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Darkest Dungeon

By drcoolio34528-05-2015
Darkest Dungeon

The Defence

Red Hook Studios
Red Hook Studios
Indie, Role Playing
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 460
AMD equivalent
4 GB
900 MB

Darkest Dungeon is easily the darkest game I've ever had the pleasure of playing in every aspect of the word "dark." If a dark magician were to play Dark Souls with the lights turned off during the middle of an eclipse with Black Sabbath playing in the background, his experience would just be touching on a few of the ways that Darkest Dungeon is dark.

There's the visual aspect of course with the environments and character designs being dark (the characters don't even have eyes, they just have empty black pits on their faces), but that's not really what I'm referring to when I say "dark." The concept of adventurers slowly losing their sanity to eldritch forces beyond their human comprehension is dark, the roguelike RPG gameplay that has a focus on death, slowly losing sanity, and delving deeper and deeper into labyrinths is dark, and the ever present (if not eventually repetitive) narrator's voice chiming in with tips like "Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer" right after scraping through a fight with your heroes bordering on insanity.

It's only natural for such a dark game to also carry with it a fair share of death and failure, which you'll be bearing witness to regularly if any of this interests you. As diseases rack the body and stress afflicts minds, you're once brilliant team of heroes will crumble under the pressure assuming they don't outright die first. A lesson learned early on is if you give the same amount of care to your heroes as you did to your tomogochi back in 3rd grade they'll quickly fall one by one, or at least become unusable from all the ailments and quirks they accumulate after dungeons that give them buffs or penalties that are expensive to remove.

One second you're looting, the next you're dying.

One second you're looting, the next you're dying.

You get these ailments, stresses, and quirks primarily from enemies, and each zone will be trying to give you different ailments. Weather you contract syphilis in the warrens or rabies in the weald, they'll build up over time, and while they won't kill you, they'll render your hero worthless and drain your money if you plan to alleviate their symptoms. The chances of gaining more ailments only increases with how stressed your heroes are, and the only way to prevent stress is to traverse the dungeons quickly and efficiently which can be hard when insidious forces of corruption are trying to stop you.

Before venturing in the dungeons you can buy torches, among other items, to stave off the inevitable struggles your heroes will face, but what their fate will always come down to is who they travel with. There are ten mostly balanced classes available right now with at least three more planned to come out soon, and you can always start each dungeon with four members in a party just like most RPGs. Characters have “ranks” or position in the party with healers ideally in the back and crusaders being in the front, but when it's dark and your party is “surprised” or enemies use their moves, that order quickly changes.

Before finishing this, there are a few other features to touch on. The narrator's voice rivals the narrating ability of games like The Stanley Parable or Portal’s GLaDOS (if you could call her a narrator), but instead of being funny, is, you guessed it, dark, grim, and depressing in an original and thematically appropriate way. Another thing the game does originally is character design, though that's better shown with pictures than described in with words. Both environments, characters, and enemies all have this unique 2d look to them that looks completely unique.

Get used to this screen. It may be a squalid hamlet, but it’s YOUR squalid hamlet.

Get used to this screen. It may be a squalid hamlet, but it’s YOUR squalid hamlet.

Darkest Dungeon still has room for improvement. You'll be tasked to do "cleanse" or "scout" environments over and over again to gain the EXP and gold you'll require to take on the bosses later on, though this fault is partially saved by the fact that you're going to be forced to experiment with different classes in different positions with each quest as your main party is recovering from their stress.

As for the random element, there have been encounters where my heroes never missed and dodged every hit, but there's also been times where they were critically hit 3 times in a row and totally wiped out. It's hard to fault a turn based RPG for doing its job and rolling the dice, but in a way similar to XCOM, sometimes it just feels like there's more luck involved than skill even if that's not really true.

Darkest Dungeon, despite some repetitive aspects, is one of the most promising in development this year, and by an indie company no less. Its dark and somber theme is enthralling without ever seeming cheesy or angsty, and the gameplay accompanying it is as impressive as it is difficult. If you're a masochist who enjoys challenges, somebody searching for a roguelike game to play for another 25+ hours, or looking for a setting that'll make you want to abandon all your hopes and dreams, keep an eye out for Darkest Dungeon, because this game has some real potential.

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