Darkest Dungeon is a game about making the best of hopeless situations. It’s a Gothic style turn based RPG, that not only explores the challenge of nuanced battle strategy, but also deals with the stress and trauma your heroes suffer as they drive back terrors in their assault on, The Darkest Dungeon!
I have personally become a bit obsessed with this game. Aside from the occasional arcade shooter, it’s about the only game I’ve played for the last month. Darkest Dungeon is not a game for the causal gamer. I am always up for enjoying an atmospheric, Zen-like gaming experience like Alto’s Adventure, Monument Valley, and Fez, this however is not one of them! It takes a great deal of time and strategy to successfully complete the various dungeons available, while meanwhile preparing for the future final challenges. It will test your strategies brutally and swiftly punish any mistakes.
Story/Setting – Gothic Lovecraft This is one of those games that has a brilliant narration that plays in the background as you succeed or fail your missions. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the narrator in Bastion in that the narrator serves as much as an environmental ambiance as he does a means to further the story. I personally really enjoy the dramatic overtones of the game and it fits well with the theme of overwhelming darkness and despair.
The actual story it’s self is not played out in real time, but rather is more the story of how the insidious madness of the void has grown to how it is when you arrive. At the entrance to each boss (which there are quite a few of) the payer gets a narration that begins a story of how this boss came to be. All boss stories have 3 parts as bosses must be fought 3 times (easy, medium, hard versions), and this forms the structure to most of the story of the game till the end. There is however an equally interesting and ever changing story of your own personal experience in DD. What I love about this game is its attention to detail. Each hero has positive and negative quirks (like heavy drinker, or warrior of light, etc…) which give them a special uniqueness. Random events trigger after most quests, and while in the dungeon heroes have virtue checks that will cause them to become either afflicted with damaged mental/emotion states, or draw out best in them, causing them to become powerful, courageous, stalwart, etc… This gives every run its own story, and things even take place back in the relative safety of The Hamlet while you are gone. All this adds up to make for a great gaming experience that feels both personal and natural.
Gameplay – Nuanced Battles in 100’s of Different Encounters. To finish the final quest and defeat the most difficult dungeon will take many hours of preparation to level up at least 1 strong 4 hero party, and after that it’s not even a guarantee that you will succeed. After each dungeon crawl 1 week has passed. For me personally I take on average 1 hour per week (including both preparation and the crawl itself), though I do tend to think and strategize longer than other players likely do. I know the final battle is possible to complete in less than 100 weeks as veteran players have been challenging each other to complete it in 72 weeks. I am at week 85 right now and do not see myself beating the game in less than 100. The length I think is excellent though as there are many details to attend to in each individual dungeon crawl, but the whole time there is a sort of “macro game” you are playing of managing and altering leveled heroes to prepare for your final assault. It is a long run to work your way through the whole game, but it’s designed to challenge the player to do just that, and there are always bosses at every difficulty level to fight to keep things interesting.
The actual gameplay mechanics are excellent. It is incredibly well balanced, and really forces you to think about skill and class combinations, as well as the party’s resistances and initiative (called “speed” in DD). It is possible to both make a party that always stays in the same slots, and to make a party that is highly mobile and adaptive; the player must decide which is best for each situation. Heroes that reach 0 HP are on “Death’s Door” and have a “deathblow” check every time they receive DMG. This creates tense moments, narrow escapes, and realistic death counts.
One thing I love about this game is how unique and imaginative some of the classes are. Classes like the Leper, Plague Doctor, Antiquarian, Abomination, and the Grave Robber are some examples of characters you don’t often see in many other games. As many other RPG games do, this one takes bits from history, mythology, and religion to make it’s world and lore. Darkest also takes a heavy dose of H.P. Lovecraft influence as well and serves as the main theme for the whole game, though it is set in a Gothic world rather than the early 1900’s, as many Lovecraft stories do.
Difficulty – Sometimes, Victory is Retreating Safely. No matter how you look at it, this game is really hard. Maybe not like bullet hell 80’s arcade game hard, but more like really hard strategy with heavy RNG. It will cause any gamer to grow and adapt to its volatile nature, and makes one second guess their own style and battle plans. One of the main complaints I’ve heard about this game is that it rely too much on RNG and that bad luck can overcome any hero party. This I partially disagree with. Though it is true that bad rolls can cause devastating losses, the game gives the player a great deal of information about the percent chance of almost everything your hero’s will attack or defend against. It is true that the game gives no info on enemy DMG and ACC stats, but after hours of gameplay you get a pretty good feeling of how most attacks can fair against different parties.
Since the player only gets detailed stats on their own heroes and not the enemies, it feel realistic in that way, since you often know much more about your troops than your opponents. The only hero stat that I would really like to see is the hero change to pass their virtue check when tested, and to my knowledge, it is not displayed anywhere even though you can modify it with trinkets.
Though the gameplay mechanics in DD are very good, this really serves as a strong foundation that makes the strong emotional impact of this game possible. The overwhelming feeling of darkness and despair creates a drastic contrast to the rare moments of heroic victory and virtue. when several heroes are “selfish” or “irrational” then that last one becomes “Courageous” and leads the others to victory with CRITs, party buffs, and stress heals, it feel so much more meaningful! The struggle against terrible evil in this dark fantasy game feels perfect for an Eldritch horror style RPG. If you like RPG games or H.P. Lovecraft games this is one you don’t want to miss.
It is available on Steam and recently was added to PS4 for $25. It’s well worth it! Also check out the developer webpage!
“Return! Claim your birthright! And deliver us from the ravenous clutching shadows of, The Darkest Dungeon!!!”
Happy Gaming Friends!