Roguelikes is such an interesting game genre. Whilst there are relatively hard rules on what defines a roguelike, the scope of what people consider part of the family is vast. Some games are fast and fluid, and going through levels unlocks random items which can appear in future runs. Some are slower, turn-based, and progressing gives you currency to unlock specific things like characters or power-ups which make the game easier long-term, but dilutes the pool of items for specific builds through those unlocks.
Darkest Dungeon 2 falls into the latter. In a deviation from the first game where you returned to a hub between combats and you formed small parties to raid the dungeons, this time it leans into the roguelike genre and your game is built into runs. At first I was nervous about this because I loved the first game, but after spending some time with it, I truly think that this game might have the ability to surpass its predecessor.
If I was to look with a cynical eye on why the change was made to the gameplay loop, I see it as twofold; I don’t know too many people who finished the first game. It clocks in at around a hundred or so hours, maybe more. That’s a lot of game. In comparison, a run of this title comes in at around 2-3 hours, with later chapters having more length. This gives flexibility, and also the chance to try out some more interesting characters, as well as to futz about with randomness in items, with the option to make things harder or easier. The other reason I think the change was made was because it makes modding and future DLC a whole lot easier. Adding new items and characters are easier when the player is forced to try a new run every few hours. Adding new areas, new chapters and even new classes is also a better investment when they’re put in front of players’ eyes more frequently.
The game is started by spending any candles (the game’s upgrade currency), then choosing what 4 characters you want to use, as well as setting their Path (a modifier for their skills, essentially changing the way they play) and their skills. You then do a quick trial combat and get set into the game chapter you selected.
Choice really is the name of the game. Every action seems to have long-reaching consequences for better or worse. The direction you take in the wagon means you might take on more combats or see more neutral encampments, but even the neutral paths can affect your character’s relationships. In combat, you can watch what the enemy is doing and try and plan accordingly to stop them. Even moves in combat have the potential to affect character relationships and stress, which may prove to be run-makers or breakers in the final stretch, where your characters are having breakdowns or force the use of skills which may have a negative (or positive!) side effect on others in the party.
Every decision is something you need to think about. It comes down to what you need and whether you can stand to deal with the negative outcomes as they arise. But this creates great diversity in runs. Sometimes when I’ve thought I was playing well, a bad relationship sours one of my most used skills and that causes a player to be killed in combat, which sets off a cascade of stress on the party, exacerbating those issues until finally it all fell apart. It goes the other way as well, where positive effects on skills create some amazing synergies that open up new combinations and opportunities that weren’t there before.
There’s a fantastic dark tone to the game too. The overarching story is told through small cutscenes over multiple plays, and defeating the final boss of a chapter will give more information. Character stories are pieced together through shrines where you unlock new skills and come to grips with their past. It’s all very cool, but I find the drip-feeding of the narrative caused me to forget the bigger picture, which is a shame.
It’s hard, too. At first I thought it would be one of the roguelikes where the game got much much easier later in the game, and whilst I’ve still got some stuff to do in the game, unlocking new things just gave me more options. Sure, I could lean into powerful synergies or use the flame augments to make the game easier, but I think there’s a lot to be said for taking a random group and seeing what you can make work with that. As I said, it’s all about choice.
Darkest Dungeon 2 breaks the shackles of sequel-itis and reinvents itself in a new style. I think diehards with an open mind will be very interested to see what’s changed and the new direction, because there is some real nail-biting difficult fun to be had here. I truly look forward to jumping back into it, and I think the change to the style might open this up to new players, or players who bounced off the long, unforgiving first game.
Player 2 reviewed Darkest Dungeon on PC using a code kindly provided by PopArena.