It’s been a stressful week.
Anyone that knows me knows I love a good RPG. I love crafting a party and a character with all the stats and equipment to maximize survivability with combat effectiveness. It is an addiction for me. Now, let’s take that formula and add the wonderful permadeath mechanic to it. That character I meticulously crafted and utilized gets taken out in the heat of battle. It is crushing to me. It lingers on and I seem to never find a replacement for that character. Crank that feeling up to 11 and you have yourself Darkest Dungeon.
Darkest Dungeon has players controlling the heir to a mansion as they discover the dungeon below its levels using a party of adventurers that they recruited. Set in a very macabre atmosphere, players will have to guide their party through exploration, combat, recuperation, and advancement.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d pay: $24.99
Let’s start with the basics; players will take a party of four into a mission where they will explore a dungeon. They will navigate a map by choosing a direction to move and on the action screen, will move their party left to right to the next section of the dungeon. Along the way, they will run into traps, possible treasures, enemies, and other effecting things.
Knocking on hell’s door.
Combat is turn-based with players choosing from a list of abilities that have different ranges and effecting areas. Since party placement is set in a line, most need to keep their melee characters in the front with their ranged and healers in the back. If a melee character is in the far back, they can’t use any of their attacks due to not being able to reach any enemies, and moving a character in battle will take up their move so have them placed before combat is initiated. If, and this will happen, a party member gets its hit points reduced to zero, they aren’t necessarily dead. They go into “at death’s door” status where each time they take damage, they will have to pass a certain check to see if they actually die or not.
Most missions will revolve around exploration or finding certain items while in the area. Others will be about killing a specific boss enemy in order to progress. At any time, players can choose to abandon the quest they are on, but it adds to the active party’s stress, which plays a major part in the overall game.
That’s right. No enemy, disease, or trap is more deadly than the almighty stress in Darkest Dungeon. Any time something doesn’t go the party’s way, it adds to each members’ stress. Get hit by a critical hit? That’s stressful. Fail to disarm a trap? Stressful. Torches are burning low? Better use some more to get the room illuminating otherwise, here comes the stress. Anything and everything can be stressful to the party, and at a certain threshold, the stress will get to the party members. Their mettle will be challenged, and may undergo a change in their sanity. If they fail the check, they will obtain a very dangerous insanity trait. These can range from being a masochist who will constantly do irrational things do harm themselves to being paranoid who will refuse to be healed. These will stick with the character until treated back at the hamlet via the numerous bases. Oh, and if they suffer from too much stress, they can die of a heart attack.
Don’t let the insanity take over.
The next part of the game is maintaining and upgrading characters. The hamlet has a number of places to both reduce stress as well as heal abnormalities and upgrade characters. Players will have to choose to leave a party member in healing until the next mission is complete though so knowing who and when to not bring along is very important. If I want to let my main group recuperate, I can hire new party members to add to my ranks. It’s rough going from a beefed up party to a bunch of nobodies that don’t really have a dog’s chance, but if they come out alive, they can get a bit stronger and maybe contribute to the cause.
I don’t know if I’m being clear enough on this – Darkest Dungeon is difficult. I’m talking the first dungeon I was in at the beginning of the game, I had one of my party members gain an insanity effect. It doesn’t let up and never apologizes for it, but much like another series of games that I won’t mention the name of because this comparison is played out, it is so rewarding to come out on top in the end. Having a difficult time on a mission, have party members survive (though insane), and leave a dungeon with some decent loot really feels like an accomplishment. And while the entire thing is difficult, and it very much is, there are some positive things that can occur. Sometimes, when a character has their sanity tested, they can succeed the test and come out with a special buff that can aid for a few turns in combat. Not only can they develop negative abnormalities, they can also suffer from positive ones as well. It’s not all sugar and rainbows, but some of it can be slightly sweet.
The biggest issue I had with some of the runs I had was just how random the game could be. One second I’m having a good romp through a mission, I find a treasure chest or attempt to disarm a trap and now half my party is almost dead and insane. It goes from 0 to 100 in a split second. It can be jarring and very disheartening to players. Of course, many would say that’s part o the game and it most certainly is. I’m just saying this may not be for everyone as it can feel very unfair.
I know that menu is around here somewhere.
While this was originally built for the PC with a mouse and keyboard, I found that navigating the menus and the UI was a bit of a challenge at times and not being able to find everything I needed was a hassle, of course, I do commend them for trying to get this complex system working with a controller and for the most part it works. I just found myself asking out loud “where is this, again?” or “Great I can’t remember how to equip stuff again.”
The art style and overall look of the game is fantastic. What is by far the best thing here is the narrator of the entire tale. He will comment on certain things in this overbearing tone that fits right in with the gothic and horror feel of the entire thing. Much like Hand of Fate, the narrator adds so much to the experience.
It is a very competent RPG with tons of upgrades and stat tracking. It really is a hardcore RPG fan’s dream. With numerous things to upgrade just in the hamlet, to keeping track of skills and statuses of characters, there is a lot to see and do here. It is a difficult and challenging game and one that can feel highly rewarding but at the same time too random to actually feel as fair as I wanted it to. Hardcore RPG fans will enjoy this challenge, but anyone not into the randomness of chaos, will want to maybe find something else to play. I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle of the road. I had my triumphant moments and my tremendous failures. Maybe that is what this game excels in having the chips stacked against you while still giving you that glimmer of hope that you can actually win. In the end, it still has that great RPG feel, and one that people if they take the time to look, will find some great rewarding fun.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.