Darkest Dungeon is one of those games that you could tell was special right from the first few minutes of playing it. From the start, the narrator spoke with presence and gravitas, and the unique art style, vague sense of dread, and foreboding that lurked in the atmosphere created a chilling world that was bursting with intrigue. It truly felt like a one-of-a-kind game. While its harsh difficulty was not for everyone, it provided gamers tired of easy games a legit challenge. When you make a one-of-a-kind game that hits like Darkest Dungeon does though, it’s tough to follow it up with a sequel, but gamers’ voices were heard clamoring for more and therefore, Darkest Dungeon 2 has been released in Early Access form.
Even in Early Access Darkest Dungeon 2 has changed the game in a variety of ways
Red Hook could’ve just given us a similar experience to the first game and people probably would’ve been thrilled with the results. But there was enough time in between to improve things in Darkest Dungeon substantially. The sequel has changed the game in a variety of ways. Whether those ways are for better or for worse though, that’s up for serious debate.
See, instead of managing a small army of warriors like the first game, things become a lot more personal this time around and each run you make through the game will be made up with a team of 4 instead of 15+. This changes the scope of the original and instead gives you a more intimate journey that turns the caricatures of the first game into actual characters in Darkest Dungeon 2. In the first game, you’d have different names for your characters and each time they’d die, a new one would be generated. Now those names stick with whoever you are playing with, so if you had a Reinhardt in the first game as a highwayman, here the highwayman is Reinhart, and if he dies, he’s gone.
In addition to this, the stress meters return from the first game, but this time instead of one bar for the whole party, each character has individual ones and that changes the gameplay up quite a bit.
This makes things play out in a variety of ways and some can be very fun and others can be very annoying because the stress meters need to be managed constantly when you have certain heroes on the road with you. Each time you make a run to start a campaign, you are stuck with that team for hours at a time, so the quick character switching of the first game is no longer an option here.
Stress Meters will affect not only your characters, but you as well
If you want to bail before things get too tough this time around, that means you have to restart the run over from the beginning or risk losing everything by continuing through the campaign. The risk vs. reward in Darkest Dungeon 2 is lessened compared to the first game and you are at risk of losing far more progress this time if you decide you can’t tough it out until the end of your campaign.
Your stress meters here can cause a variety of issues and one of the worst is infighting in the group that can happen after something as trivial as one party member stealing another’s kill. While this mechanic was in play in the first game, here it is far more invasive than ever before. You can also have your party members turn amorous and become lovers with another party member which will cause them to take a protective nature over their partners on the battlefield. It is funny at times and disturbing at others, especially when the new character The Runaway is involved. This leads to some interesting party dichotomy, but at the core, the writing just isn’t good enough to support different 4 person groups.
The result is random evil AI dungeon master dice rolls behind the scenes determining whether your party is going to start fighting with each other, fall in love with each other, refuse to fight together or just slowly collectively become useless. If this happens to your group, you really don’t have any choice in the matter and are pretty much forced to witness your whole team go to hell in an instant because of seriously trivial events that happen. You’re less a driver of the vehicle here and much more of a passenger. It makes the supposed more personal nature of this adventure feel all the more trivial and it loses some magic from the first game because of that. It’s one thing if the scenarios were more believable, but how it works as is feels a little too random to actually be enjoyable.
The AI Dungeon Master can seem downright evil at times
While the combat is the same great tactical back and forth from the first game and the slick new 3D graphics make the characters burst to life in battle far more than their cardboard cutout counterparts of the first game, the stress factor really toys with it a little too much and its hard to think the game wouldn’t be way better if it were either removed or completely reworked.
You’re likely going to find plenty to love with Darkest Dungeon 2 if you liked the first game, but where the random events and party members succumbing to madness and other disasters in the first game was part of its charm, the problem here is you only have 4 party members at a time to try and guide to the finish line, and this makes the full-on breakdowns far less tolerable.
It’s still in Early Access, so there is plenty of time to right the ship here and create another indie gaming classic on par with the first game.
Darkest Dungeon 2 is available now on PC.