Darkest Dungeon is the birth child of indie game developers Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman with the help of their studio, Red Hook Studios. This is their first game and they are coming out of the gate strong! Darkest Dungeon is a Kickstarter funded, Roguelike Gothic RPG, and was successfully funded back in February 2014 and earned over $300,000 when only asked for $75,000. It is quite impressive to see what a group can come up with when they do not have large pockets to work with. A year later on February 3rd, 2015, Darkest Dungeon Early Access was launched on Steam, garnishing the game with overall very positive reviews and a Metacritic score of 86/100 This game has gone on to sell over 700k copies since its release on January 19th, 2016.
So what makes this game good? Did they stumble upon the underwater city of R’lyeh and prey to The Great Old One for inspiration and guidance? Maybe…let’s find out!
The plot starts off with you inheriting the manor from a distant relative.
(Off the record: This relative must of hated you because you inherited a hunk of junk manor.)
You do not realize this until you travel to the town of Hamlet to search out your manor. When you arrive, the town and your manor is in shambles and you are there to snuff out your family fortune. That fortune is what caused your ancestor to want more in life. Prior to your arrival, he discovered unsettling tales that your manor was linked to some sort of unnamable power. He spent all of his resources unearthing this buried secret and what he found he would soon regret. A portal of antediluvian evil that led to death and madness. Creatures poured out and it is now your job to take back what is yours and rid this plane of their existence!
The story is told through narrations from your ancestor, voiced by Wayne June, who tells you about risks, rewards, backgrounds, bosses, areas, etc. The voice work for the narrator is some of the best I have heard and instantly throws you into the times and makes you feel like you are listening to tales of Lovecraft around a campfire. His insight helps you put the pieces together throughout your journey into the abyssal nightmare.
HOW TO SURVIVE
So you think you can dance with the devil in the pale moonlight, eh? Well this is one game that is unforgiving and will challenge your pace in video games. Darkest Dungeon has transcended the act of creepy, gross, and horror and has delved into the realm of terror. Now surly you must be wondering what is the difference between these. Stephen King is referenced with breaking down what scares us in three different categories: gross-out, which is something that is morbid, putrid, rotten, and disgusting. Horror is the unnatural, cytoplasm and giant ware-beasts, perhaps even something in the dark and out of sight when you thought you were safe. Then there is terror, this is on a whole other level. It is creepier. King says, “Terror is coming home to find that everything you own has been replaced with an exact copy.” It is the feeling of the chills down your spine and the cold breath nipping at the back of your neck. You know something is behind you but once you turn around, there is nothing there. This is the feeling that you get when you play this game. It is the idea that anything can happen at any time and you are not sure when and where it will.
Luckily, you can fight against this, because if you couldn’t, then it would not make for a good game now would it?
The town of Hamlet is your safe haven and provides you with everything you will need for quests. This place is where you find heroes to help you through your journey, upgrade your weapons, armor, and accessories, spend time to reduce stress, take a lovely stroll through the graveyard of failure, learn how to become a proper boy/girl scout, rid yourself of diseases, and maybe get a lovely lobotomy while you’re at it. Each of these places can be enhanced for better wears and get your party in working order faster, but that takes money, which you have none, and relics from your manor.
By venturing off to your manor, you can go to several locations around it to take back the money and relics that are in your will. You will need these, for not only upgrading and rebuilding your town, but to also stock up on provisions for your quest.
How hard is this game? Let the opening dialog explain it to you..
“Darkest Dungeon is about making the most of a bad situation. Quests will fail or must be abandoned. Heroes will die. And when they die, they stay dead. Progress autosaves constantly, so actions are permanent.
The game expects a lot out of you. How far will you push your adventures? How much are you willing to risk in your quest to restore the Hamlet? What will you sacrifice to save the life of your favorite hero?
Thankfully, there are always fresh souls arriving on the stage coach, seeking both adventure and fame in the shadow of the… Darkest Dungeon.”
This is by far the most upfront, slap in the face realizations you are going to get about this game and they outright tell you. So what is your first reaction when you read something like this?
“Ha! I’ll prove them! I’ll get through this game without having anyone killed!”
Well let me be the one to tell you that you are not going to fully enjoy the game if you have that mentality. Death is apart of life and the sooner you accept that, the better off you will be. The game has a graveyard for crying out loud!
Permadeath makes gamers stop and think and I personally love and hate that about these games. It is like watching a season of Game of Thrones hoping that the character you like will survive, but at the same time wondering how they are going to die, because…it is bound to happen.
One of the great aspects of this game is the depth of character in each hero you take with you. Each hero comes with a set of quirks that grow the longer you keep them alive. Quirks are merits and flaws in each person. So instead of having some brain-dead PC that does what you say, it takes hold of its life and acts according to their personality.
That Highwayman isn’t just a Highwayman, he has a Hatred of Unholy who is Claustrophobic. That Vestal, well she is a Nymphomanic who can only relieve her stress at the Brothel but has a Lazy Eye and is a Known Cheat. There are 62 positive quirks and 75 negative quirks and each player can have 5 of each at any give time. There are ways of changing those, but more on that shortly.
Your are able to take 4 heroes on quests at any given time and where you place them on your roster effects what skills they can use. Each skill works only in a certain position. Since this a side scrolling game, you have 4 positions in a single file line. A range skill may only work if you’re in the back or middle back, where as the melee will only work in the front or middle front. The enemies can only attack 4 at a time as well and their moves are similar. Each class has 8 different moves and since each person is different in their own special way, you can only use 4 of those moves and they are randomly decided for you. This makes switching out characters and getting a feel for everyone valuable. Along with skills you can use in battle, you get skills you can use while camping. When you get into higher levels, you are able to traverse bigger quests that would cause you to rest during your venture. These skills might help lower stress and heal, possibly give buffs or remove status effects.
I have put off one of those key elements to this game, Stress. Stress is a big factor and makes you fear of continuing. Stress builds over time and as you walk. The madness slowly creeps in to you and after a while, will overwhelm you if you do not manage it. Enemies attack with stress sometimes and seeing your other players get attacked will stress you out. You can not breath in this game without getting stressed by it. Everything stresses you out and you need to manage it. There is a certain amount until you hit your threshold and that is when things get challenging. You will gain an Affliction as a temporary state upon reaching 100 stress points and does not go away until you return to town and treat it. The heroes suffer stat penalties, will act on their own, possibly pass on turns, stress other heroes, disrupt the party formation, refuse treatments and heals, steal, and acts like that kid you knew back in elementary school that just had it out for you! These Afflictions can really hinder any progression and should be treated quickly because if stress keeps building, they could flat line and die of a heart attack. No, seriously, stress can do that to you! If this happens you will be brought to Death’s Door. Death’s Door is when a hero’s HP is brought to 0 and if you are hit one more time, you are dead, like dead dead, like Murder Death Killed! So at least they give you another chance.. If you are lucky, once you hit 100 stress, you may be able to will yourself through it and gain a Virtue, which is basically the opposite of Afflictions.
If you have to abandon a quest and need to return to town, you can do so at any time and without fail. This teaches you that greed is not always the option. Upon returning, you can de-stress your heroes by praying or going to the bar. Some Quirks prevent you from doing some of these or only lets you go to one place to get rid of stress. These Quirks can be troublesome and can be dealt with by a good ol’ fashion Lobotomy! Head on town to the local Sanitarium and they will fix you up all nice like. This is a place where you get rid yourself of pesky negative quirks, at a price of course. Watch out though, if you live with these negative effects for long, they become locked and will cost you a lot more to get rid of. This place also heals you of diseases. Diseases can be obtain by looting items that were actually traps on your quests or by attack from certain enemies. These diseases have stat effects but can sometimes have benefits. Depending on how you play the game. Get creative!
Sound and Music
The music to this game, while only 13 tracks, is superb. Composed by a veteran in the industry, Stuart Chatwood, he is well know for composing eight of the Prince of Persia games from The Sands of Time to The Fallen King. His “Moroccan roll” genre of music really shines in this game. It really throws you in the setting and chains you down and does not let go. With its hopelessness and dread that envelopes you throughout your entire experience, it pits quality over quantity. Never did I feel like the songs were getting redundant and I wanted to hear something else. It gave me the feeling that, if I were there, I would not notice the music playing if it followed me where ever I went. As if it was a natural thing like the wind, wrestling of leaves, or the sound of some turd monster with tentacles coming to rip me to shreds, you know…. natural things.
Art Style: Makes for excellent temporary tattoos
Game Play: Dark Souls as a side-scroller with the fun of castration and guilt
Sound & Music: The milkshake that brings alllllll the Lovecraftians to the yard
Replay Value: If you enjoy the feeling of death and rebirth