Darkest Dungeon 2, developed and published by Red Hook Studios, is a strategic single-player roguelike game where players must assemble a team to beat back corrupt enemy forces in a dark horror setting. Traveling in your wagon, you’ll face increasingly difficult enemies in turn-based combat with many deep gameplay mechanics.
I’ll preface the entire review by starting with the fact that unlike many of my colleagues, I’ve never played the first Darkest Dungeon (though I did watch gameplay to prepare for this review). At first, I considered getting the first game, just so that I had a point of comparison, but then I thought that there were probably other people out there that have never played the original. So, if you’re looking for an unbiased look without comparisons to the original, this is the review for you.
Gameplay is Daunting at Times
Darkest Dungeon 2 is not an easy game, and it shouldn’t be. Players assemble a team of four and traverse the dark and desolate lands in a carriage wagon while encountering foul beasts and zombies. Players pick from a roster of 12 heroes and select skills and items that fit their preferred playstyle via a considerable number of mechanics.
As you progress, the game gets harder — with the introductory regions serving more as a tutorial than an actual challenge. Once you reach the boss, however — that’s when the game gets really hard, and you must get more invested to muster the strength to continue through the campaign.
What I mean by that is there are a ton of resistances, effects, icons, and mechanics inside the game that make your party exponentially stronger or more vulnerable. Combine that with a veritable treasure trove of items, trinket options, and upgrade choices, and opportunities to min/max your party seems nearly endless. If you ignore all that stuff and spam random moves, you’ll probably die often.
On the flip side, the difficulty level can sometimes make the game feel surprisingly grindy as you collect more Candles of Hope to unlock more powerful items and buffs; dying and restarting from the beginning will start to feel normalized throughout the early hours of the game.
If you’re a veteran of other roguelike games, you may make it pretty far through your first few runs, but if you’re unfamiliar with the genre and are just mindlessly hitting number keys — you’ll probably end up dying a lot.
A Nod to H.P. Lovecraft
One of the cooler things about Darkest Dungeon 2 is the game’s aesthetic. The creators carried over the comic-inspired H.P. Lovecraft visuals from the first game in the franchise to the second game, and it’s something that you’ll either love or hate. Indeed — it’s a pretty good summary of the entire game; you’ll either love it or hate it depending on the kind of gamer you are. Luckily, I’m in that group of people who love the aesthetic.
I also love the game’s overall look — with cell-shaded/comic-inspired visuals, it’s a nice change of pace from the overblown 3D graphics most modern games opt for. This style sets it apart from other titles, giving it its distinct and morbid yet somehow beautiful appearance.
A Fun Challenge
One of the worst trends in modern gaming is reducing the difficulty curve to a flat plain, as arrows and quest markers clutter your UI. While the first Darkest Dungeon was more punishing in some respects (according to the community), it doesn’t take away from the fact that Darkest Dungeon 2 is a hard game, with a ton of mechanics you’ll need to investigate to really get through the bosses.
While for some, this could feel pretty tedious as there are a multitude of things you’ll need to keep an eye on in each battle, in other respects, it adds a deepness to the game that is lacking in other titles. Figuring out how to defeat a certain boss or enemy mob is part of the fun, though you’ll be looking at stat and buff screens a lot when you first start.
I enjoyed the process for the most part, and each time I uncovered a new aspect that made my squad synergize better, it gave me a sense of accomplishment as I managed to push through the boss that took me hours to get to. The relationship mechanic is pretty cool once you understand it, and it really can make the difference between life and death in your runs.
For others, the level of tedium may feel like it’s too much and might not engage you enough to bother learning the different mechanics. If you don’t like reading in your games, you probably won’t enjoy this one.
It All Comes Down to You
Darkest Dungeon 2 does a lot, right, but ultimately it will depend on what kind of gamer you are. If you like to take your time and make measured efficient decisions, love learning complex game mechanics, and enjoy challenging strategy games, you’ll love Darkest Dungeon 2.
If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t like strategy or turn-based games and would rather play an FPS or flashy adventure title, you’ll likely find Darkest Dungeon 2 pretty agonizing, and it could be frustrating or downright not enjoyable.
For a strategy nerd like me, the core gameplay is fun, and the aesthetic and narrative elements steal the show, which is why I can recommend Darkest Dungeon 2.
Darkest Dungeon 2 Review
A Good Challenge
Darkest Dungeon 2 is a challenging roguelike adventure set in a dark Lovecraftian world with a vast plethora of gameplay mechanics you’ll need to master to win. If you enjoy deep, sometimes plodding, strategic video games, Darkest Dungeon 2 is one to investigate.
Darkest Dungeon 2 is available on Steam.
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PC Review Copy provided.