There are myriad ways in which a video game can seek to entertain. Perhaps it delivers colourful platforming goodness that is full of charm and humour, or maybe it’s an action-packed romp backed by a strong narrative. Other times, games can depend on high levels of difficulty to test the mettle of players and in Red Hook Studios’ Darkest Dungeon 2, there is no doubt that this roguelite is made for a certain kind of player who loves the hurt and is willing to go back to the well over and over again.
Rather than function as a traditional sequel, Darkest Dungeon 2 revels in revamping the entire experience to catch veterans off guard once again. Instead of revitalising a ruined estate, this time around, players bring their party of four heroes on the road, travelling on an armoured stagecoach to bring to an end the various feelings of oblivion.
Along the way, the party will decide which paths to take in a world taken by darkness and madness, balancing risks and rewards as they travel from point to point in different regions marked by distinct biomes and unique challenges. Each hard-fought battle could potentially strengthen your heroes for the dangers ahead, or be another step into the grave as resources dwindle.
Yet, death is an expected result in Darkest Dungeon 2, allowing players to spend precious Candles earned through feats and decisions on unlocking new upgrades for the stagecoach, unlock and power up new party members, or increase the variety of items that can help turn the tide. In this twisted world, there is immense value in death.
That said, the objective is to survive, and there are many things to take into consideration. A typical run will take players a few hours, immersing themselves in bloody battles and plotting the most efficient way to the final boss for the run. Here’s where things can get overwhelming, with several systems for players to keep track of if they want to succeed.
Beyond managing the party’s stress levels and general well-being, there are relationships buffs and debuffs to monitor, terrain hazards that can affect health recovery and armour protection, the loathing effect that can amplify the threat of enemies in the region, and the burning flame on top of the stagecoach that needs to be maintained to keep the playing field level.
There are also trinkets to equip, skills to learn and master, and two currencies to manage if you hope to equip your party in the best way possible before leaving the safety of a regional inn. Add to that the variety of locations that make up a particular segment, and each decision suddenly becomes a more weighty one.
There is always some give and take, where sacrifice can lead to unpredictable results, and that uncertainty definitely plays into the fun factor of Darkest Dungeon 2. And as players unlock more difficult runs, dangerous lair bosses become mandatory prey for those hoping to make it to the mountain at the end for a potential game-winning attempt.
Whereas the initial few tries will see death come swiftly, the further players progress, the more tactically involved everything becomes. Whether that makes for an entertaining time depends on your appetite for what can seem like a slog at times. Putting together a perfect party with great relationships, excellent synergy within skills, and the right route can be exhilarating, but a stroke of bad luck can easily ruin a meticulously put-together run in an instant. That is inherently the beauty of a game like Darkest Dungeon 2, but to get there requires plenty of time and effort that might not be worth it for everyone.
There is a struggle here in terms of how the game wants players to play versus the more efficient way forward. Do you focus on upgrading the few heroes you are comfortable with for a specific playstyle? Or venture into the unknown by experimenting with new additions at the cost of unrelenting death due to them being weaker at the start?
The grand solution is for players to invest in all of the characters within the game, unlock all of the skills, and open up all the possible paths, thus allowing for true, randomised enjoyment and challenge. Of course, that is not exactly the easiest feat to accomplish, and considering that the game only has the five distinct regions and a small pool of locations to draw from, that is going to be a repetitive time.
Thankfully, the combat in Darkest Dungeon 2 is by far its most attractive feature, benefiting from changes that Red Hook Studios has implemented this time around. It is much easier to understand just what is going on with the party and the enemies with the token indicators, and the plethora of possible skills, combos, and effects often lead to satisfying gambits that can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The new 3D animations are also a treat, helping to immerse players further into this world with beautiful visuals and wonderful enemy design. Moves are flashy and awesome to watch in action, and there is nothing better than smashing the hell out of a grotesque creature that has previously hampered your progress. All of these and the worldbuilding narrative make the storytelling more intriguing and engaging, which goes some way in alleviating the cyclical nature of the game.
When Darkest Dungeon 2 gets it right, the results speak for themselves. The fulfilling combat and the art direction work really well with the revamp of an established formula. While it may not necessarily strike the perfect balance in making sure that time invested is worthwhile, there is no denying each ride will always be an exciting one. For those masochists who just love this kind of adventure, you already know where your next journey awaits.
Darkest Dungeon 2 is available on Steam for $34.00.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Another excellent roguelite to add to the rotation, Darkest Dungeon 2 largely succeeds in refreshing the franchise, even if it doesn’t quite reach the same levels of obsession.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 7/10