So here we are again. It’s been quite some time since the earliest version of Darkest Dungeon crawled out of the putrid recesses of Steam Greenlight and now it graces us with its many tentacled presence. For those of you who haven’t heard of this gem, how’s that rock you’ve been living under? But really Darkest Dungeon is a rogue like turn based RNG based dungeon crawler about making the best of a REALLY bad situation. This bad situation is brought about, story wise, by your arse hat of an ancestor. This unnamed Ancestor precedes to mess with some serious shit, everything from eldritch summoning to necromancy and other nonsense Frankenstein would see as a little bit disgusting. Obviously from this everything goes wrong, resulting in the Ancestors demise and some serious problems that need fixing. So like the true arse he is, this Ancestor dumps all this on you with the paraphrased words of “Hey i’m just gonna retire to my office for a round of pistol tasting with Cthulu, you’ve got this right?”
So you assume the role of the faceless Heir to this hell-scape, charged with cleaning this proverbial mess up. Being a true descendent of that useless twat of an Ancestor, you promptly hire a mix of soldiers, mercenaries and random idiots to go and throw themselves at the problem until it goes away. This problem can be found in the five distinct areas of the game: the Ruins, Warrens, Weald, Cove and the literal Darkest Dungeon. Every locale carries a very tense atmosphere as you constantly watch for traps and ambushes. All the while the Ancestor (being the upper class twat he is) narrates and commentates about how bad you are from beyond the grave. In addition to traps and strange curios, every area has its own unique enemies which will carry out said ambushes, ranging from skeletons and bandits to fish men and…other things possessing eight mouths, fifty or so eyes and look like they’ve been ripped straight out of the more disturbing areas of Bloodborne. Now if this is all starting to look a bit grim, fret not! You have a roster of random, mentally unstable JPEG’s to fight for you! There are currently 14 different classes of heroes to choose from, with distinct variations in strategic options. The cast varies from crusading knights to grizzled highwaymen and even a fucking werewolf that can make people go insane. This variation allows you to match up some incredibly interesting teams and murderous combinations of skills. The developer Red Hook has stated they’re adding in extra mechanics and classes as free DLC, which is an added benefit.
The combat itself is rough, unrelenting and schizophrenic. Being largely RNG based in a similar manner to XCOM, the game can be swift and unchallenging one moment and then decide it wants everyone to die the next. A good example of this was while I was hunting a boss in the ruins area, a mad prophetic dickburger who could made all my heroes go nuts. The trip through the 20 or so rooms to get to him was easy enough, with nobody seriously wounded nor close to going bonkers. So I sat my little 2D children down by the fire to apply some small buffs and heal up. We entered the boss room, proud and ready to slaughter the poor sod when we noticed he was hiding behind three really resilient pieces of wood. “Ok then” I though “lets just get Mr Leper at the front here to smash through them with his big sword. Oh they dodged it? Oh.” Meanwhile that Prophet was dropping piles of rocks on the heads of my heroes, promptly sending them into their magic pixel, last chance state. “Ok then” says the increasingly irritated me.“I’ll just get my healer to-oh wait you just stunned him. You’re not letting me do anything Mr Prophet.” To which he spouted some crazy gibberish and killed my entire team by taking five actions in a row. Now this does come off as game breaking but this is the exception rather then the rule. Most fights are punishing but fair, and reward stupidity with a well deserved blow of insanity and sharp things.
While atmospheric locations and gruelling combat are key points to the game, the real emphasis is on the psychological aspect the game carries. You see dear reader, every one of your 2D sprites comes with their own unique blend of traits and quirks that grant various buffs and debuffs. Right out of the gate your characters start with up to four traits and can gain close to a dozen. These include various phobias and addictions to full on delusions and manias. This really makes each sprite feel unique, and once you invest actual time into the game you begin to really root for them. They become like homicidal flowers, you water and nurture them and they murder demons for you. Of course most of these flowers will be awfully murdered themselves because the universe decided it was just not their day. The game focuses on the tolls of your expeditions, with characters gaining new quirks or awful diseases from messing with things in the dungeons. The absolute leader of this feature however, is the Affliction system. During their expeditions into the dungeons, characters are stressed and worn down, which is shown by the aptly named stress bar. When this reaches 100% your hero will either become an actual hero (gaining huge buffs) or become a nutjob/coward/teenager (gaining the power to ruin everything). This can obviously make or break a run, which is either frustrating or insanely funny. A good example of this was when I sent a party of new recruits into the final dungeon straight away to get an achievement and see what it was like. The dungeon appeared to consist of one long hallway and another room, which took me by surprise. Urging my men forwards, we encountered the first enemy. Four turns later the two weird and disgustingly happy cultists were dead. Halfway through the “this isn’t that hard” thought we ran into a hooded figure standing in our way. “Alright this guy isn’t too tanky, we’ll b-OH MY GOD HE HAS KNIFE TENTACLES COMING OUT OF HIS FACE! With my party badly injured I limped into the our first room, only to discover this was in fact, only the first room in a huge, unseen dungeon. Strange versions of early enemies now half squid attacked my party, and promptly slaughtered them. Three turns in everyone was insane and on the fourth we lost our first man, a Crusader. Seeing as we were all ridiculously stressed and bleeding out, I ordered a swift retreat. However as soon as we exited the room, with my Hellion on Deaths Door, Jester a fearful wreck and Houndmaster a total masochist, the stress bar on the Hellion filled up a second time. With a cry of “I KNEW IT”, the poor girl had a heart attack and died. I decided to properly retreat, but the dungeon was having none of it. “Oh so you want the last two to survive? Well one lucky hero instead has to stay behind to die heroically.” “But there’s nobody here! This is an empty corridor!” I said. That’s when the game promptly forced a entire dungeon to murder my Houndmaster as the Jester ran from the hellish place. To be fair, it was all in character.
So in summary, Darkest Dungeon is a game that not only is incredibly entertaining and results in silly little anecdotes, but has an amazing feel, scale and design that fit into the created world brilliantly. Also, it contains some of the best writing out of any games i’ve played (No not quite Undertale but close) and a voice actor with the tones of God. While I wouldn’t recommend starting some weird eldritch cult about it, delving into those dark recesses of the dungeons in the Darkest Dungeon is a solid plan.
Review by Charlie Eastwood
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