Review: Darkest Dungeon II Is More of What You Love, but Also Less

Darkest Dungeon was a darling when it was released seven years ago. Darkest Dungeon wasn’t unique, but it excelled in creating its sense of grim dread and kept me pushing through constant defeat. While Darkest Dungeon II does a great job with its atmosphere, developer Red Hook made changes that took away the sense of danger, something its predecessor did so well.

Darkest Dungeon II is a roguelite game where you travel across a monster infested landscape in the hopes of thwarting the apocalypse that began in the first game. Darkest Dungeon was known for its ruthless difficulty, and perma-death: when your character died, they were dead. In the sequel,death is just an inconvenience, and dead characters come back when you start a new run. It could be argued that the permadeath mechanic was all window dressing, but it was enough for me to feel an investment in these (ultimately doomed) characters. Darkest Dungeon II never quite makes me feel the same way. Instead, it’s a game that feels less tense and more grindy. But perma-death makes the stakes feel real. Without it Darkest Dungeon II loses some of its grim darkness, which enhanced the first game considerably.

Darkest Dungeon II fulfills the apocalyptic promise of the first game–with your goal to put an end to the ongoing apocalypse.The world is beset with creatures, and you have to navigate your stagecoach through increasingly dangerous paths.Your choice of paths to take in Darkest Dungeon II is one of the most significant changes made.

While you mostly stayed in the same place in the first game, Darkest Dungeon II has you on the move from the start. Instead of picking missions among the locations on your estate, there is a branching pathway. This will look familiar to anyone who has played roguelikes in the last few years, as many games have adopted this approach since Slay the Spire made it popular.

The entire party travels in your trusty stagecoach from one encounter to the next. Your stagecoach is part of the journey, and is a bit like a party member. It can have items equipped and can take damage, which requires repair. Your choice of path to take in Darkest Dungeon will affect your character’s sanity, the condition of the coach, and what encounters you’ll find on the road–among other things.

Combat in Darkest Dungeon II isn’t so far off from the first game. Positioning is important, as your character’s abilities are dependent on where they’re positioned in the stack. Once felled, enemies leave corpses behind, which sometimes need to be cleared to effectively attack those in a lane that is unreachable or not ideal. It’s also best to mitigate damage, because there is limited potential for healing between combat encounters—especially if you’re venturing in a lair, where enemies will come at you in wave after wave.

After a long journey, your surviving heroes do get some respite,in the form of Inns that mark the end of that leg of your travels. The Inn is where you can use specialized Inn items, as well as make sure your heroes are equipped and ready to take on the next section of your journey, with the mountain being your ultimate destination.

Another deviation in Darkest Dungeon II is its art. While it mostly retains the same style, it’s only a semblance of its predecessors' superbly hand drawn visuals, as they’re replaced with 3D models. This does create some more graphical fidelity, but it comes at the expense of grittiness.

While Darkest Dungeon II has a great atmosphere, it never recreates that sense of danger and hopelessness that its predecessor excelled at. Its change of graphical style and gameplay were bold moves, but they’re a little too much of a departure for someone looking for more Darkest Dungeon. It’s by no means a bad game, just a sophomore slump for the series, and a case of “it ain’t broke, but let’s fix it.” I’m hoping to see a third that builds on the strength of both games.

Darkest Dungeon II is available now for PC via the Epic Game Store, and Steam.

A Steam key was provided to us for this review.

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.