Designer Diaries part 1

Hi folks! My name is Alex, and I’m one of the designers, along with Marco Portugal, of Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape (Hellscape being the sub-title of the core box). Our relationship with this franchise started a few years back, not as designers, but as developers of the first Massive Darkness game. Massive Darkness means a lot to us both, as it was our first big project at CMON; and what a dream assignment! I mean, my first big project was a dungeon crawler hack ‘n slash taking place in a medieval fantasy universe? That’s music to the ears of this longtime Diablo fan!

Back then we were anxious about the reception of the game, which in turn, made us keep track of community feedback. Yes folks, we have been closely combing Facebook groups, Reddit threads and, of course, BGG since the release of the first game. Getting this vast amount of information is the dream of every developer looking to improve their work. After reading all the reactions, we often found ourselves discussing what we could have done differently, hoping one day to have the chance.

So when Massive Darkness 2 appeared on CMON’s development schedule, we were thrilled! Not just because we had a bunch of cool ideas that we wanted to implement, but also that we would finally have the opportunity to take a good look into the biggest issues that gamers on the forums discussed.

That being said let’s dive into details. Massive Darkness 2 is still very much Massive Darkness. However, this time heroes will explore the depths of the lower dimensions in order to locate and destroy the source of the invading Darkness. We took a serious look at every single rule and mechanic & class and monster, and while we wanted to keep the core of what made the first game such a success, we weren’t afraid to change a few (or a lot of) rules, rebalance play, enhance combat, or to add and remove components, all in the hope of creating a better experience.

Let’s start with what we consider one of the Big New Things: asymmetric classes. We always hoped to make the classes feel vastly different from one another, which can be tricky in a dungeon crawler. So, we thought about adding new and unique components to each class, and it happened to fit the game very well. In MD2, each class has different components that will make their gameplay unique - not different to a point where each class has its own complex rule system, but right in a sweet spot that brings a special bonus to each class, and when used optimally, those bonuses will create a singular experience.

Another novelty in Massive Darkness 2: Hellscape is the loot system. In the original Massive Darkness, players usually got treasures according to the dungeon’s level. Now, there are three rarity levels of treasures; Normal, Rare and Mythic. Each time a player receives loot, either found on the dungeon or by defeating an enemy, the player draws a token from a bag that reveals the rarity of the item. This means there is a (small) chance a hero can find a strong, cool item right at the start of the game. As players advance, the chance of finding the rarer items increases. This makes getting loot a much more exciting and surprising part of the game.

And since we are talking about Items, we officially added “Item Sets” as a mechanic. For example, pieces of the “Shadowbane” set can be found in the Treasure Decks, and if a player manages to gather two or four items from the Shadowbane set, they will gain specific benefits depending on the class the character is playing.

Now, let’s go over a few examples of what we changed based on community feedback. Mobs now spawn the Leader plus one Minion per player, making adding the baddies much more streamlined. In addition, we created the new “Monster Dice” system. Each Minion adds one Monster Die to the Mob Attack and Defense rolls, which means every time you kill one of the Minions, the Mob will be rolling one less die. The Monster Dice are also responsible for triggering the monster Special Ability and Retaliation Damage. The Monster Dice replace the Counter-Attack phase, so there is no longer any clunky Monster Activations after each player’s turn. The Monster Phase itself remains similar.

Next, we added even more importance to Shadow; after all the game is called Massive “Darkness”. There are still Light and Shadow Zones, and as we know from the first game, our intrepid Lightbringers have been trained to fight better in the Darkness. In Massive Darkness 2, when a Hero attacks from a Shadow Zone, they will add a Shadow Die to their roll. The Shadow Die potentially adds mana or hits to the attack, like any other die, however each hero also has an Ultimate Ability that can only be activated by rolling a specific face of the Shadow Die.

Big changes were made to improve overall game balance. In order to make higher levels still challenging, we implemented a number of modifications including dice tweaks, creating the Monster Item Deck, and good news: Transmute is not a thing anymore. Players can still trade three Normal Items for one Rare and so on. However, there are now also specific zones where players can find a Forge they can use to upgrade their items.

There are also other changes that we will deep dive into during the Kickstarter Campaign, like the Roaming Monster activations that have been upgraded to make each of them more distinct, and we will introduce Bosses: a new tier of enemy that each come with their own tiles and mechanics, bringing epic battles to the game like never before.

Last (for now), but not least, we received a lot of feedback from the community related to the Story Mode which is now officially called “Campaign Mode”. We believe this mode was already well balanced and will remain the same and… just kidding! We have big plans for the Campaign Mode and is probably features the most dynamic changes coming to Massive Darkness! This is the subject of my next diary, so stay tuned!

Designer Diaries part 1

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