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Darkest Dungeon 2 (Early Access) Review

A brilliant sequel

Darkest Dungeon 2 is an incredibly smart sequel. Instead of just giving us more Darkest Dungeon, which would have been more than adequate given the original’s quality, Red Hook has taken its eldritch horrors and gloomy gothic aesthetic and injected that into a more structured roguelike system. Though this does mean we lose some of the systems that are now a trademark of Darkest Dungeon, the move toward a more focused experience mostly succeeds in cutting some fat from the original title and making Darkest Dungeon 2 an absolute thrill.

In Darkest Dungeon 2, you are tasked with taking the last flame of hope through a series of increasingly grizzly paths up toward a mountain top, where a great evil needs to be slain. As Darkest Dungeon 2 is currently in Early Access, the only “confession” available is “denial” (the themes of each playthrough seem to be focused around the five stages of grief).

The differences between the original title and its sequel become apparent early on when you are tasked with choosing your party. Unlike the first game, where you had a whole host of different adventurers who would form a larger party, each attempt in Darkest Dungeon 2 lets you pick a completely new and fresh set of adventurers based on their class. This does have the adverse effect of seeing the tortured souls you are taking on this carriage journey from hell as yet another nameless henchman; after all, they will most likely die. It’s a roguelike after all; dying is the whole thing.

But it does also mean that, when the turn-based combat sequences kick in, you are encouraged to try inventive and braver combat manoeuvres. There’s no leaving poor Derek the Highwayman at the base to recover.

No point in friendships

Speaking of home-base, there isn’t one. All the people management mechanics of the original have been removed to facilitate the move toward a roguelike format. That, in many ways, is a shame. There isn’t another game quite like Darkest Dungeon for its blend of exploration, combat and asset management, especially within its delightfully grotesque gothic horror setting. But the move to a roguelike system has allowed Red Hook to focus on making combat, stress and item management alongside party dynamics more fluid and effective within the confines of time-limits and increasingly difficult enemy encounters. By and large, these systems all work exceptionally, and at no point did I feel like I didn’t have a grasp on what items I had, or how to effectively use them.

The party management aspect definitely needs some tweaking, however. Getting stressed out and adversarial toward your comrades is far more likely than nurturing friendships for your crew, however, which is an issue when just moving through the world can rack up the blood pressure for some adventurers. When adversarial, your party will purposely harm allies, from de-buffing to outright blocking healing attempts. This would be fine if the benefits to maxing out a friendship offered an equivalent buff, but this just isn’t the case. Because of this, the stress system adds an artificial difficulty to the game. As Darkest Dungeon 2 is currently in Early Access, these are the types of issues one may be resolved in the future.

New combat

The combat is where Darkest Dungeon 2 truly shines. The game has kept the core fundamentals of what made the first game so fun. Dramatic zoom shots on hits, alongside exquisite narration that describes the action and surprisingly deep and satisfying tactical nuance. Having a party that conforms to a more role-based format gives encounters a much-needed balance. In the first game, I often found myself choosing un-balanced parties as other members stayed back at the inn to lower their stress levels–or died–but that’s not an issue here. This allowed me to take the time to find combos that would buff my party and de-buff enemies efficiently.

The roguelike genre requires players to master the combat to ensure victory, and applying this to turn-based combat has resulted in the balance of clever tactics and electrifying Hail Mary plays. Unlike the original, failure in Darkest Dungeon 2 doesn’t translate to starting over at the beginning of the dungeon with zero resources and untrained henchmen, but instead just sets you back at the start.  It’s a learning experience that will make the next run easier.

Darkest Dungeon 2, even in its Early Access state, is a marvellous roguelike that offers players a whole host of avenues with which to approach the game’s numerous encounters. There are definitely issues surrounding difficulty, as well as the occasionally dropped text line or repetitive dialogues that anyone playing a game in Early Access would expect. Though Darkest Dungeon 2 may take players to dark and horrible places, it is a glowing example of how new systems can be effectively applied to a well-established setting and aesthetic.