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Darkest Dungeon (PC) artwork

Darkest Dungeon (PC) review

"A surprising return of the Turn Based RPG, and one of the few early access success stories."

Full disclosure; I have done several things to make the game as easy on me as possible. Many of the ingame options includes disabling certain features, including debuff chances and monster corpses (Which can mess with your attack formations) to name a couple. Alongside that, I’ve utilized the workshop and downloaded several quality-of-life mods that include bigger inventory (and thus higher payouts at the end of quests, if you nab enough things), Stronger Start (which effectively buffs your starter two heroes), and level restriction removal which allows me to bring higher level people on lower level missions which would help “Carry” new characters. There’s several more but nothing quite so severe as what I have done to XCOM2. If you people only knew...

You’ve probably already heard about Darkest Dungeon. It’s one of the very few Early Access success stories. What we have here is a roguelike turned based roleplaying game. For those just joining us, “Rogue” was an older game, effectively inventing its own genre of difficulty and progression. Roguelikes tend to be punishing, destroying your early game while slowly earning currencies and upgrades that continually aid you in your further attempts.

In the story, some nobleman got some gold fever and started digging around his lands and unleashed a literal eldritch abomination which cast a swath of land into darkness, turning the whole place into a hellscape. I don’t know what matter of character we, as the player, plays as but we lead a band of mercenaries across these lands to explore dungeons and forests. You scrape up gold and treasure, eventually upgrading your township and champions so you can take on higher challenges. The overarching goal is to assault the Darkest Dungeon itself, which I’m sure is full of good times and parties.

That’s the baseline concept but there are a ton of nuances that go into the game. I for one am happy to have some turn based combat in my life again, the last memory of which was Final Fantasy X which I enjoyed greatly in my teenage years. There may be a reason the genre faded in the background as it’s a bit of a flow-breaker, which had no place in a world of Call of Duty’s and Halo’s and Arkham’s. Darkest Dungeon makes the concept really work, with an interesting art style that makes it look like you’re reading an ancient tome with plenty of pictures to go along with the legend, helped by the narrator who occasionally spouts antiquated language like “Perched at the very precipice of oblivion...” You really do feel like you’re playing through an interactive book at times.

If you’ve played a Dark Souls or any roguelike game, you probably know the score. Your people will die. If they don’t die, they might get to a point where you can no longer tenably sustain their negative quirks and high stress levels. Quirks and stress (stress being comparable to any insanity mechanic in a Call of Cthulhu RPG or Amnesia game) bring your heroes down constantly, from easily ignored to debilitating. I don’t care if my tank has -3 speed, but I do care when someone gets a tapeworm which doubles their food consumption. That’s basically pissing my money away. At a certain point, characters become so stressed, they gain an affliction which is usually much harsher. A healer of mine once became “Paranoid”, not only fleeing to the back of the group but sometimes wrestled control away from me on her turn, using her own decision making to pop a heal or attack without my command. These can be cured for high sums of gold in your township but most players choose to abandon the character.

Thankfully, retreating is a possible option. You don’t get the high payout quest rewards but you do keep everything you acquired in the dungeon itself. If you made it past 80% of the dungeon but all your people are at 10% health, one of them is bleeding, one of them is paranoid, it might just be better to flee, take your earnings, and send some of the worse-off characters on their way. I’ve probably abandoned quests more often than I’ve completed them, but I’m still making some progress in the game and that’s what matters.

Now, I’m a fairly casual scrub player. I like my games fun and easy if at all possible but there is something positively enchanting about Darkest Dungeon. The combat is incredibly intense, and I can feel my heart skip a beat every time I see “dodge” or “miss” pop up. Every time my people don’t land a blow, it opens me up for another attack and that frightens me to a decent degree. The game’s tone is dreadful but it works in its favor with its highly stylized... style. I just like looking at the game, which is impressive because I find myself thinking about it when not playing it. Due to the steam summer sale, I also was able to get Watch Dogs 2, but this game is drawing more of my attention than any triple A game at the moment and that’s always a good sign.

If I had a complaint, it’s probably the same complaint you might have seen while skimming over other reviews. The random number generator aspect of the game can be seen as a detriment. People like to progress, and we also like having our decisions matter in the grand scheme of things. Other times, it feels hopeless. I once equipped a character with a -25% stress trinket only to have a very harsh fight with a Madman enemy constantly unload high stress on the entire team before I was able to take him out. It’s moments like that, that give me the sense of “Why did I even bother?”

I do believe that’s how some of this is supposed to work. Retreating from dungeons more often than completing them makes it all the more satisfying when I am actually able to complete one and see that sweet, juicy 4500 gold enter my theoretical bank account.

Still, there can be a bit of that old “nothing I do matters” feeling that creeps up while you play. I certainly get that from time to time but I’m doing my best with some of the easiest settings cranked up and I find myself enjoying the experience anyway.

Would I recommend this game? As usual it depends on what you look for in games. It has plenty to offer for challenge seekers, with a lot of gear management, loot, and town upgrading to cater to any RPG lovers. The general consensus across the internet can be very mixed, with every update having a vocal outcry on things being too easy or too hard. I wasn’t there during many of these updates, I’ve come in two years later into their development and I’m probably experiencing one of the most refined versions of this game and as it is, I’m enjoying it. I’m as surprised as anyone.


Zydrate's avatar
Community review by Zydrate (June 24, 2017)

Zydrate is most active on Steam and Tumblr.

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