Darkest Dungeon was funded through Kickstarter back in 2014, with the project bringing in over $313,000 in crowd funding from over 10,000 backers. It first hit early access on Steam in January 2015 for backers, February for everyone else, and then released on PC in January 2016. Now it’s finally made its way to PlayStation 4 & Vita systems, but has it progressed any further since it’s well received early access release?
Developer: Red Hook Studios
Publisher: Red Hook Studios
Reviewed on: PS Vita
Also Available On: PC & PlayStation 4
Release Date: Out Now
The game starts out with a narration from a relative of the player; that speaks of seeking fame and fortune by excavating the dungeons under his manor. While digging through the dungeons, the relative finds ancient ruins hidden below and unintentionally activates a portal – spewing forth grotesque creatures. The relative then hands over the deeds of the manor, requesting you to kill these evil creatures and close the portal.
Throughout your journeys you will hear the relative narrate your actions, which are found everywhere from fighting off enemies, recruiting are heroes, embarking on journeys to slay bosses and pages of a journal found in the dungeons. Most of this narration is just comments from the relative, but the passages about the bosses and the pages from the journal are where the story lies. These snippets of information don’t tell the whole the story, but there is enough given for the player wanting more. There will always be mystery surrounding Darkest Dungeon’s story; a mystery that will drive the player deeper into the dungeons trying to find out more.
Darkest Dungeon’s artwork does as much work for telling a story than the narrations themselves. Character portraits of the inhabitants of the town show the damage caused by the opening of the portal, looking battered, stressed and the lack of light found in the art portrays the hopelessness found in the game.
When it comes to the hopelessness, then look no further than the combat. This turn based combat is one of the hardest I have played of any game; each mission starts with the player choosing a four-person team and gathering supplies for the impending expedition into the dungeons.
Combat involves the four-player team fighting against up to a max of four enemies. The position of the heroes and the enemy is important in Darkest Dungeon. Instead of each hero having access to all four moves while in combat, they can only use certain actions depending on their position in the party.
This requirement needed for movement adds an extra level tactical thinking while picking party members. Each player has to make sure their party members are in the right position when and complement each other when starting a mission. A cleric at the front won’t be able to heal the party while a leper can’t use any of its attacks at the back of the party. Players also have to think on their feet during combat as enemies can change the position of the party using certain moves. This uncertainty makes sure players experiment with the actions of each character so they can always be useful no matter what position their in.
And then there is the stress mechanic. During your journeys into the dungeons, your heroes can become stressed by getting hit by certain moves, being caught by traps, or by scavenging for items to name a few. Once a hero’s stress level reaches 100 then the hero will suffer from either an affliction or a virtue for the rest of the quest. If the hero gets an affliction, this can cause the character to act on their own and increase stress levels of the party while virtues can lead to the side being buffed or healing characters stress levels.
All of this combined makes each fight hard but fair. All players have everything they need at their disposal for dealing with the horrors in Darkest Dungeon. With each action taken, the player must decide if the amount of risk being taken is worth the reward at the end. Do you extinguish your torch to find more loot from combat but receive more damage from the enemy? Or do you push your battered, stressed party to the end so you can reap the quest rewards? While the rewards are great for tempting the player to go that much further, at times it is better to cut your losses and head back to town.
The character selection in Darkest Dungeon is excellent. You have your traditional classes like the Cleric and the Knight, as well as unique classes like the Jester and the Abomination. When it comes to healing, the cleric is the obvious best choice, making it easy for a player to gravity to suing this class no matter who is in the party. But when it comes to supporting and attacking classes, it is not that easier. There is a great selection of offensive and defensive characters to use, and with so much choice available, players will be able to find the characters that match their play style.
But Darkest Dungeon also does a fantastic job of making players experiment with all characters available. First off, the stress mechanic forces players to rest heroes after a quest unless they want to run the risk of losing them to stress. Second, there are no guarantees on getting new party members as new recruits from the coach are random. This forces players to experiment with their party members and develop multiple teams to throw into the dungeon.
The boss fights in Darkest Dungeon are the ultimate test for a player. Everything you do beforehand; the quests you go on, the heroes you recruit and skills you give them, all of this is preparation for the boss fights at hand. Each boss fight will be some of the hardest fights in the game, testing the player on how well they can think in stressful situations and if they are willing to take high risks for high rewards.
There are a few faults with Darkest Dungeon. The high difficulty at the start can seem unfair, especially if an early quest goes horribly wrong. The high-level quests are quite intimidating to go on. Just having characters at a high enough level isn’t sufficient to finish one of these quests, the characters will need to upgrade abilities and better equipment to stand a chance. This levelling up requires a lot of resources for a four person party and will take some time to grind out the gold needed. Plus, a high-level character won’t embark on a low-level quest, so if you are doing especially well in keeping characters alive, you will eventually have to send them off to finish a high-level quest even if they are not prepared for it.
Darkest Dungeon is a game all about preparation and management. Every quest completed is building up to a bigger goal. Each victory brings much-needed resources to upgrade the town, upgrade the characters and keep their sanity in check. Each defeat throws up another obstacle for the player to overcome. The further the player is into playing the game; the more rewards are up for grabs as well as bigger risks to take. Darkest Dungeon is one of the best turn-based RPG’s released in recent years. It offers a harsh but fair gaming experience for people to play. If you have wanted a new turn-based RPG to play through then, Darkest Dungeon is for you.