Review: Darkest Dungeon

You Knew This Was Coming

Right out of the gate, Darkest Dungeon's lets you know that it's not pulling punches.As some of you probably already know I’ve been going on about a game called Darkest Dungeon over twitter for over a week now. Unfortunately, I was unable to back the Kickstarter because I’m not independently wealthy and so backing every single amazing Kickstarter I come across could potentially bankrupt me. However, I have been following the game for quite some time now and have been eagerly awaiting its debut as an early access title on Steam. Which is precisely what happened on Feb 3rd, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time delving through the first bits of the game and I’m so damned excited about it I couldn’t not tell you about it.

The game is being referred to as the video game version of Torchbearer among the twitter tabletop RPG community recently, and seems to already be shaping up to land itself on many people’s “RPG of the year” lists. Personally having not played Torchbearer I can’t speak to any similarities, however it did strike quite a chord with me in terms of its fourthcore gameplay trappings. The tone of the game is brutal and murky, very reminiscent of the materials I helped work on and promote with Sersa V (@Killerdungeons) back in my 4e days.

Hurt Me Plenty

Anecdotes aside, Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based, permadeath/roguelike, side-scrolling 2D RPG with a stark art style and an oppressive tone that focuses on the stresses of dungeon delving. Before each adventure, your party of 4 is chosen from an ever-fluctuating roster of hopefuls, madmen, and other types who have traveled to your crumbling estate in hopes of getting a slice of the fame and riches that might come in uncovering your family lineage and assisting in rebuilding its legacy. During each foray into the darkened world that surrounds your estate, your adventurers will be subject to the bleak and often counterproductive quirks and mental ticks of their fellow comrades, and most often, themselves. If an adventurer dies, that’s it, they’re gone and you’re never getting them back, be sure to pay a visit to their tombstone in the center of town because that’s all you’ll have left to remember them by.

A snapshot of my highwayman, Dimas, before he was a neurotic mess.The game auto-saves at regular intervals and there’s no fixing your mistakes, it forces you to deal with the choices you make without any hope of reloading a saved game in case something goes awry. Throughout your encounters, characters will earn XP and level up as expected, but they’ll also acquire new traits and quirks that make things difficult.

From kleptomania, to paranoia, and dozens of other neuroses. Depending on a character’s stress level they may say things to embolden or embroil their fellow party members while on a delve, which consequently effects the stress levels of everyone around them. Once a character reaches their breaking point their will becomes tested, to which they will either succumb and begin down a darkened path of paranoia or self loathing, or perhaps they will embolden and resolve, boosting the morale of their allies and forging ahead. There’s also a light mechanic that plays into this as well, so you’ll want to keep your torches lit. Or perhaps not, because living dangerously in the dark may bring out the worst, but it could also bring about some of the best rewards.

Core Gameplay

You’ll begin the game with a marvelously done intro movie explaining the plot of your once-great house and its darkened legacy that smoothly transitions into the tutorial. The tutorial can 100% be failed and you’ll have to start the game over – Darkest Dungeon begins pulling no punches from the very first moment you lay your fingers on the keyboard. Although combat is turn based that does nothing to detract just just how visceral and tense it is at almost every turn. Every single hit point counts, every dodge or miss stings just as making contact with your foe. The combat largely focuses on marching order, each character class has its own pros and cons depending on their skill set, position, and itemization. This is all done through a very intuitive system of little dots indicating where an ability can be used from, and how effective it is.

An overview from the estate screen, an at-a-glance log of your progress and adventurer activities.Once through the tutorial you’ll find yourself back at your estate and you’ll begin to explore the game in-between the game. You’ll need to manage the stress levels of surviving adventurers by sending them off to have a drink, or to pray, or perhaps participate in the pleasures or punishment of the flesh.

The deeds, busts, paintings and other items you collect while delving all aid in improving upon and expanding out your estate. After the first few missions you’ll have unlocked most everything in town – which will allow training, armor and weapon upgrades, quirk removal at the local asylum, and more.

Before each delve you’ll need to provision, stock up on things like bandages, food, torches, antitoxins, keys, and a various other assortment of essential things you may need when spending several days in the darkened surroundings battling profane things that lurk in the cracks of the world. Each adventure has differing lengths and objectives you’ll need to pay mind to, some are just to simply scout areas, others are to defeat certain enemies, and the length will determine how many times your adventurers can rest during its duration. Rest is another huge part of the game. Aside from combat skills, each character has a set of rest skills that allow them to help recover from the expended resources and tax on their bodies that come from adventuring. From pep talks to experimental concoctions to heal wounds, using the right combination of rest abilities can make or break your entire expedition.

Don’t Take My Word For It…

I could go on for hours about all the layers of flavor, depth, and strategy this game has, but I won’t. I’m only about 3.5 hours in right now but honestly, at $20 Darkest Dungeon is one of the most satisfying and complete-feeling early access titles you can purchase on Steam right now.

If you’re a fan of a good dungeon crawl, roguelikes, brutal gameplay, or just RPGs in general – Darkest Dungeon is wholly worth every bloody, rusted, red cent of its $20 price tag. You may as well get in on the ground floor before the game comes out of early access and the price goes up anyway. If you need further convincing, here’s a clip where I spent a full 14 minutes on the precipice of a complete TPK (some language NSFW). Until next time my fellow delvers, game excellently with one another!

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