A range of Darkest Dungeon 2 tips will do a huge amount to get you into the game and help you progress through the grim, shadowy mazes filled with cultists, creatures and criminals looking to reduce your team to thinly-spread viscera. But if you're going to help save this rather bleak world, you need to to hit your enemies first, and do so with maximum thought given to tactics. That's why we've put together a guide on everything you need to know about Darkest Dungeon 2, with tips, tricks and strategy information for you to keep in mind.
We should clarify that Darkest Dungeon 2 is still in Early Access, but at time of writing all these points are vital and seem rooted in pretty fundamental mechanics that are unlikely to be changed in a major way. That being said, if it does happen we'll be sure to change this guide to match, so you're always working from the best info available.
1. Watch the Flame and stoke it regularly
The Flame on the back of your stagecoach is a supernatural icon of hope. It bestows benefits when it's burning brightly and penalties when it starts to die down. That being said, none of these penalties are too punishing - right up until the moment the Flame dies completely. When it does, you'll get immediately attacked by frenzied Cultists, a tough battle that also comes with a whole range of handicaps put on your team. Even if you survive, you get nothing for it but an extra 40 Flame restored, and the likelihood is you'll come away much worse off, with new stress, tensions and injuries to hold you back in later fights.
For that reason, you should always take the opportunity to relight it at certain times, usually through the Assistance Encounters on the road, or through certain rare items that can be found and equipped on your characters. You can even slightly boost it by discarding items from your inventory. If the Flame ever dips below 40, throwing fuel on it should be your first priority. Speaking of which...
2. Plan your route several steps ahead
Though how much of the route before you is revealed depends on your scouting roll and Stagecoach upgrades, you should plan accordingly rather than just taking each choice and divergent path as it comes. Hitting multiple versions of the same encounter can leave you wearied or underprepared, or you might end up at a junction with no good options ahead of you.
As a rule, you want to alternate between various kinds of encounters, give yourself as many options as possible and try to avoid the blue roads whenever struggling, as they'll have a very high chance of dropping enemy ambushes in your way. So if you've just found a cache of equipment or stoked the Flame at an Assistance Encounter, it's time to pivot and try a Resistance Encounter to fight some enemies and lower the region's Loathing score.
3. Stress is nearly as important as health
Stress returns as a major mechanic, but it functions a little differently now. Characters still have a "stress meter" that can be increased and decreased by certain events, but now when it maxes out they suffer a "Meltdown."
A Meltdown, unsurprisingly, is very, very bad. The character is immediately reduced to low health, takes major relationship damage to everyone else in the party, and can suffer from negative quirks. The stress meter resets at that point, so a character can suffer multiple Meltdowns in the same area, or even the same battle. Take precautions to ensure this doesn't happen, such as stocking up on Laudanum or putting a Jester in the team.
4. Maintain good relationships with Inn items and teamwork
The relationships between individual characters is now a major mechanic, replacing the insanity mechanic of the previous game. Actions taken in and out of combat can have positive or negative Affinity between two characters, making them like each other more or less. You can check on these relationships in the character screens, but when characters reach a certain level either way, they gain a random positive relationship - Inseparable, Respectful, or even Amorous - or a negative one, such as being Hateful or Suspicious.
These relationships do a lot to help or hinder you, as they effectively provoke random buffs, penalties or even behaviours during combat. Two close characters might heal each other for free or add damage to their attacks, while characters at odds will trip each other up, cause stress damage with insults, or even stop them from healing each other if they don't trust them. Consequently a team of best friends is a powerhouse force, while a group of spiteful characters is very likely to fail.
These relationships aren't set in stone - good relationships can still collapse while bad ones can be healed, but we find it's a lot easier for bad relationships to grow organically, especially once characters start having Meltdowns. Healing and buffing each other can provide positive Affinity, but it's pretty random when you're out in the field and your control is limited. It's when you're recuperating at an Inn that you can do a lot more, using special Inn items like Whiskey or Card Decks to promote team spirit. Build bonds as much as you can here to mitigate the damage that'll be done once you're adventuring again.
5. Check the Deathblow Resistance stat on enemies
It's a minor point that can cause a lot of aggravation to new players - hold over an enemy to check their Deathblow Resistance stat, the little red skull down at the bottom. If it's anything other than a dash, the enemy has the same "Death's Door" ability as your characters and won't necessarily die when reduced to 0 hit points. The higher the number, the more likely they are to survive. Most enemies don't have a Deathblow score and will fall immediately when suffering damage, but bigger, larger enemies with more HP tend to be more durable in all respects.
6. Battle timers are a mixed blessing
As mentioned before, when crossing the paths marked as ragged and blue, you can get ambushed by enemies who set up blockades, forcing you into a confrontation. These battles are unique in a specific way though - they end automatically in five rounds. This is good or bad depending on circumstances, as you don't get any rewards if the battle finishes this way. So if you're winning and there's only one enemy left, only for the timer to elapse, the whole thing is a wash and you come away with nothing but the stress and injuries you sustain.
However, it can work the other way too. If you're really struggling and think your team might get wiped out, you can play purely defensively with healing and buffs, effectively just holding out for the five rounds until you can make your escape.
7. Always seek out Hero Shrines
A special location marked with a bell on the map, Hero Shrines provide backstory and lore on a hero of your choice within the party. Sometimes they'll be a little puzzle or battle from their history that you play through (don't worry, it doesn't affect them once you leave the area), but when you come out, they'll have unlocked a whole new kind of attack, not just for the rest of the run, but for the rest of the game! It's a permanent power-up, and though characters can only have a certain amount of attacks prepared at any time, you can switch between them when out of combat. Besides, some of the best attacks in the game are obtained through Hero Shrines.
8. Equip your Stagecoach with Storage Trunks and other inventory-boosting upgrades
You can upgrade and modify your Stagecoach at the Wainwright, a special NPC store found whenever you reach an Inn. Upgrades are brought from stores or found when travelling, and do numerous things depending on the upgrade itself: boost scouting chances, create items while you travel, or even stop your heroes from arguing.
However, the most important thing it can do is increase your inventory size. This is usually done with Storage Trunks, which each boost inventory by 4, but there's also items which increase the stacking of Relics, Food or other items for greater efficiency of storage. Without these upgrades you'll end up throwing away a lot of what you find, making many of the encounters barely worth the effort.
9. Blight, bleed and burn the biggest brute enemies
Certain enemies in Darkest Dungeon 2 are clearly meant to be tanks, massive behemoths that take up multiple spaces and have dozens of hit points, not to mention robust Deathblow Resistance scores that make finishing them off incredibly hard. By stacking a bunch of DOT (Damage Over Time) conditions on them early on, their health will rapidly drain away across the fight, and every different condition has a chance to be a Deathblow when they are eventually reduced to no health.
10. Bad situations tend to get worse quickly
It's a fundamental truth of Darkest Dungeon 2 - anything that goes slightly wrong is liable to get worse, as bad effects all tend to tie into each other. Losing health causes stress. Stress leads to Meltdowns. Meltdowns lead to damaged relationships, which lead to all kinds of penalties that make it all the more likely you'll lose more health, until one of your characters dies and everything seems to collapse. It's a real domino effect, so keep in mind that a minor penalty is likely to become a big one in combat. If you're feeling like you're at a disadvantage, avoid combat where possible and try to make it to the Inn in one piece, where you can go about the business of recovery.