Red Hook Studios garnered a surprise hit in 2015 with their uniquely Sisyphean RPG-roguelike Darkest Dungeon. A cruel, unforgiving game that punished mistakes and stacked the odds against the player, it proved as brutal as it was addictive. After years of anticipation, the team finally launched Darkest Dungeon II in Early Access, offering players a rough (though mostly whole) experience.
With the release of its final Early Access update, we thought there was no better time to take a look at the game in its current state.
Traversing Through a 3D World
The biggest innovation fans of the first game will notice is the introduction of a 3D(ish) overworld. With each journey, you’ll have full control of your carriage’s route: moving forward, avoiding obstacles, and choosing your path. The map (seen below) shows what your choice of paths will bring in a very Slay the Spire kind of way (which seems to have become the norm for roguelikes). Go left and you’ll experience a normal fight, go right and you’ll encounter a tough, elite enemy with bountiful riches, or go forward and you’ll find a random encounter (for better or worse).
Although the feel of navigating your carriage leaves something to be desired (though it has been refined in the latest update), the idea is neat. The light source lights up your surroundings, slowly diminishing as you trek on. The strength of your flame affects your party’s sanity, which continues to be a major mechanic affecting everything from combat efficiency to behavior, while the act of slowly pushing onward creates an ominous atmosphere.
Another major area of improvement is in the characters of your unfortunate party. Rather than RPG archetypes, your crew now consists of named characters with more personality and – more essentially – their own questlines that tell the story of their journey before joining your motley crew. These diversions, essentially challenging encounters that limit you to one character, provide unique challenges and rewarding glimpses of narrative and world-building.
Each character’s backstory comprises several chapters, each increasing in difficulty and complexity. You’re able to access these upon resting, though you can only do one at a time. This welcome addition expands the storytelling capabilities of the game while providing unique combat encounters and character-specific rewards.
Presentation and Atmosphere
Expanding on what gave the first game its unique selling point, Darkest Dungeon II continues to shine. With more polished animations, another moody score from Stuart Chatwood, and Wayne June’s existentialist narration setting the tone. The game looks and sounds great, with a wealth of narrative cutscenes, too. The art style shines while giving life and personality to the characters. Whether you’re trudging along the lonesome road, or battling it out with ghouls and bandits, you’re immersed in the experience. Furthermore, the diversity of locales, areas, enemies, and creature types is vastly improved over the original. There is far more variety and much more in the way of dark, fantastical world-building.
Have you played Darkest Dungeon II yet? Do you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments below!