Review – Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape

It's massive, it's dark, but is it worthy?

MD2

 

Designer Alex Olteanu, Marco Portugal

Artist Édouard Guiton

Publisher CMON Global Limited

Category Hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler

Length 60-150min

Release Date 2022

Player Count 1-6

Darkness returns 10 years after the events of Massive Darkness. A band of heroes, the Lightbringers, must fend off Hell’s minions who are invading Crondar via portals. The Lightbringers’ plan of attack? Take the fight to Hell itself. 

In the sequel to Massive Darkness, players take on the role of Lightbringers fighting against Hell’s hordes. Massive Darkness 2 add light and dark tiles to the game, which can grant players specific bonuses, 

Content Guide

Players play as Lightbringers, fending off Hell’s invasion, eventually taking the battle to the demons in Hell. Demons and spirits abound, but beyond some mildly disturbing images (a character’s guts are held in by an iron cage), Massive Darkness 2 doesn’t feel as dark as the likes of Dark Souls or even Gloomhaven

There are not many spiritual themes to speak of beyond stereotypical use of demons. There is a scenario in which players have to fight the Archangel Michael, but it’s because he’s been in Hell for so long he fights everything he sees. 

Review

Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape is a dungeon-crawler through-and-through. Its foundations lie in CMON’s Zombicide series, just like the original Massive Darkness. There are tons of dice, tons of loot, and tons of baddies. The core game includes a tutorial and 10 scenarios for players to enjoy, 6 heroes, 62 bad guy miniatures, and a host of tokens and cards. 

To play, players choose a scenario, set up the game board, and pick characters. There are 4 phases of each round: hero phase, enemy phase, darkness phase, and level up phase. During the hero phase, players take 3 actions, usually moving, attacking, and interacting with an objective (resting is for the weak). The enemy phase is when bad guys move and attack; the darkness phase progresses the darkness tracker, usually spawning enemies or adding loot tokens to the loot bag; and the level up phase is where players level up their characters, if they’re able. 

Loot abounds in Massive Darkness 2, which is a good thing because as the scenario progresses, the bad guys get tougher, so players had better get tougher too! I usually don’t like it when a game has multiple types of loot and only 1 stack of loot cards because a decent portion of loot is not useful to certain characters, but Massive Darkness 2 handles this problem well by giving players many opportunities to draw loot cards. Moreover, the loot isn’t as specialized as other games, so even if a warrior draws a wizard’s staff, he can still make decent use of it. Massive Darkness 2 also does a great job of offering progressively better loot as the scenario goes on. 

Combat, which is the core of Massive Darkness 2, is fun and intuitive, and there’s some interesting decisions on when to use mana (the game’s currency) to boost attacks, and add special bonuses like fire or ice damage. New to Massive Darkness 2 are the light/dark spaces, which can grant certain heroes special bonuses. All heroes benefit from the very powerful shadow dice if they attack from dark spaces. The dice look great, and there’s enough variety in the dice that it makes it fun looking for weapons that fit your particular play-style. 

Massive Darkness 2’s designers Alex Olteanu and Marco Portugal did a great job with diversifying the 6 heroes in the game and making them asymmetric. The wizard uses a wheel spell-casting system that can lead to some awesome combos and reminds me of the spell breaches from Aeon’s End; the paladin can set down auras that boost certain skills for himself or other heroes; the ranger has a fun push-your-luck mechanic for all his ranged shots; the rogue pulls specific turn-bonuses from a bag and must puzzle together the maximization of each turn; the berserker, perhaps the most basic, deals bonus damage as he takes more wounds; and the shaman manipulates the 4 elements to provide boosts and can summon flame and frost spirits, who act as additional heroes. 

Each hero feels totally different from the other 5, and that alone adds to the replay value of the game because you can explore vastly different character combinations. Moreover, all heroes come with a skills deck that significantly buffs an aspect of the hero. Players use at most 5 of these cards during a given scenario, so there’s also strategic variation within each hero as well. Massive Darkness 2’s heroes are some of the most fun characters I’ve played as in any board game, and their leveling system is deep without being overwhelming.  

Massive Darkness 2‘s scenarios are built from large 3×3 boards.

The scenarios are varied and do a good job showing off the fun parts of Massive Darkness 2: enemies, bosses, items, and hero abilities. Some scenarios are shorter and some are longer, which is great because that allows players to choose a scenario that fits within their time constraints. While 10 may not seem like a lot, each scenario is different: some will see heroes wielding a cursed sword that hurts them more each turn, others will see heroes escorting a friendly summoner to the nearest portal. 

To paraphrase the great philosopher Felonius Gru, “In terms of story… we have no story.” Sure, Massive Darkness 2 provides a page of introductory text and a short paragraph before each scenario which sort of acts as a story, but it’s bare-bones, and the story rarely manifests in the gameplay, which leads to a hollow feeling when paired with the straightforward combat. That’s just not the sort of game Massive Darkness 2 is, but if you wanted a campaign, CMON does offer a campaign expansion in Massive Darkness 2: Heavenfall that looks promising. 

There are 2 types of enemies in Massive Darkness 2, besides bosses: mobs and roaming monsters. Mobs are made up of a mob leader and mob minions, which are equal to however many players are playing. The mobs are fun, even if they feel a bit too zombie-horde-ish, and things get especially interesting in the 5 and 6-player games because not only are there a bunch of miniatures on the board, but the mob gets stronger with each additional miniature. Roaming monsters are essentially mini-bosses with specialized moves that often seem overpowered on first glance, but after some consideration, players will spot the weaknesses in the attack patterns so they become beatable. Oh, and the roaming monsters look great on the board, too. 

Massive Darkness 2’s boss fights are fun and intimidating thanks to the epic boss miniatures, but they’re not on the same level as, for example, Dark Souls: The Board Game’s boss fights, which features both epic miniatures and great gameplay. There’s really only 3 actions a boss can perform, and 1 boss in particular underwhelms gameplay-wise because he rarely attacks players and functions more as a timer than as an actual enemy. To be fair, there are only 2 scenarios that feature a boss, and the boss fight does not last very long, so we’re talking about 10% or so of total gameplay, but that doesn’t stop boss fights from feeling like a missed opportunity. 

I enjoyed this more as a 2-player game, but if you don’t mind some waiting, this could be a fun 5-6 player experience as well. Massive Darkness 2 scales well with the only downside of more players being a longer playtime. The difficulty felt balanced. Not so tough that it feels impossible, and not so easy that players never lose, although there were a few scenarios that felt particularly easy with the set of heroes we played with. 

The components of Massive Darkness 2 are excellent, which is what we’ve come to expect from CMON. There are 68 detailed and creative minis in here, and they all look great, which is especially important because there are 6 copies of each of the 8 mob minions. The 4 oversized roaming monster miniatures are creative too, as are the 2 supersized boss miniatures. The punchboard tokens and map tiles are solid, the player trays that keep all the items in the right place are practical (I wish Gloomhaven had these!), and the dice are tactile and well-done. Édouard Guiton’s artwork represents the quirky, dark, hellish theme of the game well, and its cartoony nature lightens the mood a bit, even if it’s depicting grotesque creatures.

However, there is much room for improvement storage-wise for Massive Darkness 2. This is indeed a massive game, and as such, there should either be a clear storage solution, or the storage should be heavily customizable (such as the approach Fantasy Flight Games takes in Outer Rim and Imperial Assault, where they provide players with an empty box and a ton of bags to sort and store tokens). Massive Darkness 2 has neither of these. I had to provide 10+ of my own bags to store things properly, and even then, the box lid doesn’t close all the way, and you really can’t store this game on its side without mixing the components. 

Yup, you’re gonna need to put that table leaf in.

Sometimes, this isn’t a big issue for a game, but Massive Darkness 2 is supposed to be a premium product, so it’s annoying that the given storage system is poor. What’s worse, the game’s already lengthy setup and tear-down time is elongated by the poor storage system. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s head-scratching for me to think about how easy Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion made its rather involved set-up with token trays and character boxes 2 years ago. Why couldn’t Massive Darkness 2 have been at least as good as that?

This is more of a personal critique: I wish the larger miniatures weren’t so fragile. There’s a long, skinny scythe and some wing tips that seem ready to fall off if I sneeze on them. Maybe they’re really not as frail as I imagine them to be, but it’s slightly nerve-wracking pulling apart the 3 plastic miniature storage trays when it feels like a few of the miniatures will break with a wrong move. 

If you’re looking for a hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler with loot, dice, and miniatures, Massive Darkness 2 has all that and then some with its truly entertaining hero classes. The rules are less tactical than Imperial Assault, but it can still be a fun time tossing dice, playing with miniatures, and picking up some loot if you like that sort of thing. Massive Darkness 2 is perfect for that; just be prepared for a 10-20 minute setup and tear-down. I personally prefer more tactics and more story in a game if I’m going to devote this much time to it, but that doesn’t mean Massive Darkness 2 is a bad game. It’s a well-done hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler with some of the most fun heroes I’ve played. 

CMON (Asmodee North America) kindly provided a review copy. 

The Bottom Line

A well-done hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler with serious storage flaws and moments of hollowness.

 

6.5

spencer
Author: Spencer Patterson

I'm a resident director, writer, and board game reviewer. My wife is my favorite gaming partner, and our daughters are my favorite reading partners. X: @unstuffedwhale