Darkest Dungeon II is a roguelike by Red Hook Studios. It works like most other turn-based RPG-style roguelikes, where you select an ability for your characters to use in battle as their turn arrives. There are status effects and equipment, but instead of experience, you’ll receive mastery points that can upgrade individual abilities on a hero of your choice.
Stress returns from the previous game, and on the whole, it’s a no-frills combat system that works well other than one thing: Darkest Dungeon II is incredibly random.
When any enemy or character’s health is reduced to zero, they have a chance to enter Death’s Door, a state wherein they have a percentage chance to survive any subsequent hit that would usually kill. Most equipment has a random chance to inflict a positive or negative status effect, your character’s relationships will go up or down at random, which leads to a random chance to debuff your own teammates, all status effects have a chance to be resisted, and so on.
You can end up with a dozen random chances per turn determining whether you go into a death spiral or have an easy win, and it frustrated me. It almost felt like I wasn’t playing the game at times, given that the correct moves weren’t hard to discern and only worked at random.
Darkest Dungeon II is hard, and improving your skill as a player will increase your success, but I wish randomness had less influence than it does.
You move from battle to battle via a steerable carriage, but it barely matters. You can crash into debris to occasionally get an item, but for the most part, it’s a more sluggish version of a typical roguelike map. You’ll need to decide which routes are best given your often imperfect knowledge of what lies on each route, but the actual carriage driving is a snooze. The UI for inventory and maps overlays on the carriage, and it’s way too cramped and irritating.
The character management from the first game is gone. Technically they have unique quirks each run, but I wasn’t always clear on what effect they had, and I couldn’t assign heroes with certain fears to keep them away from those monsters because there’s no assigning heroes anymore. I just didn’t connect with any of these heroes, because they didn’t come with me on multiple runs, taking time off to drink between dungeons, and gradually becoming stronger. They just come on one trip, die, and come back to life for the next run with the same name.
The progression between runs also feels limp. You’re given points based on last run’s performance and told to upgrade whatever you like, but there are a lot of things to upgrade, it’s not clear which are good, and a lot of the upgrades are actually increased variety that might not help. It takes quite a while to look through your options, and the choices mostly aren’t interesting.
The 3D graphics are impressively shaded, and the sound design is great. The story is incredibly unremarkable, with some generic and boring occult end-of-the-world stuff that failed to create a sense of intrigue or propel me forward.
Some of the bosses just have ridiculous amounts of health, which makes those battles take more than 40 minutes, win or lose. Each game over takes a couple of minutes, and it feels so damned long given that you barely make any choices.
Despite all the things I don’t like about it, Darkest Dungeon II isn’t a terrible roguelike. It’s just fairly middle of the road, with plenty of replay value, but gameplay that fails to distinguish itself from the crowd or live up to its predecessor. If you like your roguelikes hard, you might enjoy this one, but it wasn’t to my taste at all.
Darkest Dungeon II is out now on PC for $39.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Darkest Dungeon II.