Darkest Dungeon is an easy game to recommend to the right gamer. It require patience, persistence and constant attention to detail. For all of the hours I have poured into the game, I’m still not even sure if I’m playing it right, but I think that’s the point. We usually expect to (at some point) master the games that we play, but I’m not sure Darkest Dungeon is ever meant to be.
Regardless, I can safely say that Darkest Dungeon is one of the best games to release in 2016 and is a testament to masterful game design and art direction. I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they are up to the challenge.
- Darkest Dungeon is more than it looks like at first glance. By now you’ve likely seen the turn-based battle system, the randomly generated dungeon crawling and RPG mechanics, but that’s such a small part of the game. It’s very much a resource and town management sim as much as it is a roguelike RPG, which gives the game yet another thing that’s all it’s own.
- The art style is outstanding. It looks like something out of a dark comic book and it works well considering the limited animation set each character has. As a result, the game is not particularly intensive in terms of tech specs, so it’s friendly to a wide range of PC’s.
- Darkest Dungeon is all about the little things that lurk beneath the surface. Like getting an extra turn at the beginning of battle, managing the quirks and afflictions of your characters so that they minimize their effect during the dungeon crawling. Maintaining sanity is arguably more important than maintaining hit points, and the effects of sanity are always present at every turn. -The sanity mechanics do a great job of making your heroes feel vulnerable, and in turn more realistic. There’s no untouchable and obnoxiously empowered hero or heroine here. Just a rag-tag group of flawed and broken down people throwing themselves at the unknown for a chance of riches. That makes their doom all the more inevitable, as you will lose a lot of heroes along your journey.
- One of the things that perma-death has constantly held over us is the emotional attachment we have with the characters that fall. That is not the case in Darkest Dungeon. Your heroes are disposable. Tools for building up your town and economy, nothing more. You will come to learn this and quickly, as every week a fresh batch of heroes arrives to replace the departed, so you will quickly forget those that have fallen. Sure, some heroes will be better than others as they level up and unlock quirks over the course of their journeys. But you can’t save everyone, and you shouldn’t. It’s all about survival of the fittest and the game forces you to be just as cold and heartless as the dungeons you explore, and that is a true breath of fresh air.
- Piggy backing off of the point above, every journey you take is both an investment and a gamble. Money can disappear quickly after two or three consecutive failed runs (which will happen from time to time), so knowing exactly how many torches, stock of food, bandages and medicine is paramount. But even then, it’s not an exact science. It’s also easy to burn money on your heroes so as a result, only certain heroes become worth investing in. So you will have to decide who is worth saving, and who you have to let go of. I can’t tell you how many times I crashed my economy over heroes that weren’t worth it, but fortunately you can build yourself back up just as quickly as you bring yourself down.
- The gamble is probably my favorite part about Darkest Dungeon. There’s always a constant sense of “just one more room/battle” and weighing the consequences of risk vs. reward is something that never gets old.
- The boss battles are both terrifying to tackle and exciting to take part in. Each battle offers something unique, whether it’s line-changing strategies, minion spawning or having to save one of your heroes from being cooked a boiling pot.
- Darkest Dungeon never becomes predictable due to the dice rolls that happen behind the scenes, so despite the fact that you always have to grind, you never know just how exactly things will turn out.
- There’s no getting around the fact that a core aspect of Darkest Dungeon’s gameplay is grinding. You will spend a lot of hours traversing the Ruins, Cove, Warrens and Weald before you ever get close to sniffing the game’s namesake Darkest Dungeon. Part of that is that you will need to build up a large roster of heroes before standing a chance in the Darkest Dungeon. Not everyone loves to grind but it is alleviated by the fact that every dungeon you enter is randomly generated and it will take you a while to master the intricacies of each one.
- Darkest Dungeon does its best to weed out the weak. There’s a very brief introductory period where you learn the basic game mechanics with a team whose strengths compliment each other, but by and large, the game expects you to learn by failing. And you will fail, I guarantee it.
- There’s a lot to learn when it comes to Darkest Dungeon. It’s safe to say that many will flock to Wiki’s and Twitch streams for help and knowledge and the game doesn’t expressly teach you everything you need to know. It’s on you to figure out team strategies, item uses, preparation, town enhancements, character progression, etc.
- Sometimes that randomness can feel like it’s cheating you. I’ve had heroes miss enemy strikes for two straight turns, crippling their chances of finishing a dungeon within the first encounter and had to retreat. Fortunately, the pendulum does swing the other way but it does take a certain kind of patience to be able to weather the storm.
Dark, deadly, deep, difficult, debilitating. There’s almost a sense of irony to the name Darkest Dungeon with how many words beginning with the letter “D” you can use to describe the game. Difficult is word that is now so often used to advertise games these days. To give it prowess, intimidate you and even empower you to take it on. There’s a certain pride that comes with playing and succeeding at difficult games. Others look upon you with envy when you describe how close you came to dying for the thousandth time, and when you’re behind the controller (or the mouse and keyboard), the feeling of narrowly escaping death is a thrill that only difficult games can provide. But difficult doesn’t even begin to describe Darkest Dungeon.
The thing about difficult games that’s always been true is that success and failure has (almost) exclusively rested in the hands of the player. And that’s where Darkest Dungeon makes its mark. Whether you live or die, succeed or fail isn’t necessarily up to you at all times. There’s an overarching sense of randomness that dictates not only the flow of battle, but in everything you do. You might enter a dungeon, expecting a short run through, enter one battle encounter and get completely wrecked by disease, fail to land your strikes and be forced to retreat, eating the cost of your investment in the journey. Other times you might try to reduce the stress of one of your heroes by sending them to the bar or the brothel and they might come back with a drinking problem or an STD that affects their base stats.
Everything in Darkest Dungeon is a gamble and the most important thing is knowing when to fold. With that, let’s take a look at what worked and what didn’t in Darkest Dungeon.