Darkest Dungeon Review - Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
Red Hook Studios
Red Hook Studios
PS Vita, PC
Role Playing Game
Review copy provided by the publisher
There I was, about to kill a Necromancer with four powerful characters. Two had recently wandered to my estate seeking fortune; the other two battle-ready veterans of past forays in the depths of the dungeon. All of a sudden, the Necromancer uses an attack that greatly increases each party member’s stress level. I was not watching my fear levels, so I was shocked when this triggered three heart attacks at the same time, killing three of my four party members. I tried to flee with my last character, but to no avail, he was struck down too, thus I failed the mission, and did not even reap any of the loot received along the way.
“Water Cooler stories” like these are one of the reasons why Darkest Dungeon is the best RPG’s that I have ever played. Never has a game of this style grasped me so tightly with its engaging gameplay, interesting world, and gorgeous artstyle. This game is really tough, so it is not for the faint of heart nor those inexperienced with RPG’s. That being said, if you are a fan of RPG’s and are yearning for something new, interesting, unique, and dark to play, look no further than Darkest Dungeon.
Darkest Dungeon starts with the player inheriting an Estate from a relative, who (in his expeditions to try and find fortune in the catacombs underneath the estate) unearthed portals from a dark dimension. These portals released horrendous looking monsters into the caves and dungeon below. It is up to the player to recruit various adventurers who are seeking fame and cleanse the land below the estate of these evil monsters. The ultimate goal of the game is to enter the “Darkest Dungeon” under the estate, which is the origin of this otherworldly attack.
This set up, while nothing mind-blowing, properly sets the stage for the adventure that lies ahead. The opening cutscene sets the depressing, disgusting, and dark tone of the game, but also makes the player curious of what lies ahead. This story does its job, and introduces the player to the great game that lies in those catacombs, ruins, and caves below the estate. If they survive, that is.
Combat takes place in a turn based structure. Both your and the enemies’ lineup are put in a turn order, and can use their attacks, magic, and skills to either fight the opponent or buff their own team. While this does not seem very tough at first glance, there are many small systems that must be watched during battles in order to stay alive.
Understanding enemy resistances, weaknesses, and strengths is necessary in order to do well in battle. All needed information is displayed at the bottom of the screen, allowing for strategic planning before every move during battle. Even when enemies die, they can leave a corpse behind if not killed by bleed, blight, or a critical hit. This can throw off enemies’ position in battle, making it tougher for the player, and forcing them to adapt their strategy on the spot.
There are fifteen different character classes in the game, and they all play drastically different, and do better at different places in your lineup. While one might be inclined to go into a dungeon with a bunch of heavy hitters, they must be aware that the game can be extremely tough without any debuffs against your enemies or healers. Characters are randomized with special names, skills, and quirks (which give your characters advantages or disadvantages in battle). In general, Darkest Dungeon is a very customizable game, characters are constantly different, as are enemy loot drops.
One of Darkest Dungeon’s biggest additions to the genre is its heavy reliance on a stress system. As your travelers go through the dungeon and fight enemies, they are affected mentally, becoming more and more perturbed as the quest continues. If the stress bar underneath the character maxes out, they will go into a state of panic, and will either come out stronger and with buff, or frightened, which causes them to ignore the player and do what they want, while makes one of their bad quirks worse. If the bars fills up twice, the character will die of a heart attack, so the players has to weigh their options and consider whether it’s better for them to retreat and fail the quest, or continue and risk losing a great party member to stress.
Darkest Dungeon’s overworld operates on a week system. Every week, the player is allowed one expedition, and can also put characters in buildings to relieve stress. At the start of every week, the player can look a stagecoach on the estate in order to find new characters.
Enemies get tougher as the game progresses, as do the dungeons and quests themselves. In Darkest Dungeon, players must be careful to not stress out their party members too much, and be able to keep their party healthy. Certain classes do better in certain positions, and some moves can only be used in the front two or back two slots of a party due to their range. Boss battles can be especially rough, as they require players to keep track of all facets of the game while fighting more so than usual to assure victory.
Dungeons are also procedurally generated, so no two treks into a dungeon are the same. Different monsters and treasure will appear, and depending on one’s quest objective, can create drastically different experiences for two players in the same dungeon. Darkest Dungeon’s combat might seem easy at first, but it’s is very complicated in the best kind of way, making for a thoughtful and challenging experience
After a Quest is complete, players can return to their estate. When here, players can enter a variety of buildings besides the stagecoach, which can all be upgraded to become better. The tavern and church are huge stress relievers, and can hold up to three characters each, making them a good place to relieve your best party members of their stress after a long quest. You can view your dead comrades at the graveyard, and find rare items at the Nomad Wagon. The Sanitarium can be used to wipe characters of bad afflictions, making it very useful for character who have been in your party longer. Finally, there are the Blacksmith and Guild, which upgrade both the player’s weapons and camping skills respectively.
All of these cost gold, and many of them will prevent whoever you assign to it from going into battle with you, so one must be careful when putting people in buildings in order to make sure they have a balanced party. The player can also upgrade these things with heirlooms found on quests, giving the player some incentive to go back into the dungeon.
Darkest Dungeon controls well. Movement is controlled with the left joystick, and the player can use the right one to choose what room to go to next in a dungeon. Menus are also manageable, and not cumbersome to control. While one can tell that this kind of game controls better on PC, it’s still perfectly fine to control with the DualShock 4.
As you can imagine, Darkest Dungeon is a very intricate game, with many systems in place that the player must watch and use in order to survive. If the player chooses to ignore even the smallest game mechanic, they will see repercussions. If the player doesn’t level up their weaponry, the will become weak and fall behind. If the player ignores a character, they will be put in a bad situation if they must use that player later in the game because their stronger ones died.
Those are just a couple of things that can go wrong. Some might find this game too difficult — the game can punish for the tiniest mistake. However, if one sticks with it, they will see the glory of this difficulty. Even the smallest victory can call for a joyous response, creating an immensely rewarding experience. Darkest Dungeon, as tough as it gets, always stays fair, so any mistakes made are because of the player, not the mechanics fighting against you.
This great game is all capped off with a very intriguing and detailed artstyle. It puts off a disgusting, but interesting vibe that will keep the player’s face glued to the screen so they can look at the characters, enemies, and environment. The camera zooms in whenever a character attacks, showcasing the character drawings and showing how richly detailed they are. While heavy on black and red, Darkest Dungeon’s artstyle still manages to be interesting enough to keep people looking at this great game, and wanting to see what comes next.
Some people will have problems with Darkest Dungeon. It can (at times) be excruciatingly hard, to the point where you might consider quitting due to a frustrating experience. However, if you stick with it you will find an immensely hard, but still fair and rewarding experience unlike anything that has been released before it. All RPG fans and lovers of difficult games should definitely give Darkest Dungeon a look on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita if they haven’t already. This game is not for everyone, but those who can handle the difficulty will love this game immensely.