image via Red Hook Studios

Darkest Dungeon 2 Review: Drive Back the Darkness

The Apocalypse, Stress and deadly creatures from beyond never looked so good.

Darkest Dungeon 2 is just as hauntingly beautiful and intense as the original. But developer Red Hook Studios has also made something different with this sequel, using the foundation of the first game as a springboard into a familiar but wholly different Cthulu-inspired world. Now a roguelite, this is a different approach to gameplay and storytelling. But don’t let that fool you. This is still a challenging experience, and the possibility of “game over” looms just beyond the safety of the light.

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One of the biggest changes to Darkest Dungeon 2 over its predecessor is that it’s no longer centered on a small town. Instead, your party is thrown into a Stagecoach and forced to travel through different regions heading toward The Mountain, the evil looming in the distance.

There are five total regions to explore, four mapped and one unmapped. While all of them revolve around the central unsettling darkness that permeates the world of Darkest Dungeon 2, their designs are unique, gripping, and disturbing.

Foetor mixes fields of grain with giant piles of rotten meat. Think The Green Inferno meets The Children of the Corn. The Shroud is where the Fisherfolk have made their homes and is a vast network of piers and pathways along a foggy shoreline, where they began worshipping the sea in unholy ways. The Sprawl is a city on fire with no water in sight and a place where the denizens are driven insane by the horrors of the cult. Then there’s the Tangle and The Sluice that tell even more about the world in unnerving ways.  

Before you can explore these regions, though, you’ll pick a Confession. These are Darkest Dungeon 2‘s chapters. Each becomes increasingly difficult, with the last Confession being the hardest. Confessions have different end-level bosses, provide insight with different bits of lore, and have some minor mechanical differences in gameplay separating them from one another.

And the Mountain lies at the end of everything, the Confession boss waiting to devour your party and send you back to the beginning.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Though the way you travel through the world is different, your party is still made up of four heroes just trying to survive. However, instead of recruiting multiple classes, heroes are their own individuals in Darkest Dungeon 2 — and you can’t recruit multiple people. There can only be one Plague Doctor or one Occultist in your party at a time. If a character dies, a different, random person will be added to your group once you reach the Inn, the bastion of hope at the end of each region, where you can heal, equip special items, and more.

Needless to say, character deaths in Darkest Dungeon 2 can completely throw off any synergy you had going, destroy inter-character relationships, or make your pets less useful.

For those of us that really enjoyed the various classes in Darkest Dungeon, the expansion of their stories in Darkest Dungeon 2 is joyous news. Each character has their own five-party story series (think quests, and you’ll be close) that you can unlock and play through at Hero Shrines.

I found these created stronger bonds between character and player, increasing the tension when battles would go awry or the regret when a character would go mad. That’s not to mention we finally learn why the Vestal is traveling with a bunch of miscreants or how the Graverobber started robbing graves in the first place.

Along with these backgrounds for heroes, the world itself is filled to the brim with lore. Each time you embark on a new Confession, the story becomes more detailed. Locations slowly reveal more of the story. There are subtle nods to the original game and its DLC throughout, and some nice Easter Eggs, too. The feeling that this is what happened after the ending of Darkest Dungeon is palpable.

But you don’t need to have played the first game to enjoy Darkest Dungeon 2. Though the 3D environments evoke the classic style of Darkest Dungeon, and all the gory details are present, from vomiting attacks to buildings on fire, there’s a distinctive quality to this sequel.

Even with no prior knowledge of what happened in the first game, Darkest Dungeon 2 is fully fleshed out. Each character, boss, and location makes sense on its own. It hooks you in and pulls you along, making you want more of the story, more of the characters, and more of the environments. It’s all the little elements — like learning who the Desperate Few are and that there’s no place for common folk — that have kept me playing. Well, and the satisfaction that comes from defeating really hard bosses.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

While light sources have always been a focus, Darkest Dungeon 2 has changed how light works. Instead of using torches to increase light, your Stagecoach is the single source of light in this dark world. The neat thing about the Flame and light management here is that it plays directly into the game’s strategy elements, forcing you to think completely differently than before.

The Flame of Hope itself can’t be increased by Vestal skills, and you’ll need to use a Combat Item slot if you want to increase it during battle. With several ways to increase its effectiveness, you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about The Light, your party’s health and stress, and where you are on the map. And you don’t want to end up with a party wipe just trying to increase your Flame.

Previously, in my experience with Darkest Dungeon, strategies revolved around the best party compositions and how to build them to defeat a specific boss. You could stack a bunch of torches and call it a day. But here, resources are limited. Your team will have to take down two bosses, a potential random encounter, clear at least two Oblivion’s Ramparts, and manage their dearth of resources — all while not going insane or fighting each other.

It seems insurmountable but Darkest Dungeon 2 succeeds because it’s all possible with some good strategy and route planning. Or some damn good luck.

Enemies in Darkest Dungeon 2 go beyond your ordinary cadaver or aggressive beast. Each region features disgustingly mutated foes, twisted by their response to the apocalypse. Residents of the Tangle have fused with the roots around them; those in the Sprawl are melted heaps of flesh kept alive by their fanaticism. If the undulating mass of mutation known as The Inchoate Flesh in Darkest Dungeon made you shudder in repulsion, you’ll get the same reaction with the enemies here.

Cultists are further corrupted than the human-like enemies in the original. Tainted by Oblivion, each Cultist enemy encounter gets stranger and stronger as you progress through the regions. They range in degrees of weird from the fairly normal Cherubs to the cenobite-adjacent Examplar that looks like it was ripped out of a Hellraiser movie.

But Cultists aren’t the only enemies that get harder as you get through more regions. All combat encounters gradually get more difficult. Gaunt go from two Lost Souls to including a Ghoul. Fisherfolk work through the ranks until you’re facing down the Captain. The chance of death is always lingering as you travel Redemption Road.

If this all sounds just a bit too challenging, there are ways to make things easier, too, like the Radiant Flame from the Provisioner. There are also difficulty options to see weaknesses right away, or ways to avoid max Loathing. Conversely, for those looking to make things harder, there are ways to do darkness runs or partake in different challenges modes.

It opens the doors for replayability even after all the Confessions have been cleared. While I won’t personally subject myself to the difficulty of Infernal Flames anytime soon, Red Hook Studios really catered to all of their player base with these flames.

Darkest Dungeon 2 Review — The Bottom Line

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Pros

  • Challenging with different difficulty settings for all players
  • New characters are unique in their playstyle
  • New mechanics keep the game fresh while instilling the same feeling as Darkest Dungeon
  • Pets!
  • Not necessary to play original game
  • Extremely polished game

Cons

  • Inventory management can get tiresome if you never use items
  • Time investment to fully unlock the Infernal Flame
  • Lack of enemy variety moving through the regions

There’s plenty of content to fight through in Darkest Dungeon 2. The team at Red Hook Studios kicked up their creativity to give us a fresh take on an already beloved game. The new mechanics make this seem like a completely new experience instead of the second title in a series. While the original was a hit, Darkest Dungeon 2 is a slam dunk of a sequel.

[Note: Redhook Studios provided the PC copy of Darkest Dungeon 2 used for this review.]

9
Darkest Dungeon 2 Review: Drive Back the Darkness
The Apocalypse, Stress and deadly creatures from beyond never looked so good.

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Author
Ashley Erickson
Ashley, otherwise known as Glitchiee, is an avid gamer of RPGs, TTRPGS, farming sims, and survival crafting games. Playing since she can remember, she started on the SNES, GameBoy Color, and collection 1st gen Pokemon cards. Using her passion for gaming, she's written about games for a combined total of 2 years.