Darkest Dungeon II is brutal. A simple miscalculation or bad luck can ruin your two to three hour campaign before the final boss of the chapter. There are no checkpoints; If your party dies, it’s time to start fresh from the very beginning. Only some of the unlocked upgrades will stay with you. When you have to make tough choices all the time with different systems in mind, it can (and will) be frustrating and nerve-racking. At the same time, Darkest Dungeon II is the most cathartic and rewarding experience since the 2016 original.
Like its predecessor, you form a party of four different heroes who must survive exciting turn-based battles with a focus on positioning, synergy, and some degree of luck. Your attacks have a range of potential damage points that they can deal, as well as buffs and debuffs that give you a chance to miss your shot or earn a critical hit, among other consequences.
The battle system is hard to master but incredibly satisfying. As you get to know your cast, you dive into the thrilling experience of learning who plays well with whom, in what situations, and with what creatures. I spent hours experimenting with the best combinations for my playing style, trying new things each time. Battles feel like puzzles, you feel great when you succeed with your party in one piece. But they can also let you down when you deal a lower loss than you need and get an unexpected counterattack.
Things get more complicated when you add the series’ signature core mechanic, the tension system. When their white gauge is full, your hero may have a meltdown, losing most of their HP. They can also yield a positive result and be cured, although this is less common. If a single slowdown in a tough encounter can ruin your entire campaign, imagine what it’s like to have five in a row in the same fight. It’s a frustrating feeling that should make you stop playing immediately, yet I was so angry and fascinated at the same time, ready to try once again. This game has taken such a deep hold on me.
A new affinity system will show how well your party gets along with each other. It quickly becomes stressful when you realize that all your little decisions can turn your heroes against them, negatively impacting specific skills. Changing my entire strategy is both infuriating and a tremendous challenge, one that made me feel accomplished when I challenged and overcame the odds. Luckily, this mechanic can also make great teammates to your heroes, adding combo attacks and other amazing surprises.
In addition to fighting, you explore harrowing but beautifully designed areas before reaching the final boss of your campaign. You travel in a stagecoach, a vehicle that can be damaged by dangerous roads, adding unwanted combat. You also get to choose which path to choose, sometimes knowing what to expect and others being completely in the dark.
All of these mechanics create an experience that I just can’t get enough of. Even now, after 40 hours have passed, I want to come back again to refine my team and unlock the rest of the items and upgrades. While some journeys are clearly inappropriate, there is also a remarkable feat in finding balance in something that should be utterly chaotic. I wish there were more shortcuts to ease the pain of failing and restarting a three-hour race at the end. And more user-friendly items in the early stages, which can be extremely overwhelming and will potentially put players off, would go a long way.
When I found myself yelping in relief and hysterically raising my fists in the air after a tough fight ended in my favor, I can’t deny the following fact: Darkest Dungeon II is a harrowing but brilliant game whose white – Knee-jerk combat and danger-filled quest will keep you hooked for hours. If you’re prepared to make the necessary sacrifices, it’s well worth a visit.