Doom & Gloom: A Darkest Dungeon Review
Have you ever thought: “Well jeez, Dark Souls is a lot of fun but I wish it could have a baby with XCOM and could have a wicked awesome art style.” or even if you are just a plain ol masochist, Darkest Dungeon is the game for you!
From Red Hook Studios comes a game that holds no punches in their dungeons, tips the scale against you from the start and some how you, as the player, can not get enough. Darkest Dungeon is a dungeon crawling RPG filled with various classes, abilities, equip-able items, and my personal favorite: A stress meter. Yes. You read that right, your party of adventures can and will go bat shit crazy down in the dungeons as they fight against everything unnatural, discover horrors untold and find themselves victim to various diseases and traps.
At the very beginning of the game, the player is shown a small video informing them that the main character’s relative was extremely wealthy at one point and after getting tired of women, food, and other decadents, he decides that it would be a great idea to explore apart of his estate that had been shrouded in mystery. He spends every coin he has to uncover the truth and sure enough, he succeeds. A portal is opened and now a horde of creatures come pouring forth from a place unknown to man. Before committing suicide from the incredible amount of stress he has gone under, he sends you a letter to inform you that he leaves you his land and begs you to take care of this problem so the family estate can return to it’s former glory.
Pretty intense, right?
What makes this game so damn fun is that every encounter has the potential to mark the end for your favorite hero if you are not careful. I will admit that I too thought that this game would be far too easy for an experienced gamer such as I. So I threw my party into dungeon after dungeon to level them. Just as in any RPG, the best strategy is to make sure your team is stronger than the enemies.
Well, in Darkest Dungeon they have level caps for certain missions. This means that a level 3 Leper will flat out refuse participating in a mission ranked 0-2. So the best you can do is meet your enemies and bosses at an equal strength(assuming you do not come across very rare items.) This forces you to sit and consider your options carefully and plan ahead, something not many RPGs do to a player. If you believe that your trinkets will be your saving grace, I’m afraid that every single item in Darkest Dungeon has both a pro and a con. If the item increases your critical chance, then it will decrease your dodge chance.
The abilities are short but sweet. Each new adventurer you add to your roster comes with default moves that are random out of six possible options. There is a way to unlock and choose which moves you’d like on a certain character at the cost of gold plus heirlooms, which is another form of currency in the game. The different classes have their roles coming from the holy trinity: Healing, Damage, and Tank. By choosing which powers you’d like on an individual character allows you to alter their play style to your choosing. If you’d rather have your vestal, which is one of two types healers in the game, be more focused on dealing damage you can choose to equip her moves that are specifically built for that.
Onto my favorite aspect of the game: Stress. Every time a hero gets hit, gets verbally abused, sees something they should not have or even simply back tracking, it will cause stress. Once the meter hits max, the character has a chance of either falling from grace and gets a nasty trait such as Abusive, Fearful, Irrational or they can rise above the occasion and obtain a heroic trait. Both types of traits give bonuses and penalties respectively. However, if they remain stressed out then they will preform worse in combat. In order to relieve them of stress, the player will have to drop a pretty penny back at town while also sidelining them for a few missions. This relief is not permanent either, a character could spend three missions recovering and loses the trait only to become stressed all over again within the first few battles in their next dungeon. This mechanic makes me love the game so much more because it feels real. I know that I personally would cry like a baby at the sight of a Swine Prince and can respect my heroes to do the same. Often for new players they are forced to choose between being completely broke or ignoring the suffering of their warriors by sending them back into the fray with little compassion.
There are a lot more features in Darkest Dungeon, such as camps, the map itself etc. But for the sake of time, I’ll simply recommend that you experience these yourself.
Although this game is wicked fun and addicting, there are flaws. One being the lack of story. Once you pass the intro movie, you don’t really see more of a story other than a few lines from the narrator about the boss you are facing. I will admit that I have not yet beat the game so this could change in the future, but for now the story progression is quite dry. Because this game is so punishing, it can often feel that there is only abuse and even more abuse waiting for you with each new level. I actually took a break from playing this game because I got so down in the dumps after losing my best fighters AND their items.
However, in Darkest Dungeon no one ever promises a rich and engaging story. They promise pain and misery, and on this they deliver. As for other cons, I really can not think of any that really caused me much grief. Everything seems quite fair as far as damage output, utility, enemies, rate of disarming traps and finding treasure.
At the end of the day Darkest Dungeon is hard, fast, and a lot of fun. Although it is an early access game at the time of writing this review, I am extremely confident that this game is worth your money and you will enjoy. It is a breath of fresh air from the slosh of other games that seem to mimic one another. just take my advice and do not fall in love with any of your heroes, because they will die.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, GNU/Linux, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS