'Darkest Dungeon II' Review: One Hell of a Road Trip for the Books
Here's our review of 'Darkest Dungeon II,' the next chapter in the rogue-defining series sending players neck-deep into a depraved world.
On the rickety steps of an inn, The Mountain stared menacingly. After a night of bitter drinks and paltry activities, the only thing left for my group was to challenge an eldritch monstrosity within The Mountain.
It and others powered the horrors setting fire to cities and infecting farmlands. The world was starved for heroes crazy enough to defy the odds and break the oppressive hold.
Submerging players back into its tenebrous setting, Darkest Dungeon II is a party-traveling roguelite through terrains with branching pathways in a stagecoach to reach The Mountain. There, players will fight a boss, unlock the next chapter, and return to The Mountain to face a new threat.
Developer Red Hook Studios has been steadily designing the sequel during its early access on the Epic Games Store, providing a taste of new systems and treacherous regions while carving out its identity through patches.
Players can now experience all five chapters in Darkest Dungeon II with its 1.0 release today, including the returning Flagellant hero, Radiant and Infernal Flame difficulty systems, cosmetics, and more.
As a complete package, Darkest Dungeon II finds comfort in the familiar roots of the cult classic series yet manages to reinvent the feel of its highest gameplay achievements. It’s mechanically tight and fulfilling, player-driven, and has an enigmatic personality that will pull anyone in.
Darkest Dungeon II
Darkest Dungeon II roots itself in the franchise's greatest strengths, from challenging fights to complex systems for experimentation, and expands to offer a stunning redefined experience.
Developer: Red Hook Studios
Publisher: Red Hook Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release date: May 8, 2023
Eldritch powers are back in Darkest Dungeon II to stain the world with ruthless humanoid fishermen and pyre-fanatic creatures. Wayne June’s haunting narration looms again over players, colored with words of solace and the unshakable reminder that all could be lost.
Heroes in Darkest Dungeon II are modeled after the mercenaries in the previous game, bringing back the Man-at-Arms, Highwayman, Grave Robber, and others, alongside the new fire-slinging Runaway hero into the fold. These heroes are no longer endless fodder without backstories like in Darkest Dungeon.
Hero Shrines found within a region will offer glimpses into a character’s history and unlock new battle skills. These episodes could be playable scenarios or narrated scripture, each exposing their tragic or maddening origins.
Relationships between these heroes could bloom after spending a night at the inn checkpoints, giving battle skills additional benefits like curing ailments or reducing stress.
Depending on a hero’s build, the relationship benefits can be hit-or-miss. For instance, a relationship may boost melee skills for a hero specialized in ranged attacks. Often, the benefits didn’t mesh well with the strengths of my heroes, and I wished there were ways to optimize them to impact my runs more deeply as a reward for keeping the peace between them.
Relationships were more sporadic during the early access period, blooming through battles and exploration to spice up the experience. The 1.0 version feels more restrictive in nature and doesn’t lean well into player experimentation.
On the flip side, the devs executed bulking up the sequel with a more profound narrative presence, pouring details about the unspeakable force brewing out of The Mountain with cutscenes while defining the heroes.
It’s a familiar bleakness that fans of the series can settle in with the world as their obstacle. Darkest Dungeon II is grandiose in scale, exuding ranges of unquenchable terror and boldening rays of hope, nailing the reality of a world under the thumb of unknown deities.
The game harkens to its predecessor but redefines the franchise as a hellish road trip with a unique roguelite formula.
Instead of a town system like in Darkest Dungeon, the sequel has a place called the Altar of Hope to unlock new heroes, items, boons for exploring, and more for players to get progressively stronger.
Players will begin their run at the Altar of Hope and use candles acquired from completing randomized hero challenges or encountering surviving locales to earn supplies. The cycle is rather addicting once you start gaining more to play around with.
Particular trinkets can turn the Leper’s crippling accuracy into ruthless critical strikes to quickly chop down bosses. The stress mechanic will eat at your party members but unlocked pets and equipment added to your stagecoach make them more resistant.
You’ll receive powerful items to make enemies susceptible to Hellion’s bleeding attacks or hero-based trinkets for Grave Robber to become a deadly ranged machine.
After about 40+ hours of upgrading and unlocking, players will feel like they’ve seen everything in Darkest Dungeon II, but there’s still a dynamic range of versatility between runs. Moreover, players could manually up the challenge with the Infernal Flame, making heroes weaker to wrack up more candles.
Red Hook Studios has made the sequel accessible with key player-led features for experimenting within the horrifying playground the team developed.
The new installment also doesn’t depart from its roots of grueling difficulty, but it’s far from unfair. It’s a measured balance sprinkled with moments of triumph and back-breaking lows that players can prepare for by tending to the Altar of Hope. A nail-biting rollercoaster and a worthwhile challenge of overcoming failures and quick thinking in the face of terrible odds.
Darkest Dungeon II is a phenomenal return to form in all the right areas. Bosses are hair-yanking tough, settings are depressing as ever, and heroes still name-call each other after sharing a drink. The sequel clutches the highest highs of the first game and broadens the horror and spectacle, affirming the franchise as a leader in the roguelite space.