Darkest Dungeon is a dungeon-crawling, rogue-like game developed and published by Red Hook Studios. The game was released on PC on January 19th, 2016, with releases later in the year for the PS4, PS Vita, and Linux.
You, as the protagonist, inherited an estate from a relative. While seeking their fortune by unearthing catacombs, dungeons, and crypts, they accidentally uncovered portals leading to dark realms, in which hideous monsters and creatures have spilled forth. You must recruit a number of heroes and adventurers in order to explore these areas, stop the tide of creatures, and close the portals.
Creating a party of fighters in this game is a careful practice. Each character is better at certain actions and will develop quirks which can either aid or hinder the party, both in battle and outside of it. So choosing the right party for the right mission is paramount. There are multiple things to consider, such as their quirks, their preferred placement in the group, or the enemies that they are better against. The wrong party for the wrong mission will almost always lead to failure, so make sure your party is chosen wisely, and geared for battle.
The game is a turn-based fighting game, in which each character, including the enemies in each fight, take turns to attack, with who fights when dependent on their speed. When it is time for one of your adventurers, you have a small range of skills and abilities on offer, to either attack, defend, buff or assist other characters. Each adventurer adopts a certain role, and there are many different types, such as the Crusaders who excel against the undead, the Jesters who buff allies and use small blades, the Hound Keepers who train dogs to fight and attack the enemy, and many, many more.
There is nothing easy about this game as it is designed to test you. You will lose adventurers, it is all part of the game. You will rage quit, tear your hair out and scream because you lost your best fighter. As the game is constantly saving there is no option to backtrack – once anything happens, it is permanent. Yet, despite the anger-inducing quality of the game, it will pull you straight back in. You will have the thought, “Alright, I can do better this time, last time was just a slip-up”, and maybe you’re right, maybe you will succeed. But sooner or later, chaos will reign and you will lose one or maybe even all of the characters in your current party. This could even take place straight out of the tutorial. The game does not hold your hand, and rightly so. It is completely up to you with how you progress, choose what items to take with you, and how you battle.
One of the main components of the game is the psychological element. During your missions, your characters will become stressed, which is marked just under their health bar. At certain points during the increasing stress bar, your characters will be affected in specific ways. The stress bar can fill twice in total. Once it fills up the first time, the character’s resolve is tested. The outcome can be either positive or negative. The character could become so stressed that they become selfish and only care for themselves, or hopeless so they sometimes can’t even muster the will to attack, or they will attack without allowing you the option to choose what to do. While the previously mentioned can be detrimental to the fight, the positive can also turn the tide of battle, such as becoming Courageous, which graces the entire party with a certain buff. It all depends on your stats and how your characters react to becoming stressed.
In-between missions, you will return to your Hamlet. The Hamlet is constructed with an assortment of buildings and carriages, which can help you in a variety of different areas. You can place your adventurers in a few of these buildings in order to reduce their stress, but they become unavailable until after the next mission. There are other buildings like the Blacksmith, which allows you to upgrade your characters, and a wagon which allows you to recruit new characters. Utilising everything that the Hamlet offers to you is paramount to your success, and could mean the difference between finishing a quest, or the eradication of your entire party.
There is a lot to customise and fiddle with in this game, possibly too much. Upgrading your heroes, countering stress levels, maintaining the roster, equipping trinkets, the list goes on. There is so much to do that you can sometimes feel a sense of not having the opportunity or ability to prepare enough. While some players may like the structure in a game such as this, others may just feel stressed out. And not in a euphoric and epic battle sort of way, but more hopeless and without direction, especially those new to this gaming style. There is so much to process, but if you can get a handle on it all and plan carefully, then you are sure to be successful in future battles.
The artwork and sounds in the game are amazing. The animations are stiff yet surprisingly significant, having an almost comic book style to it. The music really enhances the deep and desperate situations you are in, and even adds to your stress, along with your adventurers. The narrator will recite your every move in an epic and foreboding way, with his deep voice rattling off dark omens to come and offering small glimmers of hope, in an otherwise dark and bleak existence.
Darkest Dungeon is out on PC for $35 AUD. This is a dark and cruel game designed to test your own resolve and fortitude, usually against breaking something, because you just lost yet another adventurer. The game is at its best when you are embroiled in a heroic clash with evil, fighting for your lives, with every single choice meaning life or death. Do not play this game for a light-hearted bit of fun. Dungeon diving for treasure and fame has never felt so nerve-wracking and traumatic, and that is exactly what makes this game shine. Darkest Dungeon receives an 8.5/10, a game with a brilliant art design and atmosphere to accompany the dark, gritty and sinister gameplay, which holds nothing back and expects only death and failure, only making you fight that little bit harder and longer to beat it.