Darkest Dungeon II – Review

Written by meilstrup81

Darkest Dungeon II Review

Darkest Dungeon II has emerged from a lengthy early access period on the Epic Game Store and is now fully available on Steam too. Fans loved the original game when it first debuted. But will the sequel measure up, or will it prove that the original was a one-off success?

Many aspects have been tweaked since the original game. Contrary to what the title suggests, there are no actual dungeons in this game, merely minor lairs. Instead, the player guides a team of heroes on a stagecoach journey toward a distant mountain. The route is chosen in a manner reminiscent of Slay the Spire, with choices of two or three paths following each encounter. Eventually, these paths lead to an inn where the party can rest before embarking on the next leg of their journey.

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The encounters are quite diverse. Sometimes you meet struggling travelers and must decide whether to help them. In other situations, you experience flashbacks from your character’s past, revealing aspects of their story and unlocking new combat abilities. You may also find yourself stopping at a field hospital or running into a merchant, among other possibilities. And, of course, there’s the combat.

To Arms!

The combat is perhaps the most similar aspect to the original game. Your quartet of heroes stands in their designated spots, squaring off against up to four enemies. The positioning of your heroes is critical, as certain attacks and abilities can only be executed from specific places. Not all of your attacks can target every enemy position, so this is another element to keep in mind. This adds a significant layer of strategy to the game! Darkest Dungeon II places a much greater emphasis on this aspect:

Many heroes possess abilities that alter their positioning. For instance, the highwayman has a point-blank shot that inflicts heavy damage on the enemy in the first position and simultaneously pushes the highwayman one position back. This could be beneficial as it allows him to take cover behind a stronger character, but it also prevents him from using the point-blank shot again since he’s no longer in the first position.

This is just one of many examples – the game is filled with abilities that can shift either your heroes or your enemies. Paying attention to enemy positions can be as valuable as managing your heroes’ positions. A crossbow-wielding enemy isn’t nearly as threatening up close as he is from the back lines, and an axe-carrying enemy isn’t a concern if he can’t reach your heroes.

Darkest Dungeon 2

An innovative addition to combat is the use of tokens. Many abilities place tokens on some combat units, representing buffs and debuffs. These tokens usually signify straightforward effects, such as “Next attack deals +50% damage” or “Has a 75% chance of dodging the next attack.”

There are also tokens that deal damage over time (DOTs), with different enemies (and heroes) being more or less susceptible to certain DOTs. For example, poisoning a Plague Eater is unlikely to work, but setting them on fire is highly effective. A few tokens, like the cultists’ “Worship,” are more mysterious, but rest assured that finding out their effect won’t be a pleasant surprise!

The mini-bosses that inhabit the depths of the various lairs you encounter are worth noting. They are formidable foes, often necessitating a specific strategy to conquer. With certain team configurations, they can be virtually unbeatable. Each one is unique, and I still feel a wave of apprehension as I approach the bottom of a lair. But that’s part of the fun!

The Horror!

Predictably, your heroes won’t maintain their sanity after wading through hordes of horrendous enemies. Most enemy attacks inflict physical damage, but some also deal stress damage to your heroes. When a hero reaches their limit, they undergo a stress test. Occasionally, this can inspire them to become stronger, but they will often develop an affliction.

Afflictions can debuff them, increase their allies’ stress levels, and potentially cause them to behave unpredictably. For example, during a miniboss fight, my gravedigger became paranoid due to stress, refused to be healed by my plague doctor, and attacked my highwayman on her next turn. Needless to say, the battle didn’t end well. Managing your heroes’ sanity can be as crucial as ensuring their survival.

Darkest Dungeon 2 Gameplay Review

With Friends Like These… Your heroes may not always be on good terms throughout their journey. Certain events can make them grow to like or dislike each other. While you don’t have control over all these events, you can influence them by deciding what to do when you meet travelers or use specific items at the inn. If your heroes develop animosity towards each other, one of their skills receives a malus, which triggers adverse effects every time it’s used.

On the other hand, if your heroes foster a positive relationship, one of their abilities gets a boost, possibly healing your heroes every time it’s used. Considering all these elements, deciding how to spend your currency at the inn can be challenging. Should you try to improve your heroes’ relationships, lower their stress levels, or perhaps purchase a shiny new trinket that could benefit one of them? The decision is yours.

Slowly, Surely…

Darkest Dungeon II diverges from its predecessor in its structure. Instead of a single extended campaign, it consists of five shorter stories. When your team of heroes is defeated (and they will be, repeatedly), you must start anew from the beginning of one of the stories. However, depending on your performance, you’ll receive candles that can be used for permanent upgrades or unlocks. Maybe all your Hellion characters will be more resistant to deathblows from now on, or perhaps you’ll encounter pets in future runs, providing a small buff to your team.

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You might even start unlocking new heroes and trinkets for future use. This system enables gradual progression, ensuring that no run feels entirely wasted. It also means the game slowly unfolds, which is a brilliant design choice. When you start, you only have to manage the four basic heroes with their basic abilities.

But after a few runs, you must carefully consider which abilities to bring into combat. Several tries later, you’ll be juggling different heroes with a plethora of attacks, trying to work out the optimal combination of heroes, abilities, and positions for your next run.

A Voice in the Darkness

I cannot discuss Darkest Dungeon II without highlighting its thematic content and voice acting. The gloomy narrator from the first game returns, casting his bleak perspective on the world and your encounters. Although I’m usually indifferent to voice acting in games, this game’s delivery is truly exceptional.

The art style also deserves praise. Eschewing hyper-realistic triple-A graphics for a dark, cartoonish style that oozes theme, the game succeeds in immersing the player in the world far more effectively than high-resolution graphics could.

All is Not Well

Despite my apparent fondness for the game, there are a few points of contention. Many tokens provide dodge chances, and some DOTs don’t always activate. Although this generally enhances the unpredictability and interest of combat, the risk associated with deathblows can be excessively high. This is particularly true during boss fights, where it’s nearly impossible to avoid depleting health. Once a hero’s health falls to zero, every hit could potentially kill them or do nothing. It’s frustrating to know that a boss could have been defeated if they hadn’t successfully landed a death blow on their first try.

While winning in this game is an exhilarating and relieving experience, I occasionally felt that success hinged on getting lucky with deathblows rather than on strategy. Despite these frustrations, Darkest Dungeon II is undoubtedly an excellent game, but losses due to bad luck can be intensely aggravating.

In conclusion, Darkest Dungeon II delivers a thrilling and challenging experience, building upon the original game’s mechanics while introducing novel elements. Its unique style and immersive narrative make for a compelling journey, even if luck occasionally overshadows strategy. Despite a few frustrating aspects, the game is highly rewarding and offers a distinct and memorable gaming experience. If you enjoyed the original Darkest Dungeon, I believe you’ll find Darkest Dungeon II equally captivating, if not more so.