A distant Uncle(?) has left you the family estate but, like Luigi’s Mansion or the estate from Eternal Darkness, all is not as it seems. As it turns out this Great Uncle(?) dug too deep, performed dark experiments, communed with Outer Gods, and basically did every bad thing Lovecraft ever wrote about. As the sole beneficiary it lies to you to restore the homestead and the nearby hamlet. And defeat the evil your… Father(?) unleashed. Hire some eager adventurers and set them on the monsters of the dark — or have I gotten that the wrong way around?
Darkest Dungeon started out as a conversation between Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman about how a real person might react to a crazy dungeon delving scenario filled with monsters, demons, cultists, undead, and giant vermin. Inspired by psychologically heroes, particularly Hudson from Alien, they formed Red Hook Studios in order to make this a reality. They funded the game through Kickstarter, raising $75,000 for the project. Darkest Dungeon is still in Early access and as of yet is incomplete.
Darkest Dungeon entered Early Access on February 3rd, 2015. It’s competition was Hand of Fate (Linux, PC, Mac, PS4, and XBox One), Oddworld New and Tasty (PC, Mac, Linux), and Evolve (PC, PS4, XBox One)
It’s natural that the player connect with the party… and doing so will hurt you. Eventually the character you rely on will fail you. The best of them will go mad and jeopardize everything. The one you love the most, the one you named after yourself perhaps, will die. At this point, after 30 expeditions, I’ve grown cold to the lives of the adventurers in my employ. I send them with no supplies sound in the knowledge that if they die then I can replace them. If they survive they’ll soon join the higher ups who perform the really dangerous tasks. The whole while the cash keeps coming in and I keep getting ready for a huge expedition with my most powerful party members. But the bodies are piling and I almost feel a tinge of guilt that my best must stand on the corpses of so many others… almost.
You take control of a party of adventurers who are about to learn what horrors live below, and in, the estate — I love the eagerness they begin with and how it turns into jaded paranoia and fear of having to go back. They move forward in a formation of four ranks, with certain combat abilities only being usable in and of certain ranks — your opponents will try to fuck up your formation… but you can also mess up theirs. Every quest has a certain objective and when it’s complete your people can go on home. They can also leave prematurely but that’ll stress them out.
Speaking of stress, when your characters reach 100 stress points they’ll reach a breaking point which will typically cause them to acquire an affliction which makes their behavior more unpredictable and stresses everyone else out — but rarely causes them to fight more powerfully against the darkness. When a character reaches 200 stress they suffer a massive heart attack and die. Characters don’t die when they run out of health, they instead enter a state called ‘Death’s Door’ at which point the next attack against them has a chance of killing them.
Completing quests nets you Heirlooms, gold, and trinkets which you can take back to the Hamlet and spend. The Hamlet is equipped with buildings that relieve stress, train and upgrade your adventurers, buy trinkets, and remove negative traits from characters such as phobias or diseases. Buildings are upgraded with heirlooms– which can never be taken away– and adventurers are improved with gold — which can easily be spent on expeditions that end in disaster.
The game’s still in early access and as such has no definite goal. Doing quests in areas unlocks bosses and conquering the challenge is a reward in itself but other than that there’s not great conclusion yet.
The designs of all the characters is unique and expressive. The different color palettes of the heads alone allow me to differentiate between characters of the same class. After so many battles animations get a little old and sometimes they drag and make battles seem like they take forever. The characters convey a lot based on appearance alone.
There’s something immensely satisfying about my party having their back to the wall and someone reaching their breaking point and becomes virtuous. The pause between the initiation and the reveal builds so much tension. It’s a small victory and I usually pump my fist or launch my hands into the air shouting, “YES!” repeatedly whenever it happens
The game has created this bizarre system where the town’s upgrades are really what push the difficulty down. Nothing can be done to harm it or undo the work you’ve done to it. You can dump comically large sacks of money into an adventurer, keeping their mind and weapons sharp, when they suddenly turn into a critical hit magnet and die.
If you put together a particular team of adventurers the game will sometimes give them a themed title. I don’t know why I like this so much but I will occasionally mix and match team members just to see if they’re ‘The Misbegotten’ or ‘The Merciless’ or something.
This game relies a lot on luck. Between your crits, enemy crits, getting surprised, surprising other parties, where the goal is in the dungeon, whether you scout or not, what every interactible item in the game does, and what enemies you fight, it’s difficult to determine where your strategy ends and the Random Number Generator begins.
The game has got this really weird difficulty curve. Instead of getting more difficult as the game goes on, the game kind of gets easier. It takes more time to keep your high level characters in ship shape but it’s easier now than it’s ever been to me to reduce the stress of my characters or upgrade their gear. The big reason my people keep dying is because I use them like cannon fodder and pinch my pennies a little too hard, not because the challenge has gone up. Then again, higher level enemies grow more powerful to match the skills of your higher leveled characters.
This game scratched an itch that I didn’t even know that I had. It’s wonderfully eldritch and addictive in the same way that the Binding of Isaac is but it gives me a little more control. I’m really curious about what they turn it into, what classes they make next, and what or if there will be a grand conclusion to this all. I’m not sure if it’s worth 20 dollars but it’s definitely worth 15 so I’d recommend catching it when Steam runs its next sale.