The dungeon is wall-to-wall goblins. At first glance, I can’t imagine how my party could possibly survive. But we go to work anyway. My knight casts mass bless, raising our attack score. And since I know the five furry goblin witches among them are going to be a problem, my barbarian hurls axes, downing two. My wizard raises a wall of fire before us and blasts a third witch with a magic missile. Unfortunately, the old biddy is still standing. I end my turn and the stabby cadre of goblin assassins at the fore, crit damaging but thoroughly demented, leap into the wall of fire, their hopes of perforating us twisting into smoke as they immolate.
While its battles are not exactly visceral and its mechanics, stripped-down and turn-based, make it often seem more like a puzzler than an RPG, Brain Seal’s Dark Quest 2’s cool hand-drawn art, well-designed mechanics, characters and levels makes for some enjoyable gameplay.
The story, also spare, is high fantasy by the numbers. Apparently, an evil sorcerer known as “The Sorcerer” attacked your local king on the night he was throwing a huge bash. The Sorcerer, accompanied by a horde of goblins, tunneled in from below the castle, slaughtered everyone and converted the donjon into a dungeon. Your job is to enter the castle and clean them out. Not terribly original but one look at the game’s assets kind of lets you know what you’re getting yourself into, and for my part, at least, I’m perfectly happy with rote fantasy. If anything, I wish the developers had teased out a bit more story as the game unfolded.
The game has two layers: the village and the castle. The village is a scrolling image of a medieval fantasy village, wherein, by tapping on different NPCs, you can supply your characters, level them up and buy and sell stuff. The dungeon layer is played by way of a healthy-sized series of missions that lead the player to and into the overrun castle where you eventually face-off against The Sorcerer himself. For each dungeon mission, you choose one to three dungeoneers from a roster of what will eventually become six companions. While these dudes are about as typical as fantasy gets: a barbarian, a knight, an elven archer, a dwarf, a wizard and a monk, they are nicely hand-drawn, and each sports a relatively well-designed roster of skills.
For RPG fans, Dark Quest 2 might at times feel like a shrunken-down RPG, a concept not unfamiliar to mobile gamers. It features little dungeon rooms and halls; your characters have low fixed hit points; there’s only a tiny helping of loot to find, buy and sell. This is intentional of course. Dark Quest 2 draws influence from certain board games of yore, in particular the 80s classic, Hero Quest.
In some respects Dark Quest 2 plays like a board game. At the same time, some of the more difficult rooms play out like a puzzle. More often than not you can bring no more than two or three characters on an expedition, each supporting a roster of several one-shot skills. What’s more, the isometric dungeon rooms rarely venture beyond 15-by-15 grids. The challenge of optimizing attacks, skill choice and movement in one action turns on Dark Quest 2’s small map grids, creates moments where you feel like you’re playing a puzzle game.
Of course, it’s not a puzzle game in the way that titles like the Dungelot games and the Puzzle Quest series, or any of dozens of trash freemium titles are. And it plays something like a board game but not in the way, as say, Talisman or the more recent Legends of Andor does. Dark Quest 2 lies somewhere in-between these genres. And it’s not a bad place at all. Maybe the game’s paradigm will turn off some but I would bet most RPG fans would really enjoy Dark Quest 2’s brand of questing light.
Fun as it is, Dark Quest 2 has some genuine drawbacks. Your roster of badasses is a little unbalanced. While The Knight and The Wizard are absolute beasts, for example, the dwarf should probably look for other work. Also, the touch controls could function better, I often found myself mistakenly choosing the wrong character or moving to the wrong spot in a dungeon room, and having it cost me. Also, the game’s isometric maps do not provide wall transparency so it is sometimes easy for the player to miss key spots on the game’s isometric maps.
It also must be said that the game’s level-up process can compromise gameplay. It works by having the player find magic pots placed about the dungeons. Each pot earns the player a skill point. However, if you throw too many skill points at a junk character early on like, say, the bum dwarf, you can end up under-prepared for upcoming missions, which rightly become increasingly difficult as you progress through the dungeon. Dark Quest 2 does provide a solution. You can replay maps. However, each time you replay one, they also become increasingly difficult. While the difficulty boost is welcome, I really dislike being forced to redo an entire map in an RPG because elements are jenky and imagine I am not alone.
These are largely small matters. At the end of the day, Dark Quest 2 is a well-made, premium RPG and those are in seriously short supply on Android. While it may prove a bit thin for certain hardcore RPG fans, the headline for the rest of us is that Dark Quest 2 is a simple, elegant and fun game that’s well worth your time.
Is it Hardcore?
Yes it is.
While Dark Quest 2 offers up rote fantasy story-telling, and pared-down role playing, it remains a fun and well-crafted RPG-light that is a welcome addition to the Android RPG canon.