Darkest Dungeon 2 Review – Devolution
Delivering a sequel to one of the best games of all time was probably akin to flashing a faint smile to an executioner before putting your head on a chopping block. You are about to get ravaged no matter what, so you might as well make peace with the axe of public opinion.
There was no chance Darkest Dungeon 2 topping the timeless classic that is the first game. Fine folks from Red Hook Studios probably figured that quite early in the development. So, instead of chasing the ethereal essence of innovation, they opted for gimmicks, bloat, grind, and total randomness. There’s a palpable resignation around this sequel, like the game itself is aware of its stellar progenitor, trying to compensate for inadequacy with ever-increasing cruelty. Darkest Dungeon 2 is punishing in a way that is unnecessary and arbitrary to the point of absurdity. The core systems are still great, but almost every new feature feels like devolution.
Adversity can foster hope and resilience
You feel that, game? That was the taste of your medicine, applied deliberately to your exposed features. Going for the jugular before a sportsmanlike handshake bothers you now, does it? I’m composing all this in the voice of Wayne June, so I advise you, dear reader, to absorb it in a similar fashion. It helps. The fantastic narrator is back, and every single grumble-inducing change or lackluster “improvement” is a bit more bearable because of his euphonious voice.
One of those changes, probably the most crucial difference between Darkest Dungeons, is the format. Part 2 is a rogue-lite with mini-campaigns centered around the single party and its singular journey to triumph or oblivion. The meta-game is still here, but it exists as a separate entity from the action, serving its purpose between journeys. The so-called Altar of Hope is a marketplace where you can invest the candles earned during the attempts. You can unlock and improve heroes there, unlock trinkets and various other items, and increase many other attributes related to the game. Every attempt thus makes you a little bit stronger, but you’ll need every ounce of that strength. The overall punishing factor is increased at least twofold – players unfamiliar with the specific sets of challenges immanent to DD are in for a nasty shock.
You cannot learn a thing you think you know
The plot of Darkest Dungeon 2 is pretty vague and gate-layered – you will gradually divulge important pieces and factoids, but only after reaching certain milestones. In the beginning, you’ll learn that everything is gone and that your four-person team is the only hope against oblivion. They ride in a stagecoach through a ruined world, rest in the inns and push ever-forward toward the mystical mountain, the seat of power for the boss of each of the five acts, or “confessions”.
Denial, Resentment, Obsession… Each is more nastier than the last, but in theory, so are you. You’ll spend most of the game on the road, going from node to node, fighting, scavenging, and sometimes, fleeing. Each zone works like a standard dungeon in the previous game, only with more branching paths. It is (obviously) played from a different perspective, but the principle of moving on and surviving is the same. You cannot, however, abandon it and go somewhere else without scrubbing the entire run. The game gives you a single chance, but lost and abandoned run at least provides you with candles you acquired before the end.
You will endure this loss, and learn from it
Darkest Dungeon 2 is unpredictable to a fault. Every zone is mostly uncharted until you stumble upon the watchtower node, and you can easily chain up several punishing fights in a row. In DD, you could go backward, suffering a stress penalty, but in DD 2, the only way is forward. Your guys heal while driving, but HP is only one side of well-being’s bloody coin. Stress accumulates at a record pace, doubly or triply so if a party member develops some unfortunate quirk. Scared of swine folk in swine country? Expect a meltdown soon. And since you can’t abandon the “dungeon” or replace anyone unless they die (and not before reaching the inn), you are stuck with the problem all the way.
If you somehow manage to crawl and bite your way to the end of the zone, you must face the Oblivion Rampart. This is usually the most difficult fight in every run, and it’s a constant heartbreaker. That plague doctor whose life was hanging by a thread for the last thirty minutes? Watch him die a horrible death now. If you reach the inn despite the casualties, you’ll get a random replacement from the pool of unlocked personnel. But get this – not only that you can’t choose the replacement, but you also can’t pick his or her specialization or talents. You might auto-recruit someone entirely unsuitable for the road ahead. A nice vestal might replace the plague doctor that perished, but hahaha, here’s hellion for you instead.
Ruin has come to our family
The main problem with a new system is the faux flexibility. You can unlock and select more talents for every class, and even pick the stat-modifying specialization to make a perfect blend with the rest of the squad. But if someone dies, the perfect synergy dies as well, forcing you to ad-hoc improvise and most certainly lose everyone at the next road bend. The game provides the tools to grind for features and fine-tune your party but gives you nothing whatsoever to intelligently patch up the holes after a setback. So you’ll be inclined to abandon the run even after the slight suspicion that it might go awry. That’s bad game design 101, no two ways about that. I still fondly remember the emotional roller-coaster of almost failing but persisting and pulling myself out of nasty predicaments in DD. You simply won’t find that kind of quality drama here.
There is no contest: Darkest Dungeon was and still is a much better game. According to Steam, I had invested 107 hours in it, and I still occasionally fire it up from time to time. Darkest Dungeon 2 became unbearable after just 19 hours. It kept annoying me without enticing me to try harder because you can’t try harder, you can only get better RNG. It’s pretty sad how they massacred my boy, to paraphrase Don Vito Corleone. Darkest Dungeon 2 looks prettier than the original, but that’s pretty much the sole compliment I could bestow upon it.
- Prettier than Darkest Dungeon.
- Wayne June, the mighty narrator, is back.
- The game motivates you to quit after a setback instead of pushing you to untangle the mess.
- Success mostly depends on RNG and luck.
- Grind is now the core meta-game feature.