PC The Darkest Dungeon

Scott Tortorice

Senior Member
Nov 18, 2003
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The shadows
llUnited States
2016 looks like it is off to an unexpectedly strong start. Two titles have already impressed me: The Darkest Dungeon, and Evochron: Legendary. The Darkest Dungeon has really, really impressed me in a way a game hasn't in, well, over a year.

What is amazing is that DD treads a well-worn road. At its heart, DD is just another "roguelike" dungeon crawler. But what elevates DD to its own lofty pedestal is a simple question: would professional dungeon crawlers develop PTSD? At first, you laugh at the idea. But then you stop and think about it. Given how your typical fantasy dungeon crawl not only involves the type of brutal combat that any modern soldier would understand, but also a host of horrors - such as demons, giant spiders, and other abominations- on top of THAT, the answer would seem to be: oh heck yeah. I guess they really would!

That is the heart of Darkest Dungeon.

Darkest Dungeon puts the player not just in charge of clearing dungeons, but also of managing the mental health of their assailed heroes. In DD, the player must send teams of four adventurers (whom come from a nicely varied assortment of classes) to clear dungeons from around half a dozen thematic designs (ruins, warrens, etc.). This part of the game is great fun. Resembling a side-scroller, your adventurers, whom are brought to life with some wonderfully hand drawn artistry reminiscient of a Brothers Grimm fairytale, clear out a series of rooms and passages (randomly generated and populated with monsters, traps and loot, of course) in a dungeon of various sizes, some so big that your team will need to camp inside a few times. Such moments are a lot of fun as it involves its own unique gameplay of recuperation and campsite chatter. Battle is handled in a wonderful turn-based fashion (love it; so glad to see devs getting away from click-fest RTS games) with both sides using their weapons and skills to strike each other down, something wonderfully enhanced by a narrator who comments on the action with a voice right out of, yes!, a Grimm's fairytale. But here is the important kicker: as your adventurers explore and battle their way through a dungeon, the game tracks stress points individually. So, for example, if your man-at-arms suffers a critical hit at the hand of a foe, his stress level will go up, as might the stress of the other party members. On the other hand, if he deals a devastating riposte, his stress might go down, and so on. If stress accumulates to a certain degree, the adventurer might have a mental break. It is here that the game begins to resemble Crusader Kings 2 in that each adventurer can accumulate a mix of up to a dozen vices and virtues that will affect their performance. So, that man-at-arms who was almost killed might become a coward when he has his mental break, something that might debuff his stats or make him miss a turn. Or, maybe he overcomes his fear and gets a virtue instead: he becomes heroic and urges his party to fight harder, reducing stress for all and buffing combat stats. See how it works? It is quite fun and adds a wonderful novelty to the game! But be warned: if your adventurer becomes too stressed, he can actually die of a heartattack!

Speaking of heartattacks, that is what might happen to the gamer when he loses one of his star adventurers to permadeath. Yeah, this game has that. Personally, I love permadeath because nothing ruins a tale of adventuring heroism when the player can just "save and restore." Face it: S&R is just immortality by another name. How can there be true heroism if the hero is never truly at risk? But that is just my two cents. Be that as it may, this game has permadeath, so be prepared to lose some of your best players to the evil machninations of the "random number generator" that governs many aspects of this game. If you hate such mechanics, then this game is not for you.

What happens when your adventurers leave a dungeon, assuming they survive? Here, the game takes on an XCOM-like factor where base management comes into play. In between dungeon crawls, the player can send his adventurers out with bags of gold to help them blow off steam in six different ways, from getting drunk, to praying at the abbey. Of course, this takes these adventurers out of the game for at least a week - I say "at least a week" becayse random events occasionally trigger where, say, your knight gets drunk and wanders the town for two weeks in a state of inebriation! LOL! That actually happened to one of my adventurers. Not only did he go AWOL for an extra week, be he lost the magic trinket I gave him! Hence, the player needs to have a deep bench of adventurers to keep the gaming moving along, something that is not initially difficult as the local stage coach brings in a steady supply of new victi...er, adventurers.

In addition to managing the stress of your bench, you can also train new skills, upgrade armor and weapons, upgrade facilities, treat the mental and physical ailments your adventurers acquire in the darkest dungeons, and select the next adventure and get kitted out for it (speaking of, you need to manage food, medicine, torches, and so on).

And that is pretty much the basics of the game in a nutshell. Again, with the exception of the stress factor, nothing revolutionary. But Red Hook, with feedback from the community (this is EA done right!), applied so much thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and ol' fashioned love to their project that what has emerged out the other end may well be Game of the Year material for the PC. Frankly, it has been a very long time since I have so thoroughly enjoyed a game. With the devs already promising a new class of adventurer as well as "town events" in the near future gratis - the town does need some enlivening as it feels a little static and dull at times, so I am glad to hear this - I think the Darkest Dungeon has a VERY bright future ahead of it. It certainly has already rocketed to the top of my favorite games list!

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