World Remix, the free part of the expansion, is touted as a collection of quality of life improvements. Some of the options are small balances that do improve the game. Being able to wiggle out of a creature's grasp makes sense, being able to throw stuff upwards makes sense, but there's one little option that really worries me: the loading screen tips.

These are turned on if you use the default difficulty preset, and they're a massive blow to the game. Some of them just explain UI elements, which is fine but largely unnecessary, while others actually tell you how to move. Learning how to play Rain World is the game. The story is driven by the player discovering and developing their survival skills until they get to a point where they want to transcend survival.

The argument for difficulty options is always accessibility, but if you play with these tips on, the game you are accessing is fundamentally different from Rain World, the 2017 game. Not just because they break immersion every few cycles, which they did for me really badly, but because it limits Rain World's story to its writing. They literally take away the player's ability to experience the game, making the Survivor into a godlike character who has advanced movement techniques beamed into his head every night. Not an animal situated in a world, but a toy that you play with.

Rain World was a totally immersive game; once you press the story mode button everything you could see or interact with helped to build an internally consistent world. It's not that the game mechanics have immersive excuses, each mechanic or interface gives you an insight into your character's experience and brings you closer to them. In the base game, you don't have to carve out certain UI elements that are "just" for the player, but with the tips you do.

{== I'm not counting pauses or loading screens because they aren't really meant to be focused on. Tips need to be actively ignored if they're turned on. ==}

To situate you in the ecosystem, there has to be a struggle for survival. The game has to demand something of you. A game like Minecraft represents your survival with stuff: better pickaxes, armour, whatever. Rain World represents your survival with techniques: methods of traversal, memorized enemy behaviors, knowledge of safe and unsafe paths. Telling a player how to move is like starting a Minecraft game with diamond gear. You can go through the motions if you want but the experience of finding a diamond is rendered totally meaningless.

I should say that I am the type of player who would benefit from these tips; I guarantee that somebody watching was bothered by the fact that I didn't use Gourmand's powerful slide or the Artificer's parry. When I played through the game, I didn't know about them. But there's nothing wrong with that, my experience was my own. Not every player needs to be a pro, and the tips suggest a correct way to play a game that's all about learning and adaptation.

If options like this must exist, they should at the very least be opt-in. While they might bring more people to the game, those people are much more likely to come away thinking that Rain World was a decent action game with some weird robots in it. I'm not cynical enough to say that the tips are there just to sell more copies of the game, especially with difficulty being such a hotly contested issue right now, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Videocult didn't forget to put tutorials in the game, they were left out for a reason.


That was pretty negative, so I want to shower praise on Downpour's final character for a while. At the beginning of this video I brought up the "turn" that happens in Rain World, when the game goes from aimless open-world survival to a very deliberate spiritual quest. For the most part, Downpour's characters do not have anything that replaces that turn, and it leaves them feeling either like challenge modes, in the case of Gourmand and Artificer, or linear story-focused platformers in the case of Rivulet and Spearmaster.

At the same time, Downpour does have a structure, but it spans all five of its characters and it saddles the fifth one, the Saint, with redeeming and recontextualizing the other four.

The Saint is the game's biggest risk and its biggest success; he embarks on a journey through the literal end of Rain World, and the game pulls off the hugely confident move of telling you exactly what's going to happen and surprising you anyway.

{== opening cutscene ==}

The game's complete transformation is shocking, and the visuals are backed up with a whole new temperature system. There's no more rain, instead a constant chill and light snow that sometimes quickens into a blizzard. There are no apparent time limits either; the cycle counter is replaced with a thermometer that can fill back up if you're near something warm. The Saint's colour also changes as he gets colder, offering a more immediate temperature indicator.

He's equipped with a long sticky tongue that makes traversal pretty easy. This is balanced against the Saint's total refusal to be violent; he can't throw spears or eat animals. The tongue mechanic is very similar to the grapple worms and offers a similar degree of control, which is to say that it usually works but sometimes the tongue will refuse to go where you want it. The grapple worm is a different creature, so some randomness makes sense, but I would expect a greater degree of control over my own character's body. To be fair, I have no idea how that could be implemented, but nonetheless.

The opening cutscene makes our goal pretty clear: find all the echoes again. The Saint starts at karma level two, which means there are just enough echoes to reach level ten. What makes the journey interesting is obviously this complete transformation of the world. Since this is a seventh playthrough you're also probably in fighting form and able to get through a lot of the game with ease, so to some extent it's just a brutal sightseeing tour. There are a lot of map changes, though. All but one of the regions has a new name, and I like to imagine they were made up by the Saint himself.

I decided to pick up all the endgame echoes first, since farm arrays, now called desolate fields, is the easiest place to get to. Most of the usual hazards are there, but water is actually much more dangerous as the Saint; he loses heat very quickly when submerged and since most bodies of water are outdoors you don't have an opportunity to warm up either. Beyond that, traversal is pretty much normal. My favourite quirk of the Saint is that he makes the player think about spaces differently; the difference between indoor and outdoor areas doesn't really matter for the other characters, but the Saint can survive much longer if he has shelter from the snow. It changes your internal sense for which areas are dangerous just enough to make things feel fresh.

The atmosphere that all of these changes create is incredible, and I was completely hooked. All of the issues that I've brought up over the course of this video went quiet for a while and I found myself playing Rain World again. The driving urgency of the rain is gone, and even though this is mechanically replaced by the blizzards it is a big enough change to give the game a whole new feel, that ever-present countdown unraveled into the ambiguity of body temperature. This is the level of change that Downpour needed to really expand on the base game, and I'm glad that it happened in the end.

Primordial underground, as the name implies, is largely free of the snow, and it offers a short path to shoreline.

{== montage Subterra, Shoreline, Drainage ==}

The first area with a lot of new geometry is drainage system, which is partially collapsed and overtaken by a lush jungle. There's a new echo here too, who offers a different perspective than most of the ancients. It's pretty interesting, and the echo makes a decent point but it's also a hypocritical one; echoes and ascended ancients both escape the decay of their physical bodies and the need for survival, so it's dishonest to say that the ancients are claustrophobic because they didn't notice how cool the plants are. I agree that plants are cool, but I don't think that's enough to sustain anybody for eternity.

The simpler spirituality from the base game is more effective even if it isn't true to life, because survival does suck. The game is really hard and it makes you want to ascend the cute little slugcat so he can swim around in the void instead of getting stabbed and eaten forever. It's interesting to call the ancients' system into question, but the Survivor's yearning for the void is something that I acutely felt while I played Rain World. The game creates a kind of intuitively felt truth that you can't just override by changing the text of the game's story.

Rain World was a machine built for the Survivor's journey, and Downpour is inherently limited by that fact, it simply cannot achieve the same unity between its gameplay and themes that the base game had. I think the Saint is an exception to that because his world is very different, but the four characters and hundred hours leading up to the Saint sometimes made me question whether this was worth the struggle.

All of Downpour's story problems stem from this need--and it is a need if you're going to have five new characters--to branch out and elaborate on the base game. And a game can't have story problems in isolation, the question of "why should I care about this" has to be answered at every moment by compelling gameplay. The plot can only happen at certain points, but the movement of the story has to be the actual movement of players. The base game's design suggests certain themes, about the struggle for survival and overcoming it, and those harmonized perfectly with the iterators, the ending, the art, and the underlying lore.

If you agree with me that Rain World is nearly perfect, then player characters with different motivations are necessarily weaker then the Survivor. It's still good that we got them, I'm not saying that it should be perfection or nothing. But I guess I went in like a lot of people hoping that somehow Downpour would be five times more Rain World. Downpour's about as good as it could possibly be, and a lot of the time the new mechanics get it over the line. But those big story moments need to be there too, and those didn't work for me.

I also think Downpour's need to accommodate these new characters has created a lot of inconsistencies in the lore. I'm not going to go through them {== maybe put a bunch of questions on screen ==}, because they don't bother me individually: the Artificer's karma system makes the game better, maybe it's just some mutation from all the toxic waste. But it's difficult to balance Rain World's ecosystem premise with characters that have powerful new abilities, and these inconsistencies pile up over the course of the game. It's important that either the lore is consistent or there are plausible answers to the lore questions. We don't need to know the answers, we just need to be convinced that they exist.

At the same time lore doesn't have any inherent value, it's a tool to build the game's atmosphere, and some well-delivered lore like the pearls makes it seem like the world existed before we got here. Even if the questions Downpour raises have answers, they'll come off as a series of excuses, rather than a world-history that just happened to produce somebody like the Gourmand.

It wouldn't be a huge deal, but the game has kind of written itself into a corner where we have to think about the contradictions of this world; calling a character the Saint is practically begging us to think about and pass judgment on this entire system.

The Saint's purpose is coming into focus as we collect the echoes; he's here to finish off this entire thing, to clear the way for whatever comes next. Although his pilgrimage involves a lot of suffering, it offers us a higher purpose that mirrors the best of the base game, even if we don't know how to actually fulfill that purpose just yet.

Five Pebbles' compound has collapsed into shaded citadel, and the massive resulting area connects the citadel to all of Five Pebbles. The scale of the damage is really fantastic. Interior areas are a collapsed mess of pipes and rubble, while sheared off bridges and girders jut out everywhere from the exterior. We've seen this place in pretty bad shape but this is way beyond the Rot. Having the sky as a backdrop also gives the area a good sense of verticality, it once again succeeds at making the journey to Five Pebbles feel like a climax.

{== god powers ==}

Wait what the fuck did that say?

This is what I was talking about when I said they still managed to surprise me. It's a perfect moment that negates everything about Rain World in a novel way. No more platforming, no more fighting. The Saint can ascend any creature.

{== killing 5P ==}

Getting this echo last is probably the intended route, because it doesn't force you into a bunch of backtracking. Playing a game on god mode can get old, and I think the developers did a great job both balancing the Saint's powers and making sure they don't overstay their welcome. It's still very possible to die if something surprises you, which reinforces that the Saint is still a bodily creature despite the powers. It goes without saying that this sequence is the emotional climax of the whole expansion, and it got me pretty good.

There's initially a feeling of liberation when you get the powers, but it gives way to a grim sense of purpose as you realize what the Saint's ability means. The job isn't pretty, but I do think it's necessary; the iterators are caught in limbo, they were designed so that they could never ascend and they need to be saved. Moon seems happy to pass on, and Five Pebbles is obviously in a personal hell.

Speaking of personal hells, with the deed done we can finally travel to the depths, which has been expanded into Rubicon, a final challenge for the Saint. A Rubicon is like a line that can't be uncrossed, or a deed that can't be undone. Early in development it was called Stygian Depths, referring to the river that people's spirits would cross on the way to Hades. Obviously that's a one-way trip. In the game files it's called Hell Region, and I think those three names give us a picture of what this place is.

There's no clear, material reality to Rubicon, but I'm going to assume that the Saint's perspective is a reliable one. One of the base game's pearls says that the world is constantly sinking into the void fluid, so it makes sense that the lower parts of filtration system are lit like the depths, and it makes sense that the area just kind of gives way to nothing. But beyond that we can only understand Rubicon as something that the Saint is experiencing, not as something concretely real.

The name Rubicon is an interesting contrast with the visuals, the place is bathed in the same regal and mysterious light as the old temple. But it is indeed inescapable, if you die you'll respawn in the Rubicon, and you probably will die quite a few times. The guardians are not happy to see you, and Rubicon has several areas where a guardian locks you in a room and spawns difficult enemies. The guardians die in a few shots, breaking their locks and allowing you to progress.

At first this seems like it's just a new route through the depths, but as you move deeper into the area familiar rooms start to show up, and the camera starts to fracture. Space stops making sense as you travel above and below the void sea. Notably, some of the reincorporated rooms don't even exist in the Saint's world.

The whole sequence is excellently put together. The ending defies explanation, and I'm sure there are already lots of videos about the lore. So I'll skip to the more important point I want to make: the Saint contains a little bit of everything that Downpour has to offer, good and bad.

The world design is believable, expansive, and surprising; while the base game was charmingly compact Downpour's additions and remixes are a welcomed and lovingly crafted change. The developers took great pains to integrate the new characters into the world while differentiating them from one another, despite the flaws.

At the same time, the characters are often powerful to the point of absurdity. This works with the Saint, whose abilities are so exaggerated that they transform the game into something entirely new, but the other characters are in an uncomfortable middle-ground where they feel out of place.

For me, all of the difficulty and frustration justified the Saint. The first pair of characters are struggling against a natural world, the second pair struggles to rebuild some kind of social world, and the Saint, at the end of time, arrives to finish all of the struggling. The player isn't literally trapped in a cycle but we have played the game at least five times since Downpour came out.

It feels significant, not just because the iterators finally ascend, but because this is actually the end of Rain World, the culmination of 200 hours of my life. The Saint is the climax of history, and the other characters are important for building our sense of that history.

So Downpour is flawed, sure, but it all comes together in the end and makes a satisfying finale for Rain World, even if it's a little bit overdue. I play games for experiences like this, and although I was sometimes frustrated while playing, Downpour hooked me and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it. Seeing Five Pebbles consumed by the rot as Rivulet was an impactful moment, and while none of the characters' endings were as good as the Survivor's, the Saint was pretty close and the others were still satisfying.

Artificer, Rivulet, and Saint were the high points, they had nearly flawless storytelling and their respective gimmicks were fun to use. Spearmaster is very fun to play, but Spearmaster and Gourmand's stories were not highlights for me.

Ultimately, all I can say is that I love this game, and I loved its expansion. I know it probably didn't sound like it throughout this video but I found the characters and writing charming; everything is grounded enough that I still cared even if I wasn't 100% immersed. It's fan service, absolutely, but like I said at the beginning, most people who like Rain World will like Downpour. You might even love it.

You can't play Rain World for the first time a second time, and for the most part I think the developers were aware of that, so they tried new things instead. There are some missteps, but it's a hell of a lot better than any overhyped and undercooked AAA open world, and it's fun in a way that doesn't just flush your brain with dopamine. It's an excellent game, and one that feels like it was made by people, which should be celebrated.

If all of this was too ambiguous for you: Downpour will be game of the year unless the Elden Ring DLC has six new slugcats. {== PIPES?? IS THIS A MF RAIN WORLD REFERENCE?? ==}

{== Ko-Fi Plug ==}

Video Games are Better Than Books

So, the actual ending. I said it was kind of indecipherable, and that's definitely by design. This is going to be a pretty abstract segment but I thought I'd share it anyway. I'll take a page from the Downpour book here: if you don't like what I have to say, it's not canon. {== Saint killing SoS? ==}

The Saint kills or injures a void worm, his karma is wiped clean and he wakes up right where he started. In the menu we get this cool graphic of him as an echo, and he can't be played again unless you check the 'restart game' box. If you do that, you might find that items in your stomach are carried over between playthroughs. So the Saint is clearly like an echo, but the question is whether he succeeded in his task.

All the developer commentary offers is that the Saint's ending is meant to be an inversion of various other endings, eventually "Revealing Saint's curse to be stuck in an endless karmic loop" [2]. I want to minimize the damage that that detail causes to the game, so let's say that only the Saint is stuck in that loop; it's his curse, and his alone. To free the iterators and everything else, he has to endlessly relive that suffering, like he's taking on everybody else's karmic debt or something.

This has the same function as ending your story with "it was all a dream": if the Saint is reliving these cycles forever, and they aren't materially real, then there were no stakes to anything we did. So despite the great build up and presentation I felt let down by the ending. It seems right, in a certain way, that Downpour would refuse to end: it has five long campaigns that feature you doing the same things over and over.

This interpretation, that the Saint is endlessly reliving a dream, is the only one that makes sense unless Rain World really is doomed to rot forever. By the time of the Saint, even the echoes talk about wiping away the old world. Since we only see echoes from a single society we have to assume that the world can end, ascending everybody and leaving some sort of clean slate. It's the Saint's job to clear the way.

That's what I think about it. What's far more interesting to me is Downpour's relationship to the concept of tragedy. I've said a couple times that the iterators are genuinely tragic characters, and making characters like that is no small feat.

Quotes and discussion here reference [3].

If you look at the old Greek tragedies, like Oedipus, characters are inevitably, cosmically doomed: Oedipus didn't know he was killing his father and marrying his mother, it was more like the world conspired to make him stab himself with a brooch. And indeed, the Greek gods had to have set this whole thing up and made Oedipus into a pawn for the tragedy, his actions were barely even his. Tragedy is an "inevitable conflict with no way out."

{== my edition of Oedipus says this EXPLICITLY. ==}

If we look ahead to a play like Hamlet, there's nothing inevitable about it. Hamlet decides to kill his uncle. Polonius dies by accident, but the events are very clearly set in motion by men, and anyone involved could have stopped the tragedies before they happened. If we want to say that Hamlet does what he does because he's crazed, well he shouldn't have agreed to go see the ghost.

Rain World Downpour alludes to, intentionally or not, why these two types of tragedies were written at different times in history. The iterators are chained to their fate by the Ancients, left solving an unsolvable problem whose solution would guarantee their freedom. It's a classic tragedy: the iterators flail and try to fix themselves but the game mainly explores the ways that their failure to solve the great problem has impacted the world. They're doomed simply by existing, with Five Pebbles especially only making his problems worse by trying to fix them.

When I started Downpour, I was re-reading this book by a French guy whose name I can't pronounce, and a passage from it stuck out to me while I was playing through the game. {== show the whole paragraph, p. 66 ==} "Christianity finds the solution to the Pagan tragedy." That might not make a ton of sense if you only know Christianity by all of the evil things people do in its name, but if you actually read the bible it rings true.

When people use old testament law to justify their awful beliefs, just keep in mind that the point of the new testament is to modernize those old stories, to build a living religious practice that works for living people. Jesus didn't write it, it's a work that we are supposed to interpret and modernize. Jesus never talked about which bathrooms people are supposed to use, and actual Christian doctrine forgives everyone so long as they're capable of forgiveness. That's an aspect of what the Frenchman is getting at, although he's a philosopher so he says it in a very roundabout way. {== It would take a long journey through Hegel for me to argue that point on the book's terms... so too bad.==}

The point of the Jesus story is to humanize God. Pre-Christian gods were fickle and not really concerned with what people did; they would fuck with our lives for no good reason, just playing cosmic Dwarf Fortress. The wide adoption of Christianity, of a God that definitely cared about people because he became human, made the idea of a tragedy impossible. You always have an out, and you have a god that cares. Bad things, sins, always happen in the context of humans being free to commit them. This might sound hollow to you, because we live in the hollowed out corpse of Christianity, but that's a discussion for another time. People believed this stuff, and it had a profound effect on pretty much everything. Christianity is so deeply ingrained in the language and culture of the English-speaking world that we can't really untangle one from the other. The word good bye is a corruption of the phrase "God buy you," to give you one of a million possible examples.

{== The trivia here is a note somewhere in the Oxford edition of Hamlet. ==}

I inferred from the Rain World Discord that the connections I'm about to make were not put in the game intentionally, but there are real parallels between the Saint and what I've been talking about.

You can guess where this is going: the Saint is a redeemer, but filtered through Rain World's particular universe. It is jarringly literal. He gets god powers, and ascension is a violent explosion. But in Rain World the void is at least partly a physical place, so it makes sense that redemption would be just as physical. What struck me about this is how well it worked, there's a hint of something genuinely new in the Saint's story.

The old kind of tragedy really is unthinkable in media at this point, but it's something Rain World was able to capt ure very elegantly. The Greek religion was part of a totalizing worldview, a system of how everything in the world worked. Only games, with fictional worlds we get to inhabit, are able to communicate and relate these sorts of alien systems. And I do mean alien, the consciousness of a Greek person, the social fabric they were a part of, is something we can't ever understand. Not even those people who insist on saying "oh gods" because they're so damn special. Some people think the Greeks were just constantly hallucinating.

But Rain World convinced me. I saw the iterators as tragic, people whose creators didn't care enough to save them. Rain World was really about people trapped in the broken down machinery of a world that's no longer working. It's about the iterators sitting in their rooms and posting. To them, all of the spiritual gold plating has cracked and fallen off, leaving nothing but the unsolvable problem.

A game is, first and foremost, a set of rules. In a game like soccer, nobody seriously asks why the rules are the way they are, they're a framework for an interesting competition that we just accept. The set of things that we call the world--say mountains, taxes, and gravity--is similar; we accept them because they were always there.

Video games are uniquely equipped to represent different worldviews because we accept the convoluted systems of a game as "just the way things are." Just like philosophy or religion finds morality in the world, games offer us themes through their rules and systems. They don't even need to be super grounded, Rain World has non-diegetic music galore but it heightens the experience.

In a book, it would take a lot of clunky exposition to establish the relationships between the void, the ancients, the iterators, and the slugcat. Indeed, it would just feel like a list of rules. That's why good sci-fi and fantasy are hard to come by, and why most of great books take place in the real world. In Rain World, those relationships are established with no words at all by the abandoned places you travel through, the karma system, and the gameplay loop as a whole. I didn't have the mark of communication when I first met Moon but it remains the most impactful moment of any game I've played.

Her defenselessness offers players the decision to continue being an animal, or to seek something higher. Deciding not to kill someone is the first step toward humanity, and this concept is conveyed with exactly zero words.

None of this was clear to me when I played the base game, but when I started playing the Saint this whole section of the video wrote itself. The other characters are a prelude to the Saint, who follows the rough structure of the Jesus story: his birth is mysterious and miraculous, he awakens later in life, and releases the living from their sins or karmic debts. The Saint is a Revelation-style apocalypse given form. It is a passage from the tragic, dead world of the ancients to something new, offering a definitive, redemptive end for everyone.

It's not a 1:1 comparison of course, I'm not saying Downpour is a Christian game, but the Saint serves the purpose of ending the tragedy of the Iterators, solving the great problem. If Rain World really can end, he is just the prelude to the Ancients' world being totally wiped clean, saving the echoes as well.

It was this passage from the old world of tragedy to the new one that really reveals Rain World's brilliance, and for that alone Downpour is worth playing.


A. Kojève and R. Queneau, Introduction to the reading of Hegel: lectures on the phenomenology of spirit. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1980.