There is something special about old school turn-based role-playing games where you're given the time to consider and optimise each move, and where if you failed you're forced to rethink your strategy. In this category of games, we find Dark Quest 2, recently released on Xbox One after having been available on PC (Steam) since 2016.
It appears to have been more than just a little inspired by the board game Hero Quest, in turn, inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. That's hardly a negative, of course, and in fact, the end result is rather entertaining. In Dark Quest 2 we're thrown into a rather straightforward story that serves no other purpose than to provide us with a reason to slay orcs, witches, and goblins. In this case, the benevolent ruler has died and an evil warlock and his hordes of vile creatures have moved into the castle.
Your job then is to assume to role of a bouncer and kick the baddie to the curb. You do this by moving from one room to the next, solving simple puzzles, and primarily defeating the enemies that await you. The latter is often easier said than done and after the two introductory levels where you get to familiarise yourself with the controls, things quickly get more difficult. As early as the third level we're forced to think and already by level four we were forced to admit defeat for the first of what turned out to be many times.
Unlike many other challenging games the developers at Brain Seal Entertainment don't really take any pleasure in your pain and it's relatively easy to get your lives back and try again. There is a certain number of options available in terms of what missions to tackle next, and you can play some missions to collect more resources. The difficulty is raised each time you clear a level, and just because things panned out the first time doesn't necessarily mean it will go your way during the second try.
The basic premise is pretty simple. Each room you enter is made up of a number of tiles. Placed on these you'll find monsters, treasure, traps, and the like. From there it's about calmly piecing together a strategy to survive the room and move on. If one character dies, the rest can carry on without access to the abilities or gear the fallen companion had.
Since we've picked the character we felt necessary for the level, every casualty is immediately felt. All of a sudden we're left without a healer, a ranged unit, and so on, and everything becomes a lot more difficult. You collect the characters one by one as you complete missions. Some you liberate in the game world, others you unlock in the town that serves as a hub world. Here you can also stock up on potions, revive dead characters, sort your gear, and level up your characters.
Levelling up your characters is interesting as the game features both passive and active abilities. The active ones are typically limited to one use per level, and here you can, for instance, throw an axe, go berserk, or gift someone some health. The passive ones, however, are active all the time but aren't triggered until they're needed. The archer, for instance, can start each encounter by shooting an arrow at an enemy and give you an early advantage, while the dwarf can spot and disarm traps.
It's not exactly revolutionary, but it works and entertains. Thanks to the level of difficulty the encounters quickly become interesting and we're constantly forced to make the most out of the abilities and characters we have at our disposal. If we forget about some minute detail it's often too late. Multiple times we've rushed towards the exit with one single health point left and all characters dead except for one. In spite of simple and colourful graphics, it gets exciting.
Unfortunately, you need to navigate plenty of menus in Dark Quest 2, and in particular, the system to manage items feels undercooked. If we want a new sword we need to go to the blacksmith, and that's the only place where we can choose what equipment everyone wears. You're also not able to hand down equipment to another member of the team, something that clearly should be possible. This cumbersome design is apparent in other places too, such as when after each quest we return to the town and do pretty much exactly the same thing as last time with our newly earned coins. Something to break up the monotony would have been nice.
Dark Quest 2 is one of those games that make us grateful that we're in the profession that we are. The hand-drawn and charming graphics, the cosy soundscape, and the addictive gameplay ensured that we were entertained. It's one of those unassuming games we could have easily missed if it weren't for the fact that we were sent a review code. It's the perfect little game if you're looking for something a bit more casual when the urge to play an RPG makes itself known and you don't have the luxury of a lot of time on your hands.