May 8, 2023
Red Hook Studios
Red Hook Studios
The world has plunged into darkness and hope is in short supply. You must fight to save the world, though success doesn’t come immediately. Failure is a mandatory experience as challenges crush you even when success is within reach. But struggling is part of the roguelite genre and Darkest Dungeon II brings a new set of mechanics to test your determination.
Darkest Dungeon II introduces new features while overhauling others. This gives veterans a new challenge to work with while newcomers won’t have to worry about playing the original game. Some upgrades are brought over with each new run, but you are mostly starting from scratch every time. As infuriating as that can be, it provides a great sense of accomplishment if you succeed in your mission.
Unlike the first game where you were investigating the titular dungeon, in Darkest Dungeon II, you are now making your way towards a location called the Mountain. The world has already fallen and going back to the Mountain is your chance to reverse the mistakes of your predecessor. You have five chapters called Confessions which lead to the Mountain, but there are differences in the regions you travel through and the form of the final boss. Each Confession requires progression through more regions, providing more chances for your party to fail. You must decide whether you are ready to proceed or revisit a previous Confession to train.
All travelling is done in your Stagecoach, using various facilities in each area to take care of your party. There are few safe paths, with some paths leading to battle, to damage being done to your Stagecoach, or to the darkness creeping up on you. Some paths have benefits that are worth fighting for, or you can forgo them to let your party rest. Your characters can provide opinions on the route they prefer, but you are ultimately in control when deciding what your party actually needs.
Controlling your Stagecoach through the various regions is an enjoyable experience and a refreshing change from dungeon crawling. You actually feel like you control the fate of your party, rather than walking from one room to another. You decide how your party will tackle the journey ahead of them, and how they progress through each area. Unlike the former game, where every room can be visited if you have enough patience, you can’t backtrack with the Stagecoach. Every path you take leaves a road less travelled, and you are always wondering if you made the right choice. You also heal while you travel, providing a great incentive to not fight enemies instead of looking like a cowardly decision.
Every path you take must be a careful balance between ambition and reality. Can you afford to go for Mastery Points when your party is battered and bruised? Should you pursue the extra rewards from a boss or is it not worth it? There are no easy answers to these questions, and it’s nerve-wracking to make these choices. It gives you the chance to openly avoid danger, rather than forcing you on a path to destruction. Sometimes you didn’t have a choice but to keep going towards a clearly dangerous room. Now you have the option to take the least dangerous route and not get penalized.
Constantly thinking about the welfare of your team introduces an additional level of decision-making. You must decide whether a risk is worth taking or whether you should play it safe. Darkest Dungeon II excels at making you wonder if you chose correctly because the price of failure is the expedition’s immediate end. Trying to conquer that doubt and preparing for it adds to the challenge, and you will only get it right after several failures.
Fortunately, Darkest Dungeon II has replaced the penalties for failure. Permadeath is gone; your characters still die but are returned to you after a failed expedition. You get Candles after every expedition which unlock new items or grant permanent upgrades to characters and the Stagecoach. You also always keep the skills you unlock with every character. There is no situation you can’t recover from, and even a short expedition provides resources that go towards new items or upgrades. It helps reframe your failures, making sure you don’t lose sight of the bigger goal and encouraging you to keep playing.
“Even the most soul-crushing failures will give you something for your efforts.”
You are always making permanent steps towards the success of future expeditions. If you fail or your expedition goes pear-shaped, abandon everything and try again. Failing is never fun, but Darkest Dungeon II ensures you are getting something out of it. The triumph of success feels extremely rewarding and reframes your view on failure.
Making failure less punishing also makes it easier to deal with losing characters. Unlike the first Darkest Dungeon where you would often say goodbye to characters who are killed, you never do that here. Everyone returns at the end of every expedition and you can always try again. It also means if you lose your best characters, you don’t fall into a slump of despair that you lost everything. The worst that can happen is that your characters lose any memories they have, which gives them additional bonuses. Though none of those memories are vital to your early success and are easily regained.
It’s also more accessible for players who aren’t keen on losing everything they worked for. Rather than losing a powerful character forever, you can quickly rebuild the same character in a single expedition. Should any character die during the journey, completing an area usually gives you an extra party member to help you out. Failure isn’t fun, but the blow is softened to the point where it isn’t hard to try again. You aren’t too discouraged and are willing to have another try, instead of losing everything and quitting due to the pain.
Your favourite heroes from the first Darkest Dungeon return with a few new additions, but every character has been reworked. You must dive in and learn how to use a character properly, as even veterans will struggle to adapt. It’s easy to find an optimal party combination but it will take some experimentation. Unlocking new skills also opens up more options for a character, giving you access to more strategic combinations. You can also upgrade a character to unlock new Paths, subclasses that help them specialise in different roles or change skill effects.
It’s never been easier to find good party combinations, because it’s rare to find sub-optimal pairings. Creativity can make some unlikely combinations shine, and some pairings just need the right skills. As you unlock a character’s skills and understand what works, you learn how to utilise them effectively and your expeditions get easier. Combat is now more strategic instead of relying on brute force. Enemies use buffs on themselves and frequently apply status effects to your party. Bosses have gimmicks that you must learn or they will curb-stomp you into the ground. As your characters can only upgrade their skills, this means you can’t always rely on pure damage. You must come up with strategies of your own, such as applying status effects or setting up combos.
The game rewards creativity and allows several characters to shine. Every character has Paths that allow them to specialise in certain roles, and that gives you more flexibility in combat. There are few ways to play a character badly if you properly understand their usage. Finding something that works for you is rewarding as a result, and it gives you new ideas to overcome future threats. It’s hard to go through the entire game with a single team, and using all of your options is vital if you want to survive a region.
The extra layer of strategy to combat is fun to experiment with because it raises the profile of characters you might not have used before. Characters like the Flagellant and the Runaway don’t look appealing but are great fighters when given the chance. Everyone works together to win, applying different effects and covering each other’s weaknesses. Every skill can be useful with the right Path and proper support from your teammates. As long as you are willing to try, the possibilities are nearly endless even if you do have your own favourites.
Character upgrades are an area where veterans will struggle to adapt to the changes. You can only upgrade a skill once and there are no equipment upgrades from the previous game. Healing can only be done when characters drop below certain health percentages or after extensive set-ups. Completing an expedition successfully allows you to enhance characters with memories, but those memories are lost if said character fails an expedition.
“Throwing out what you previously learned is hard, but it’s vital if you want to succeed.”
The benefit is the emphasis on planning and strategy that wouldn’t happen if you could use the same tactics as before. New character skills, effects, and trinkets is a difficult transition but one that ultimately works for the better. With more viable party combinations, healing as you travel, and more options for party support, there’s more fun to be had with the new mechanics.
Old habits die hard and it’s tough to throw away actions that helped you survive before. But the new mechanics are genuinely interesting if you give them a chance. It’s also difficult to play Darkest Dungeon II like its predecessor since the old formulas are no longer viable. You must adapt to the changes and learn how to make the best of what you have. The result is an experience that’s more satisfying and cushions the blow of repeated failures, allowing you to progress and care for the party you have.
The game’s emphasis on constant failures is a double-edged sword. All roguelite games contain some element of failure and grinding, but Darkest Dungeon II feels like an especially long grind at times since you require several attempts just to unlock a good portion of the content. While characters do keep resistance upgrades and access to unique trinkets, it can feel like you aren’t making much progress. Starting from scratch after every run (successful or otherwise) can reinforce that.
The downsides to Darkest Dungeon II are minimal and it only feels punishing because you are still trying to find a way to succeed. Once you rack up a few successes, the grind starts going away and you feel in control of your path. You can’t get rid of all unlucky events, but your confidence develops and the future doesn’t look hopeless. The game acknowledges that the road ahead is tough, but it’s worth it when you turn those failures into a resounding success.
Darkest Dungeon II is easily accessible to players who are willing to push past their initial failures. All challenges can be overcome and you are never permanently locked out of victory. You have a variety of resources and strategies available to you that make you feel like you are in control. The road ahead can seem helpless, but you can’t give up hope. Eventually, you will beat the enemies at the Mountain and you will feel proud of the progress you made.
- Combat is more strategic and enjoyable
- Every failure leads to tangible progress that helps you in the future
- Navigating the Stagecoach adds an additional level of high risk/reward
- Failure isn't too punishing and death isn't permanent
- Veterans of the previous game may struggle to adapt to the changes
Darkest Dungeon II is a gruelling experience where you constantly fail and luck isn’t on your side. But as you learn from your mistakes and unlock more resources, the challenges can be conquered, and it feels mighty good to do so. Veterans of the previous game will be surprised by the reworked mechanics, and it will take some time to adapt. Though that doesn’t take away from the huge amount of enjoyment the game is able to instil and the exhilaration you get when exploring Darkest Dungeon II with an open mind. For a roguelite experience that pushes your creativity and tolerance to the limit, you’ll struggle to find much better than Darkest Dungeon II.