Darkest Dungeon is a wonderfully difficult game that anyone can enjoy.
gameplay 96 / story 85 / graphics 88 / sound 99
There are many dungeon crawler games, it is one of the oldest genres, after all, dating so far back to when video games were only in text form requiring the player to type in ancient commands such as, “Pick up the sword” or “Attack Green Klebold”. And as such, it is a difficult and somewhat daunting task for developers to not only create a good dungeon crawler but one that is both entertaining and memorable.
Enter Red Hook Studios INC, who while having a prestigious company name was only comprised of two best friends and several other co-workers to create Darkest Dungeon, a dungeon crawler that had to be funded using Kickstarter in which players assume the role of a distant family member of a wealthy and foolish man who explored the creepy demonic things near the family home and now you have to go and spruce up the place. And by that we mean, you have to kill absolutely everything in the surrounding areas of your home using parties. The player can create multiple parties of a diverse group of heroes spanning from regular and classic Role-playing heroes such as Knights, Highwaymen to somewhat questionable outcasts such as Jesters and men who turn into giant horned demons. The purpose of the game is to strengthen your heroes’ mind to tackle the “Darkest Dungeon” and reclaim your family home along with the surrounding areas. Now let’s discuss what seeks to stop you from accomplishing your goal.
Your home lies in shambles, a menacing and lonely place
The way to recruit, maintain and improve your heroes lies in your “Estate” or “Hamlet” which acts as your home base for the entirety of the game. This base can heal heroes’ “Stress” and teach them camping and battle skills while also improving their armor and weapons. At the beginning of the game, your estate will be in shambles, looking like a medieval town that was just ransacked by the local bandits, however you can fix the place up using “Heirlooms” such as statues, paintings, deeds, etc that belonged to your family but are now lost in the surrounding areas. Those areas being “The Ruins” of your family home, “The Weald” or the overgrown forest surrounding the hamlet, “The Cove” which sits underneath The Ruins, and “The Warrens” or the sewers underneath the mansion. Along with heirlooms, the player must collect gold to upgrade heroes or to lessen stress, and “Trinkets” which are items that can buff a hero and debuff them at the same time unless said trinket is an epic trinket.
Fear whatever lies in the dark, and fear it well.
As mentioned briefly before, the player must tackle the surrounding areas which act as the dungeons they traverse through. The player can create a party of 4 and of whoever they wish. Each quest offers procedurally generated rewards such as gold, heirlooms, and a trinket whose rarity depends on how dangerous the quest is. After each quest, every hero grows stronger mentally but not physically. The way to strengthen heroes physically is back at the Hamlet with the blacksmith or the house of guilds. As heroes themselves grow stronger so too do the areas become more perilous. Quests can vary from exploring 90% of a dungeon, defeating a boss, activating special instances, or completing every Room Battle the dungeon contains.
Each dungeon is randomly generated consisting of “Rooms”, “Hallways”, and “Room Battles”. While that is simple and self-explanatory, there are some added details that are important both to you, the player, and your heroes. While rooms contain nothing, and room battles are well, simply battles in rooms with a reward of treasure, a menacing statue, or the end of a boss. Hallways are somewhat important as they make the journey difficult, ridiculous, I know. Inside the hallways of every area, there are things such as more battles, traps, things of the occult such as fighting demons, and sacrifices. These hallways either make or break the journey, either by giving you torches or taking them away slowly, by either giving you food to heal your heroes or taking your heroes away with traps.
Of course, if you have a hero that can scout ahead like a Highwayman or Houndmaster, then you can know what’s inside hallways and be prepared. However, this all depends on your “Light”. Light is how bright your surroundings are, and how well lit your torch is. Every journey into whatever dungeon you may be tackling depends greatly on how high your Light is as it gives important buffs to your heroes such as “+++Dodge” or “+++Scouting Chance”, the plus sign meaning that’s how high it is. Yet, if your torch begins to darken, these buffs go to the monsters you’re fighting. Thus, the game instills in you the classic hatred and fear of the dark. Without Light, you will lose heroes to ambushes, traps, etc. Which brings us to the battle system.
Gently, slowly, this is how a life is taken
While the exploration of the game is filled with dangers, possibly the greatest and obvious killers of your heroes will turn out to be the battles. Whether it is a room battle or just a simple nighttime ambush, Darkest Dungeon will throw your heroes into various battles that will force you to think on your feet the most favorable outcome for your heroes. Instead of acting like a classic RPG in which the player can somewhat turn their brain on autopilot and continue to press a single button like a machine, you need to consider many things in battle. Your heroes stress level, their health, and of course their positioning in battle. A Vestel Medic in the back is worth much more than a Jester in the front, etc.
Overall Sane Review
To sum it up, Darkest Dungeon is a wonderfully difficult game that pulls no punches while also never assuming that you need your hand held. While having a short tutorial, the game can instantly turn a beginner into a dungeon crawling pro in no time flat. The animation is charming, simple and well done. The battle system is deep yet simple calling to the idea that the clever mind is overall more valuable than the strong arm. The story is not complicated but rather very “out there in the open” that even the most simple-minded gamer can learn the lore of each boss monster. It is worth every cent of it’s 20$ price tag.
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