The game we’re looking at today takes another perspective on the fantasy adventuring crew, how facing ferocious monsters and horrible abominations can take its toll on both body and mind. From Red Hook Studios, we have Darkest Dungeon, let’s go!
After receiving a letter from an ancestor, explaining how he royally screwed up your family estate by digging through the basement and unleashing eldritch abominations, you return to your family estate to manage and guide adventurers who wish to delve into the depths of your hillside manor. To beat back the terrors wrought by the wicked nasty stuff your ancestor did, it is up to you to help these adventurers defeat wretched and get out both alive and sane. Ready your heroes and brigands with food, torches, and magical trinkets to help them on their way. Direct them through ruins, warrens, and ocean coves, facing all kinds of traps, blockades, and setbacks. Fight your way past bandits, undead, cultists, and abominations of flesh that now reside in this once-opulent residence. Prepare to fail quests, for adventurers to go mad from stress and perish, and to have to make the most of bad circumstances as they arise. Prepare for fickle fortunes, as a run of good luck can turn sour in a moments notice, when adventuring in the shadow of the Darkest Dungeon.
After a brief combat tutorial, with introductory protagonists Dismas and Reynauld, you arrive at the Darkest estate, tasked with guiding these fools- I mean, brave adventurers, to victory over the evils that have taken over the estate. So, what all does being the manager entail? A hamlet exists below the estate, where preparations and planning can take place. In this hamlet, at the start, there only a stage coach for new arrivals, and a graveyard for those leaving. As time goes on, and more missions are passed, you unlock the abbey and tavern, which are good for relieving stress, which we’ll talk about later. After that comes the blacksmith and guild, which can upgrade your heroes’ weapons, armor, and skills. There are other functions of the hamlet that can be unlocked, such as the Survivalist, the Sanitarium, and the Nomad Wagon, but we will cover those later as well. When you are ready to continue your campaign against the darkness, you assemble a group of up to four heroes, outfit them with food, torches, and other provisions that may help them in the dungeon, and set off.
Once in the dungeon, you lead your ragtag band of adventurers, guided only by your torch as you delve into the dark. Whether on the way to a room, or in a room itself, combat is frequent when exploring. The action is turn-based, going back and forth between your heroes and the enemies before you. Your heroes, which can be from 15 different classes, have a variety of skills that can be used to vanquish the enemy and protect themselves. From crusaders to but the key thing to remember is placement. Combat takes place in two lines of characters, your line of four adventurers, and the enemy’s line-up. It is basically a conga line from left to right, the left being furthest from the enemy, the right being the closest, everyone right next to each other. Melee-focused characters, like Reynauld the Crusader, do their best work on the right, while Dismas the Highwayman, with gun in hand, does better from positions further from the action. The skills a hero has determines where they can be effective. Some skills can be used from any position, some only from specific spots. Some skills can hit any enemy position, some can only hit the front two of the enemy line-up, or the back two. Keeping in mind what abilities can be used on positioned enemies is key to succeeding.
While in the dungeons below, there are tow types of damage a hero can face, health damage and stress damage. When a character reaches zero health, they die, being relegated to the graveyard, and leaving your party one person short for the rest of the mission. If a character accumulates 100 stress, their limits are tested, and may gain an affliction, like Selfish or Hopeless, which will affect how they act in combat, often stressing out other party members. At their limits, heroes may instead become virtuous, instead becoming more powerful and leading the charge. Health can be recovered with food and healing spells, and is fully recovered upon leaving the dungeon. Stress is harder to heal, persisting outside of the dungeon, with some skills reducing stress, and stress-relieving services in the hamlet in the form of the tavern and abbey, at a cost.
There are five major areas to explore and cleanse, the Ruins, the Warrens, the Weald, the Cove, and the Darkest Dungeon itself. All of these areas have quests, where completing the quest earns money, resources, and grants experience points to the heroes that completed it, growing their ability to challenge stronger missions. This is also a drawback, as higher-level heroes will not take on lower level missions. Each area has various levels of challenge, depending on how many missions you have completed there, except the Darkest Dungeon which is always the highest-level dungeon in the game. When you have completed enough missions in an area, a boss enemy will appear as a mission for that area. Once defeated, the area will offer a new level of difficulty in missions, leading to another encounter with a boss enemy. Once you feel like you can challenge the Darkest Dungeon, you can go and try your luck against its horrors. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Past this, the more detailed aspects of the game are apparent, like quirks, which give minor bonuses or ailments to heroes, and trinkets, which are items that can be equipped and swapped around for bonuses. At the sanitorium, you can remove negative quirks, like rabies or kleptomania, or lock in positive quirks, so that they can’t change out. At the nomad wagon, you can buy and sell trinkets, but they can be expensive. Lastly, on long adventures, you may need to make camp before you finish, and camp skills take place here, where you can spend time to prepare for further fights or reduce stress. The survivalist in the hamlet can help upgrade or teach new camping skills to your heroes.
The visual style of Darkest Dungeon is very distinct, using harsh shading to a wonderfully grim effect, similar to the visual style of the Hellboy comics by Dark Horse Comics. All of the hero designs are unique, everyone can be differentiated at a glance, and each pulling from an archetype of character from a pencil-and-paper role-playing game. Enemy designs are diverse and horrifying, from skeletons and bandits to mutated pig monsters and an eldritch collector with his severed floating heads.
When it comes to audio, Darkest Dungeon has a few things going for it. The sound effects for combat are fantastic. When an enemy is struck down in a single blow, it sounds perfect. The music of Darkest Dungeon is okay, as most of the themes and background pieces, while unmemorable, fill the role of background music well. The one piece you will probably hear the most is the theme for the Hamlet, which is fortunately good. You can listen to it here.
Altogether, Darkest Dungeon is a difficult game about making the most of a bad situation. When things go wrong, because they always will, how will you cope? Will you flee at the first sign of resistance? Will you push through to the end and deal with the consequences? Or will you crumble from the pressure? Darkest Dungeon is all about testing these limits, and does so in a way that really appeals to me, with its use of elements from Dungeons and Dragons, as well as H.P. Lovecraft and other works of horror. If you’re a fan of challenge, D&D, and/or Lovecraftian horror, give Darkest Dungeon a try. You can find it on Steam with mod support, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, iOS, and now on the Nintendo Switch!
That’s all for now, see you later.