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Review: Darkest Dungeon

Short Attention Span Review™

Darkest Dungeon

4.0

Darkest DungeonAn engrossing gothic, atmospheric, and challenging roguelike dungeon crawl that stresses out the player just as much as the characters! Suffers from class balance issues and initial game RNG dependence. The game is in early access and these issues will likely be addressed.

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Darkest Dungeon is one of those rare independent game development success stories.  Development started as a team of two working in their spare time.  For two years they toiled away until procuring additional funds via a Kickstarter.  The payoff has come to fruition.  Backers and Steam users can play the game as of the beginning of February.  I’ve been playing it since early access kicked off on Steam and I have to say it’s an enjoyable, but challenging, gaming experience.

The game most resembles a roguelike game, composed of turned based combat and randomly generate tile based dungeons, all played from a hobby in the form of a dilapidated and haunted hamlet.  The dungeons are not particularly long which makes it convenient for all casual gamers.  Fire up the game and you can finish a dungeon in 15-30 minutes depending on the size and difficulty.  But be careful, the game is all about permadeath and minimizing wrong choices, not necessarily making all the right choices . . . because things always go south in Darkest Dungeon.  There’s no save feature.  Once a character is gone you can only visit them in the graveyard which is piled with the corpses of your failures.

Darkest Dungeon has a steep learning curve.  The initial levels of the game can be brutal as you figure out the system, the best combinations of classes/skills, and live (or die) at the hands of the RNG gods.  Later stages of the game become easier, especially depending on the luck of the RNG gods.

You have 15 classes to recruit from as they travel to your haunted and gothic family hamlet in search of wealth and adventure.  Each class has their own quirks, downside and upside.  In general I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to survive without a healer, and there’s only one true healer class.  It’s almost impossible to survive without area of effect type of attacks.  And it’s almost impossible to survive without a class that can provide buffs (namely damage increasing buffs).  Because those major class abilities all the rest seem situational and are useful at one time or another, but usually are not used during every fight.  You’ll find that you end up running the same classes in your party of 4 that you become comfortable with, almost all the time.  And in a sense that’s one negative strike to the game as it indicates a cookie cutter nature, which is always a sign that there are balancing issues with classes.  Gamers are not dumb.  They figure out the path of least resistance in games with unbalanced systems.

Darkest DungeonDarkest Dungeon is a challenging gothic RPG about the stresses of dungeon crawling.  You will lead a band of heroes on a perilous side-scrolling descent, dealing with a prodigious number of threats to their bodily health, and worse, a relentless assault on their mental fortitude!  Five hundred feet below the earth you will not only fight unimaginable foes, but famine, disease, and the stress of the ever-encroaching dark.  Darkest Dungeon focuses on the humanity and psychological vulnerability of the heroes and asks: What emotional toll does a life of adventure take?

Darkest Dungeon is not a game where every hero wins the day with shiny armor and a smile.  It is a game about hard trade-offs, nearly certain demise, and heroic acts.

Darkest Dungeon
Developer:  Red Hook Studios
Genre:  Roguelike Fantasy RPG

Platforms:  PC, PS4, Mac, Linux
Year: 2015
4 out of 5 stars

The unique feature of Darkest Dungeon is its “stress” system.  The deeper you delve into a dungeon, the worst your hapless adventures are doing, and the lower your torches burn the more stressed your characters get.  When a stress bar hits 100 that character will be hit with an affliction.  Sometimes the affliction can be a boon (think becoming heroic, etc), but almost universally afflictions are a curse (selfish, abusive, hopeless, etc).  This can cause your characters to act bizarrely, such as not accepting heals, refusing to attack, refusing to change positions in the group, or attacking randomly.  If they survived the dungeon you can send them to the asylum in town to have afflictions removed . . . for a price.  It’s a very unique, interesting, and BRUTAL gaming mechanic.  But there is an upside to crawling through the dungeon with your characters teetering on the edge of madness as the guttering torches burn low.  The monsters drop better loot and more money!  And if there’s one resource you need in Darkest Dungeon it’s a routine flow of cash to pay for removing afflictions and reducing levels of stress.

The art style (see images & video below) is simple, but very stylized.  The animation plays like a well rendered Flash side scroller game.  Don’t expect over the top, mind blowing 3D graphics here!  This game is about creating a stressful and creepy dungeon crawl, built on gothic atmosphere, with minimal overhead requirements.  In fact, I’m almost shocked that this game isn’t available for tablets/phones and isn’t a browser based game as well.  Seems like a natural fit for this game and genre.

Darkest Dungeon is currently about $20 if you weren’t a backer.   I recommend checking it out.

 

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.