You may recall that I was somewhat a fan of the original Massive Darkness (see here and here), but thought is was rather simple and lacking in some areas. Earlier this year, I received my all-in pledge for the sequel, Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape, and after a mad few months painting and 3D printing, we ended up getting it to the table many times, ultimately playing through the entire Heavenfall campaign box. I’m pleased to say that CMON seems to have listened to the community feedback on the original box and made quite a few changes to improve the experience.
So, I guess we should start with campaign play which was tacked on as a complete afterthought in MD1 and didn’t really scratch the progression itch for me. In this edition, there’s standalone campaign expansions, which provide a set of thematically linked missions as well as using some alternative rules to slow progression somewhat from the one shot play. We played one mission out of the base game using the non-campaign style of play and it remains a solid hack and slash romp like the first one. The campaign, though, feels much better thought out and having campaigns as stand-alone expansions works very well, allowing for thematic missions, treasure and story. The story in Heavenfall was somewhat lacklustre, but worked as a narrative to tie together each mission and there’s decision points such that you don’t play every mission on a run through of the campaign, in turn meaning you’ll not see all the campaign specific loot no matter how well you play. I’d say that it improves re-playability, but I’m increasingly thinking of that term as a shibboleth gamers use as an excuse to pick up or skip games as rarely do I ever revisit old games, outside of either freeform miniature and wargames or for classic staples we can play with beginners (like Ticket to Ride, Munchkin, etc). Regardless, a big tick for the campaign mode, I like it and it’s possible the game will come out for a run of the other campaigns I got in the Kickstarter at some point, even if only for solo play.
The miniatures are a step-up from MD1, and are the usual plastic models you’d expect in a CMON game. I painted not only the entire all-in MD2 pledge but also went back and finished all my MD1 models as well as acquiring models to represent the ones from expansions I didn’t have (like elementals and ratmen). This was a fun project and made the game more varied, but honestly it became quite unwieldy given the amount of cards and models that had to be managed during each session. More generally his feels like a Kickstarter game issue where you end up with the base game and sixteen expansions arriving all at once which I then feel obligated to play with and so it becomes a little overwhelming. I was pretty thankful when Trudvang Legends switched to two wave shipping so I can spend some time with the core game before all the extra ephemera arrives.
There was a solid range of characters available to play as, and each of the ones we used felt significantly different. For the record, our group was a Barbarian, Tinkerer and Wizard, with myself at the helm of the latter it ended up becoming more a support class, prioritising better armour, action grant and healing spells rather than the offensive stuff available. Of course that also makes it more interesting as within the classes themselves there are multiple playstyles and upgrade paths that can be taken (our Tinkerer went full Ironman as early as possible which was pretty cool). It’s also interesting that there are several characters, including most from MD1, that have two options for their class, so my wizard could alternately have been run as a ranger I believe.
All that being said, you’ll note that I’m using alternative models in the photos as I have an extensive collection of figures to choose from that don’t often see play.
The missions felt more varied than the original game, however many were a version of capture objective and kill boss, so I wouldn’t consider this a major selling point. From a difficulty perspective, we only failed one mission outright, and usage of Lightbringer tokens wasn’t heavy, maybe a handful of times across the campaign, so it’s fair to say that we didn’t find it an exceptionally difficult game. That said, dice were rolled, beers were drunk and laughs were had so feels like a win for me.
Overall, the combat mechanics were much better than I remember MD1 being, but one key change is the boss fights that are embedded in the game. Essentially, certain major points feature ‘bosses’ which seem to have their own map and mechanics which switch up how the game operates and each has unique attack and disrupt mechanics. It feels a bit like a video game at points as it can also change the longer it continues. Again, they didn’t seem super difficult once you grok how the boss behaves and how best to counter their disruption, but a cool addition.
There’s a lot to love about Massive Darkness, and I think the second edition is a good mix of what was great about the first game with many improvements made since. I had a on of fun playing through Heavenfall, it felt kind of Diablo-like, and after seeing how it fits together, I’m curious how different the balance of the campaigns are now as well.