Darkest Dungeon II - EARLY ACESS REVIEW
How’s everyone doing? 🤙
Dungeon crawling is in the lexicon of nerd culture. Before the Zeldas, and Elder Scrolls, and graphics cards – there was DnD (anyone remember the Dexter’s Laboratory DnD episodes? One of my favorites. 😌). Dungeons and dragons was such a huge cultural touchstone that through the years it has inspired countless games, defined genres, and eradicated any chance of marriage for a substantial amount of its player base. 😥
But that’s neither here nor there.
Until Darkest Dungeon released on February 3, 2015. Adventurers were always happy-go-lucky, “it’s just a prank bro!” douches – that is, until Red Hook kicked them in the face.
The original Darkest Dungeon defined an era, as it dealt with the psychological aspects of dungeon crawling. Something few games have bothered to implement or address. And now Red Hook has released Darkest Dungeon 2 as an early-access title on the Epic Game Store.
Does it live up to the hefty, harrowing, heights of its predecessor? Let’s dive back into this decrepit den of death and see whether our softened limbs and idled mind can still withstand the agony-inducing gameplay….
Of the Darkest Dungeon. Waaaaaaa 😱
“Another mariner? Another misfortune.”
I'm gonna talk about this game as if you've all already played the original. And if you haven't, consider this my wholehearted endorsement that you do that ASAP. Forget making dinner for the hubby, he can eat the leftover !PIZZA from yesterday - tonight you're delving into the dungeon.
So, Darkest Dungeon 2 is about a group of 4 adventurers that have banded together to ascend the highest peak in the land. They have to go on this perilous journey to prevent the world from descending into an apocalyptic, Lovecraftian nightmare.
We can divide the gameplay into 3 aspects: turn-based combat, resource management, rogue-lite decision making.
The stress element of the first game is not only present but enhanced. As they have added additional mechanics to complement the inevitable descent into madness. 😭
What sets this apart, however, is that this second game is a rogue-lite through and through. And IMO, that was an amazing choice by the dev team. The Darkest Dungeon formula just lends itself to work super well in the rogue-lite genre.
"There Is A Sickness In The Ancient Pitted Cobbles Of The Old Road, And On Its Writhing Path You Will Face Viciousness, Violence, And Perhaps Other Damnably Transcendent Terrors."
This time around you aren't digging up ancient ruins, but climbing a freakin' mountain. Granted, there's a bit more to it. 😁
The stagecoach is a fascinating element to the gameplay. It serves as your encounter device and is a great presentational touchpoint. You can move the coach left-right to crash into destructibles and earn potential loot. But the main crux is the procedurally generated map (very akin to the maps in games like Slay the Spire) where you have to plan out a route. 📜
Currently in the EA build, if you stop your coach to check out the map (or do anything) the game punishes you by stressing out your party. I know this is a standard Darkest Dungeon mechanic, but I think it needs to be tweaked before the game's release. Not a fan of the way it currently functions.
🔥 The Torch mechanic in this game is The Flame. It will slowly deplete as you travel across the landscape. The lower it gets, the harder your journey. There are no torches this time around to replenish your dwindling flame, instead, there are a variety of encounters that will increase your flame. All in all, the mechanic feels more streamlined (and IMO better designed) than its predecessor's equivalent. 🔥
The cool thing about this portion of the gameplay is the character interacting with each other. Their interactions are stilted and repetitive, but I attribute that to the game still being relatively early in its development.
Character interactions seem to be a core part of this game, however. And I applaud that decision by Red Hook.
"He will be laughing still... in the end..."
This time around your party can encounter a variety of locations, each one designed to entice you, or eventually forsake you.
In the current Early-Acess build there are the following encounters:
Watchtower - this si your scout. When you start off a new area (there are currently 3) most of your locations/encounters are ❓. Reaching a watchtower will reveal all your remaining encounters in that area.
Lair - One of the more difficult nodes. You can delve into a multi-stage battle to get increasing rewards. These encounters usually have three skirmishes with the final one including a mini-boss. Players do have the option of escaping the lair after every fight. But the more you win, the greater the reward... Poor saps...
Combat - Combat is more or less your standard fair. If you've played the first game there is no new sweeping mechanic to the combat system. You have the abilities that you chose before embarking; the importance of placement to both your party and your enemies; and the ever-infuriating dice roll system. ⚔️ The only new thing thus far is the inclusion of a combat item. You loot these combat items from everywhere and they are designed to be frequently used (they sport such effects as: healing, removing elements, or inflicting heavy damage to an enemy). I would be also amiss if I didn't mention the beautiful new animations they've added - increasing the exhilarating feeling of battling with your crew against hordes of nightmare-fueled abominations. 😨
Assistance - these encounters put you face-to-face with the downtrodden population of the apocalypse. They will offer you a variety of rewards, and each hero from your party will give their own opinion on what you should take. This could mean trading some relics or flame level for food, trinkets, inn items, or even relighting the flame. 🔥
Shrine of Reflection - this node is pure rogue-lite progression. You chose a member from your party and explore their tortured past. Each time you pass these recollections, you are awarded a new skill from said character. You can then use this skill in future expeditions. Pretty cool mechanic as it allows unique self-generated storylines to happen in your playthrough. And I love any emergent element in video games. 👍
Supply Cache - your standard chests. You can gain a multitude of items, however they are completely random. So what you get from this encounter carries greatly.
Hoarder - this is your shop. There are only 2 currencies this time around. Relics and Baubles. You use Baubles exclusively for buying trinkets, and relics for everything else (inn items, combat items etc).
Field Hospital - the Hoarder's less greedy sister. In these encounters, you can replenish your party by healing lost hp, or removing afflictions (like the Sanitarium in the first game). ❣️ You can also purchase trinkets but they will be weaker than those found at the Hoarder, and the combat/inn items will be generally aimed towards healing in some way.
Academic’s Study - your Curious. This time around, you are presented with a mysterious item, each party member shares their opinion on what you should do - and you roll the dice. This encounter is purely random, and whether you chose to engage with it is up to you. I do not. 😅 I think this node is lacking design in the current version.
Inn - your checkpoint. The inn serves as the last encounter of every area. A respite that substitutes the Manor and the camp from the previus game. It's your standard, rogue-lite, in-between level. And it deserves its own section:
"And now the true test... hold fast, or expire?"
Time to take a breather... 😴
You can use your Inn-items to remove stress, improve relationships between your heroes, or just heal festering wounds. And you should. Stocking up on these items does nothing but take up valuable space in your stagecoach.
The Inn also contains the: Provisioner, Weapon’s Master, and Wainwright.
🔶 The Provisioner is the Hoarder's less stingy younger b rother. He provides better rates than his brother but otherwise serves as your bog-standard shop. 💰
🔶 The Weapon’s Master is your ability upgrade screen. You use special points that you gather through your travels to upgrade any skill you want. You then use this upgraded skill until the run ends. Currently, you can only upgrade a skill once (to level 2). ⏫
🔶 The Wainwright is where you upgrade your coach. It has 4 available upgrades along with a slot for a Trophy and a Pet. The trophy and pet are not currently available in the EA build. But the upgrades you can get as readily as any other item type and you can swap them at will anytime you are at an inn. The upgrades range from increased inventory to periodically granting you "flapjacks" - a healing item.
You leave the inn by selecting your next region. You are presented with 2 choices, each yielding unique challenges and rewards, should you make it to the next inn. In time you will learn which regions are strong against which heroes, etc. And navigating this choice is IMO the key difference between whether or not a run is successful.
"He will be laughing still, at the end..."
Red Hook has put great emphasis on building character relationships. This system allows each run to have dynamic storytelling, at least that's the design idea.
Currently, this system needs tweaking. And I feel like the devs are going to continue iterating on it well past release - game design such as this tends to be fickle and easy to break. 😢
How it works is ➖ the characters will constantly talk to each other. On the road or in battles. Based on each hero's preferences, their disposition towards a comrade changes depending on what he says/where he stands about something. Once a relationship reaches its apex it can be either virtuous (they help each other) or tumultuous (they try to undermine each other every chance they get). This system works hand in hand with the game's other carry-over mechanic: stress. 😡
Stress in this game works a bit differently than in the original. The character accumulates stress throughout, then when the stress meter is full the character goes through a "meltdown".
This causes the hero to lose all virtues, reduce his/her health to nearly 0, and just start to hate everyone in general.
In my experience, meltdowns happen way too often. To the point that, the only time I use my health items is when a character melts down. I'm sure that's not the intended use of this mechanic, but I'm sure it's gonna get the additional design required as it is currently lacking.
"Many fall in the face of chaos... But not this one! Not today."
✔️ RECOMMENDED ✔️
(Especially when it releases from early access. My levels of hopium for this game are high for sure. 😅)
Thanks for reading my first game review! 😮 You're awesome! 😗
Consider upvoting and sharing. 😃
Shoutout to the !PIZZA gang, gang. 💯🤙
Have a good one, yo. 🙌