Gather around, friends, and let me tell you the tale of the first time Darkest Dungeon made me its bitch.
It was an expedition, like any other, into the ruins of my family’s manor. My usual A-Team was in full force: my veteran Crusader stood at the front, with my ranged attacker Highwayman after, then the poisonous Plague doctor and finally the Vestal who acted as the team healer.
“The Usual Suspects”, as the game had named my favourite team, had been veterans of many a fight and I’d grown kind of attached to them. I spent time naming them, making sure they were properly trained and not too stressed.
But they all met death by my own hand. Curiosity got the better of me when I used a torch on an altar. I didn’t know that it would transport my team into an alternate dimension where an Eldritch monstrosity known as Shambler was waiting. My team, woefully unprepared, was slaughtered in a matter of seconds.
In a place outside of time and space, a beast from my nightmares slaughtered a team of characters I had spent hours of my life with.
Yeah, Darkest Dungeon is not a fun time presented in gleefully vibrant colours. What Darkest Dungeon is, however, is brilliant.
The brilliance starts with how combat is handled. What you’ll find here is a turn-based RPG in which you’ll need to stack up to four characters in line and use their unique characteristics and position in that line to give yourself the best chance of getting home alive.
And staying that way isn’t easy, as deaths are permanent. Worse, your favourite characters can die from simple causes like an unfortunate critical hit from even the lowliest enemy.
On top of that, while you’re keeping their health high, you’ll need to keep their stress low. Indeed, the torments of fighting unimaginable horrors takes a toll on the sanity and well-being of your team. As they face multiple dangers in the field their stress levels will rise, reducing the effectiveness of the team as a whole.
If you let that continue, they eventually develop negative traits, completely snap in the middle of a battle or, wait for it, die of a heart attack. Sugar and fat be damned, the biggest obstacle to clear arteries in Darkest Dungeon is Lovecraftian terror.
To reduce stress you’ll need to head into town for the bar or (inversely) the church – although these activities eat away at your gold. This means you’ll have less to provision for the next outing, which means the going will be rougher and you’ll accumulate more stress… it’s a cycle which you’ll have to continually fight against in tandem with the monsters.
The game also offers you a way to change the difficulty of the game, as there are no actual difficulty settings. Along with your provisions, you can take torches. Burning these will raise the light level and give you bonuses. Being in the dark makes it tougher, but the rewards are higher.
As deep as these elements are, the progression in Darkest Dungeon isn’t particularly; all the upgrades and advancements you make are simple stat increases. The first few experiences you’ll have here are very similar to what you’ll have as time goes on. There’s no exciting upgrades to look forward to or any fancy new weapons.
The different classes offer some variety, but once you find a combo that fits your playing style, only the slow change in enemy types will add variety.
Add in the frustration of certain systems (like the terrible trinket item management) and the hard-as-nails core gameplay, and there’s a lot to stress you out. Just like your characters…
I suppose a review needs buying advice to accompany the score. Should you buy Darkest Dungeon? If you can cope with the stress, yes, because it’s going to try and break you. If you can deal with that and losing parts of your life and sanity to failure, then yes, buy this and you’ll be rewarded with satisfying success, as rare as it is.
- Darkest Dungeon was reviewed on a PC. Review Code was supplied by the publisher.