Darkest Dungeon 2 Is More Spin-off Than Sequel

More spin-off than sequel, Darkest Dungeon 2 is worth checking out if you can take it as its own game and forget the first exists, or if you hated the first game but want access to its unique world and style.
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Darkest Dungeon is a cult hit in the gaming world, enticing players who enjoy difficult situations and daring escapes as much as meticulous planning; and seeing those plans fall to pieces in a matter of moments…

The sequel, Darkest Dungeon 2, has recently been released into early access on the Epic Games Store as of the 26th of October.

From the same developer, Red Hook Studios, and following from the first game the game should be exactly what fans of the first are looking for in a sequel. Except it isn’t, quite.

What’s good about Darkest Dungeon?

Firstly let’s look at what makes the original tick. The darkest dungeon is widely considered a brutally difficult and unforgiving game. In fact, it can sometimes doll out punishment based on nothing other than chance. You can have as much stun resist as you like, but that won’t stop the 20% chance of it going through still lingering there, waiting to strike.

So, Darkest Dungeon is liked for its difficulty? Well, there's more to it than that.

Epic Games Store Image of Darkest Dungeon 2
A familiar sight: Ranks of heroes...ranks of horrors

Darkest Dungeon has a stubborn determination to espouse permanence.

Permanence is the key theme of everything Darkest Dungeon does. Every hero slain is gone forever (Excepting an event in town that can revive one previous hero), every item is one-use and must be restocked, every hit in combat is carried across to the next rather than healed at the end of the fight.

I’m not doing much for showing it’s not about difficulty, am I? But here’s the thing; for every way, Darkest Dungeon has permanent difficulties it also has permanent progression.

Once the blacksmith, stagecoach, sanatorium, tavern, etc are upgraded they are upgraded. There’s a real sense of fighting back, of saying to the game “You can’t take this away from me!” and then proceeding to wipe the floor of the dungeon with your fancy new level 2 skills or weapons.

There are more ways Darkest Dungeon appeals to more than difficulty, too.

For example, the amount of characterisation and customisation the game offers creates a unique sort of narrative where the player can choose to invest themselves in characters, or not. Knowing they could die in any mission might dissuade some from naming and attaching traits to characters, while for some it is exactly that fear that encourages roleplay and commitment.

One Occultist is the same as any other gameplay-wise, but the game easily tricks you into characterising them nonetheless. I still remember one Occultist who consistently rolled high healing skills.

There was no real reason that particular character should have had better healing, it was pure luck, but it stuck with me and made me like the guy.

It even being sympathetic when a heal was really bad because he'd been so good the rest of the time, I "let him off" for it! A game creating that much engagement is rare.

The final approach Darkest Dungeon took that drew in a lot of players is tied to the idea of permanence again. The game was split into multiple dungeons that served as the bulk of the gameplay, with teams of 4 fighting relentless creatures of the deep or some other equally disturbing place.

However, each mission wasn’t a be-all-and-end-all. They served as stepping stones in your ongoing campaign. No matter how many of your heroes were slain or how poor you got the game carried on. This longevity and ability for players to really persevere and just carry on enjoying the game is a huge part of the appeal.

The missions themselves even became so long they were mini-campaigns. Especially the expansion content. This provided even more ways for players to engage in the slow descent into the madness the game is themed around.

A Large Map example from Darkest Dungeon
A sprawling expanse, a chance to quell the horrors that linger in the dark

What does Darkest Dungeon 2 do differently?

Darkest Dungeon 2 is a direct sequel to Red Hook Studios’ Darkest Dungeon. The story and art style are consistent with the first and still evoke the same feeling of eldritch oppression and, surprisingly, darkness.

There are key differences between the 2 games - Darkest Dungeon 2 and Red Hook Studios’ Darkest Dungeon:

Owing to all these changes, Darkest Dungeon 2 will feel more familiar to players of things like Slay the Spire, Rogue Lords, and other such roguelike structures.

I always found Darkest Dungeon 1 almost had a roguelike structure anyway. You could attempt dungeons over and over, changing layout each time, and all Hamlet progress was permanent. Yet, this roguelike-reminiscent cycle was actually inside a grand, rolling campaign.

Epic Games store image of Darkest Dungeon Sequel
Friends are hard to come by when you can barely see beyond the wall of encroaching horrors

Is Darkest Dungeon 2 a sequel or spin-off?

Darkest Dungeon 2 remains, in spite of the changes, a direct numerical sequel to Darkest Dungeon. However, it behaves like a spin-off.

The fact Darkest Dungeon 2 abandons the idea of a long, slow descent is a fair enough choice thematically. However, the gameplay changes may not be welcomed by fans of the original.

We have enough choose-your-next-room roguelikes. The genre is growing fast and has a whole host of entries, and I’m not opposed to more! More is always better. But, for it to come from the second entry in an already established IP is a bit of a shock.

Darkest Dungeon was always something different and unique. The focus on permanence and freedom is almost diametrically opposed to the ideas in Darkest Dungeon 2 of randomised “runs” that are reset and re-randomised on death. With no structure beyond this, the game has lost a nuanced feeling the first achieved so easily.

The combat in Darkest Dungeon 2 is the same as its predecessor once it begins, with only some slight changes to light mechanics and only being allowed one of each class in a squad. The combat in the sequel is close enough to the first that fans will click right away and may even find it a bit easy after a few introductory flights.

Beyond that, though, the game has changed in almost every other way that relates to gameplay.

If you want to embark on an epic, a year-long campaign of slow-but-sure character development and rising stakes you’re better off playing Darkest Dungeon with mods rather than moving on to Darkest Dungeon 2.

Epic Store Darkest Dungeon Sequel Image
Success so clearly in view, or is merely...a trick of the light?

The Verdict: Should you buy Darkest Dungeon 2?

Darkest Dungeon 2 isn’t a bad game, a bad idea for a game, or even badly executed. It simply isn’t a traditional sequel and while that works for some franchises, Darkest Dungeon already had its unique and nuanced feel. It feels like they’re trying to find something they already had.

Darkest Dungeon 2 would be completely free of these critiques if it was called Darkest Dungeon: The Escape or some such. It’s that menacing and enticing “2” that really makes it feel like a missed opportunity to give players a more long-drawn, player-driven, the sandbox-y sequel.

More spin-off than the sequel, Darkest Dungeon 2 is worth checking out if you can take it as its own game and forget the first exists, or if you hated the first game but want access to its unique world and style.

Darkest Dungeon 2 can be found in Early Access here ahead of the full release.

Darkest dungeon 2
Darkest Dungeon 2
Passionate Hobbyist (Gaming of any kind, D&D, all that nerdy stuff). First and foremost always an enjoyer of art and media.

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