Darkest Dungeon was a bit of a surprise hit when it launched. Combining an oppressive atmosphere with brutal visuals and many sharp difficulty spikes, it is fundamentally designed to alienate the audience. Somehow, it managed to enrapture one instead. Darkest Dungeon 2 offers a similar level of alienation but feels instantly more accessible.
Though it could easily do so, the design doesn't feel like it is pandering. It starts easier but this is only to welcome you into the world. You get captured by the world and fight it at every corner. There's a sickly prettiness to everything - like the wonder of a particularly violent blood splat or the way that Cthulian creatures' eyes stare.
Despite this, Darkest Dungeon 2 adapts the world of the first game to a grander stage, but part of the original spirit gets a little lost in the weeds. The focus of the world is tighter but retreading those same paths can feel a slight bit tiring.
The first light
Darkest Dungeon is a game set on the road. You move from one inn to the next in a stagecoach, exploring the many sights after an apocalyptic event. You take adventurers along with you, who keep enemies back. While the world has its own story, so too does your crew.
This is one of the biggest departures from the original game but also one of the most captivating. Player archetypes grow and earn new abilities and stats throughout the game. You earn candles through runs, which can then be used to unlock trinkets and buffs that progress through subsequent runs.
As well as this, each archetype has a story that you run through by completing events in the world. This tells you how they go to your stagecoach and what keeps them running. It eventually makes relationships feel less random but gives you a much easier time with the game. If you really enjoy the world, Darkest Dungeon 2 is an excellent follow up but, if you love the challenge of the first, you may be a little disappointed.
Darkest Dungeon 2 is still incredibly punishing and defeats really challenge you. A win is just as satisfying and taking that extra hit could be the difference between life and death. It helps that the sounds and sights of the world are tragic. One town may hold survivors willing to help, whereas another is a vessel for Lovecraftian creatures willing to kill themselves before surrendering at the barrel of your gun.
Stories are told brilliantly through the game's mechanics, using things like stress to drive home how characters feel about major decisions and fights. Your team aren't stats throwing themselves against a wall; they are humans who get scared, lose hope, and find the will to persevere.
It is no secret that Darkest Dungeon analogises loss, depression, and the things we do to move on but Darkest Dungeon 2 moves on from its predecessor in wonderful ways, meaningfully flipping the game on its head to analyse itself.
Treading the same paths
Unfortunately, starting again isn't quite as satisfying as the first. Character archetypes give you less reason to "reroll" characters, and the way runs ease you in often means the first half an hour or so can feel very similar. You work out the best team composition pretty quickly and don't get given a reason to be more creative than that.
You can choose from 12 classes and this does give you plenty to play around with, but internal metas come out very quickly. This is rewarding, as you feel better at the game the more you play, but it isn't quite as replayable as the first because of this.
It's hard to talk about Darkest Dungeon 2 without mentioning the first game and this feels warranted, given it almost perfected the formula. There is room for it to stand its own, but I don't believe the final release has really got there yet.
A copy of Darkest Dungeon 2 was provided by the publisher for review.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Reviews and Darkest Dungeon 2 page.