Dark Quest II (Switch) Review
Release Date: February 27, 2019
Publisher/Developer: Brain Seal
Platform: Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam
Dark Quest II is a sequel (duh) to a game I can't find much information on. I can find it in the Android Appstore for $1.99. Played in a traditional top-down playstyle, gamers helped a barbarian delve into the castle of an evil sorcerer to end his wicked ways. It was based on a board game titled Hero Quest, and featured gameplay that held true to the board game with "dice" mechanics determining the outcome of your attacks. Dark Quest II ups the ante with multiple party members and an isometric viewpoint, but keeps most of the rest of the ideas intact. Gamers going in realizing that this is a $10.99 budget title may find a pleasant experience, but some design choices leave a lot to be desired.
Players again take control of a barbarian who delves into the evil sorcerer's castle. This time, you recruit more characters as time goes on by finding them in the dungeon or (more often) recruiting them at the local tavern. The game is turn based; you get a turn for each of your heroes before all the enemies get a shot at taking you out. Characters can move a set distance and attack based on their skills or weaponry available. You don't level up per se, you simply work with the blacksmith to get new weapons or armor that help you stay alive a bit longer.
In college, I DM'd a round of Dungeons and Dragons. Apologies to any of my team who may end up reading this, but I did flub the dice some times in the sake of fun. When finishing up a major boss battle with all party members near death and the Barbarian takes a grandiose swing, what fun is it to have the accurate dice roll make the Dark Emperor laugh off the hit and roll a "nat 20" on the counterattack? Dark Quest's "die rolls" can be hit or miss, literally. Most of the time you will predictably pass through a gauntlet of enemies, but at times you'll take three turns swinging at a random mook simply because the odds were in it's favor.
Several design choices make me feel that this title should have stayed in the budget lands of mobile like it's predecessor. The story is as threadbare as I've already explained it. There are graphical choices (not even errors) that make me feel the game is done sloppily. From having to move the controller separately from the cursor as it slides off the map to the fact that the cursor can go anywhere (even inside of walls and get lost). We also deal with "Q*Bert Syndrome" here as the diagonal design of isometric levels don't mesh as well with the digital or analog options leading you to several frustrating moments waggling the stick to get it where you want it to go. There are tiles that "curse" your character, which means they go take a stab at a fellow adventurer, or traps that seem impossible to avoid until you learn specific skills. All you do is click a spot and your hero traverses there, with seemingly no regard of how to go around a spot that could kill them.
Back at town we see the "start game" menu outside the town every time we come back to walk through the gate. I get that the menu was out there, but why it's staring at us every time we come back no matter what we've done I can't tell you. Within the town you can buy an elixir (with a random effect), sell treasures (at a random price), resurrect characters, recruit new ones, buy armor and weapons at the blacksmith (with strange restrictions of only one of a particular item or such), learn spells, or buy potions. The alchemist's tag says "purchase potions" but soon in the game your character menu grows and covers up part of the screen so her icon just looks to say "Purchase Pot." Caused a snicker for me there. Everyone else in town is completely static.
The "pot dealer"'s text is not the only thing that's covered up. In the isometric dungeons you have tiles with arrows saying you can exit to a new room. Several times I've found that those arrowed tiles are covered by foreground graphics. Enemies or our hero may talk in a text box that ends up covering something I'm trying to look at. I might have more impetus to press further if there was some variety, but every level I've seen (and every screen shot I find online) show the same isometric castle motif and the same general goblin army.
There is a variety in your team beyond the barbarian. The cleric/knight helps you stay alive, a ranger can shoot arrows, and a wizard can use powerful spells. This lets you go back through levels with different loadouts and try to earn more rewards. Unfortunately with no levelling up and static armor combined with earlier completed levels getting harder with each successive playthrough, Dark Quest 2 can get rather tough if you hit a paywall. (whoops, I said paywall. I’m leaving that error in because that’s kind of what it feels like. There are no microtransactions, but I felt at times I’d just hit a place I couldn’t get through without just the right combination that required more grinding).
I wish the game would have held onto it's mobile roots a bit more with some touch screen functionality on the Switch. The isometric controls would be easier if you could tap the point you want to travel to, and the chunky buttons on the bottom of the screen for powers would be more intuitive if you could touch them. Dark Quest 2 states it has multiplayer capability, but this is questionable in a turn-based game. If anything it is more limiting as it locks players onto characters and forces Player 1 to go first, so he can't switch to the other character for first attack like you can solo. The game also requires a full set of Joy-Con, so this isn't the kind of game touted by Nintendo as a "pop apart and play" style that would be so easy if they'd just move some buttons around or offer more intuitive gameplay styles.
It's not all bad though. Characters are well designed and they animate nicely (although they stand still like living chess pieces unless actively moving). The music is nice (though it tends to drop out halfway through a level). It's encouraging and exciting to learn new spells to take on the horde with. Some of the levels are truly interesting to play, like walking into a room full to the brim with enemies and coming out victorious. Had Dark Quest been any more expensive I would run away from it. At $10.99, it's a good price for someone wanting a light turn-based medieval hack and slash, but a difficult recommendation to anyone who may get frustrated at some of the core design decisions.
-Well animated characters and enemies
-Excellent ambiance with the music when it plays
-Some levels were genuinely smartly designed
-Classic board game style with true dice based gameplay
-Feels slapped together with roughshod icon, text box, and foreground items
-Barebones story and fights translate to samey action over and over
-Multiplayer is basically useless and actually hurts chance of progress
-Hitting a difficulty wall translates to a very hard time
Special thanks to Brain Seal for providing a code for review!