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Darkest Dungeon 2 devs on navigating the early access Redemption Road trip – and what final release looks like

Their time in early access is almost over. It's almost time for Darkest Dungeon fans to experience a bit of hope.

Roughly a week ago, an eldritch phenomena descended upon San Francisco in a hail of rain and wind. Escaping these otherworldly forces as they threw trees, chairs, and Web3 developers all over the place, I escaped into Hotel G where I found greater horrors waiting for me…

It was game design director Tyler Sigman and creative director Chris Bourassa from Red Hook Studios – the perilous pair were lurking in the darkness, armed with Darkest Dungeon 2 on a laptop, ready to pounce. Resigned to my fate, I sat down and spent my last sane 30 minutes asking them about their time in early access on the Epic Game Store, and some of the ways Darkest Dungeon 2 differs from the original. If you are reading this, I am already gone.

Check out the early access trailer here!

As of writing, Darkest Dungeon 2 has roughly six weeks left in early access before it is let loose on a world unprepared for its horrors. The game, in development for four-ish years, exploded into its beta phase with fervour – selling 100,000 copies initially, and going onto sell just over 300,000 early access copies as of our interview, according to Sigman. The team has gone dark and put its heads down in preparation for the full release, following a process of almost continuous process of development, feedback gathering, and reworking.

What new heroes will arise in Darkest Dungeon 2?

“A lot of early access is completing content, but in this game we haven't been afraid to go back and take a second look at systems that maybe weren't lining the way we wanted them to,” says Bourassa. “We're really happy with where it’s at now.”

Ever since the game launched in Early Access in 2021, the team has both chiselled away at new content whilst folding in feedback in three major areas: the relationship system, overall progression, and richness with the game’s traversal mechanic.

The progression system was initially received as 'boring' before the Altar of Hope was added. The relationship system – while initially presenting an elaborate aspect of rapport between your party – was confusing players. When characters fell in love, it could result in negative effects from inter-party jealousy and other complicated lovey-dovey stuff. While the team dug it at the time, “it wasn’t gamey enough” according to Bourassa. Following this feedback, the team rebuilt the system several times, over nine months, to create the system that's in place today.

According to the pair, the passionate install base of early access players gave them plenty of criticism to work with, resulting in tweaks and changes the studio is happy with today. Of course, some things got cut. Gone for now, but nowhere near forgotten.

“We wanted to re-approach our roadmap a little bit after launch, just because some of the things we just weren't happy with, while some of the features weren’t performing to our standards. So we had some neat ideas for additional things that may make a re-appearance later on.”

Darkest Dungeon 2 carriage going down a city road.
What strangeness will you encoutner on launch and beyond?

These include, but are not limited to, an underground region where every fight would be against a giant enemy, flipping the typical battle system on its head in a unique way. “So, we had a huge four-slot enemy there, so every fight would be a massive drawn-out slug fest,” teases Bourassa. “We kind-of thought that would be a neat twist on the combat and there are lots of implications to that – if there’s only one target you’re able to really set-up and execute combos.”

Then there are characters. Funky, awful hags, crones, gargoyles, and other horrific monsters. None of these have been thrown out the window. Instead, they could very well come back as post-launch content injections. As Sigman notes, they all go in the hopper for potential post-1.0 content. Nothing is left on the cold, dank, cutting room floor of this dungeon.

There are plenty of ideas that have fallen into this pot of potential post-launch curiosity, thanks largely to the wider scope made available with the game taking the player away from the manor of the first game, and into the wider world of Darkest Dungeon.

“That was something that was exciting to us,” says Sigman. “At the beginning of Darkest Dungeon 2's development, the idea of this being a journey made sure we got very creative”. He points to the Colour of Madness DLC from Darkest Dungeon as an example of the stuido's prior creativity within the boundaries of the original, but acknowledges that Darkest Dungeon 2 allowed them to reach to different, darker places.

Sigman elaborates: “There is a freedom that comes from saying what would the world look like? And it's fun to imagine entire regions. It opens the gates for things that maybe just wouldn't fit within the confines of Darkest Dungeon 1”.

This scope goes further than the places you visit. If Darkest Dungeon 2 has become anything over its time in early access, it’s more expansive in all areas. Take the character backstories; no longer are your Highwayman just a tool to be disposed of. He is a genuine character, with a narrative journey the player can connect with throughout their travels – an aspect of the game both Sigman and Bourassa are particularly proud of.

Darkest Dungeon 2 friendship system in play, with two characters becoming inseperable.
Best friends, through the worst of times.

But in spite of all these differences, despite the wider scope, and despite the change in direction from a delve into the manor to a righteous road trip, Darkest Dungeon 2 remains a challenge to the typical power fantasy found in other games.

Sigman explains: “This is not a game about getting wealth and resources. When you're on a road trip and it's kind-of a ride-or-die mission as these expeditions in Darkest Dungeon 2 are, wealth has no real value. So you're working with, really, whatever you can pick up alongside the road”.

But, there is a tinge of hope there. You always need something to cling to on those long, cold, nights whilst the wind is howling past your caravan, right? Following the often hopeless tone found in Darkest Dungeon, and the horrid real-life events that have taken place alongside the development on Darkest Dungeon 2, the team believes everything in their game builds up to a more aspirational experience.

Bourassa concludes: “For us and where we live in the world, we have enjoyed – for a long period of time – a relative sense of progress and safety. I think that lets you play around with your entertainment, you can kind of be darker because you yourself don't feel personally on the hook and that is a fun space to play in. But I think, for this game, we just felt like it would be a great challenge for us as creatives to embrace the other side of the coin and something a little bit more hopeful.”

You can see for yourself whether the folks at Red Hook Studios managed to pull this off when Darkest Dungeon 2 version 1.0 launches on 8 May 2023.

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