Darkest Dungeon 2 is coming to the Epic Games Store’s Early Access on October 26, and I can’t wait to play it. But, despite my enthusiasm, I’ve been going back and forth on whether to check it out next week. Why? I’m still not sure Early Access is for me.
Broadly speaking, Early Access programs allow players to purchase a game while it is still in development. So, by definition, the game is not complete when you buy it, but, on the other hand, you get a chance to play an exciting title before it technically releases. Early Access can also be a really great option for developers to simultaneously fund their game while gauging interest for it. As a fan of indies in general, I have my eye on more than one Early Access title.
Though it’s a cool way to try out a game early and support your favorite developers, there are good reasons to be wary of Early Access. There is no guarantee that the unfinished experience you pay for will ever get a full release. It can be a super disappointing experience to throw in behind a project only to never see it come to fruition, not to mention the problems you can have getting a refund depending on the platform you are dealing with. There are also many times where your saves won’t move over when the full game launches – looking at you Baldur’s Gate 3 – meaning you’ll start from scratch on release day even after spending all those hours in the early game. Others might find the shock of waking up to their favorite game feeling radically different a real downside to the experience.
To demonstrate my point, this is what a typical Early Access routine looks like for me: Get sucked into the game, do everything, get hyped for all the future features and possibilities, step away from it – either because something else caught my eye or I’ve seen everything there is to see so far – and never play it again. It’s like once I play an Early Access title, my brain checks it off the list. Done. Complete. Nothing more to see here.
Despite this, every time a game goes up for Early Access, I wrestle with my immediate desire to buy it before doing some honest self-reflection. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a great example of a game where I overrode my initial impulse, and Larian Studios’ Creative Director, Swen Vinke, helped me make that decision. He advised “the person who wants a finished, polished game; they should wait” in the title’s August 2020 development presentation, fittingly called Panel From Hell both because of the game’s setting and for the stream’s technical difficulties. It made me realize I did want to wait for the shiny end result in this case.
Sometimes I think a game has finally broken the cycle, like when Valheim hit Early Access earlier this year. I’ve sunk around 112 hours into the game and had a blast building a grand audience hall, defeating sea serpents to get soup ingredients, fighting boss battles, and generally spending time playing with my online Viking crew. But then, I worked my way up to the plains biome (Deathsquitos are no joke), and drifted on to other things. When the latest – and long-awaited – Hearth & Home update popped up at Gamescom, I was jazzed to jump back in, but didn’t sink a tenth of the time exploring the new contents as I had the original game.
So, now we come Darkest Dungeon 2 entering Early Access on the Epic Games Store next week. I’m going to play it because, even though Dan Tack is representing it in Game Informer’s most anticipated games of 2021, it’s not a title I can bear to hold off on playing. Skipping it now means waiting for months, or even years if development gets rocky, and missing out on experiencing it together with the community. I also just need to see for myself what the sequel is changing up and how its new structure works. Leaning even more into its roguelike features, a single playthrough of Darkest Dungeon 2 will take about five hours. The idea is that you’ll re-run the adventure many, many times, and I’m hoping this loop is the key to unlocking Early Access for me. Perhaps, instead of checking out once I’m through the early content, I can trick my brain into feeling like the full release is just one more run of a game I enjoy. But will it work? I guess I’ll have to find out next week.