It’s common in video games for us to romanticize the dungeon crawl, loot filled games, with the only consequence of meeting our peril limited to respawning or reloading. In the last five years we have seen a lot of rogue-likes, many of which have repopularized mechanics, such as perma-death, bringing some real danger to the dungeons we delve into.
Darkest Dungeon, from developer Red Hook Games, goes the extra mile to bring that real danger into the experience, and it does this with fantastic art direction and a host of mechanics designed to emulate the stresses that a adventurer would go through.
The player is introduced to the town of their forefathers, a small decrepit place that sits in the shadow of the long ruined family home. As the player you control a limited number of adventurers who you will be using to delve into these ruins, collecting long lost treasure and finding out the horrible, eldritch truth of your family’s descent into to madness.
The majority of gameplay takes place in randomized dungeons made up of rooms and corridors full of traps, treasures and enemies out for your blood. Traveling the corridors is as simple as moving left and right; interactions such as chests, bookcases and discovered traps are simply clicked on when you stumble upon them.
These dungeons range in size with bigger dungeons requiring the player to prepare more supplies.
Should you find yourself in a battle, you ‘ll find it takes place in a turn-based manner, with each member of your party having a variety of abilities that can be used, based on the their position in the party order and the positions of the enemies.
This use of party order as a mechanic is a nice throwback to classic pen and paper rpg’s like Dungeons and Dragons, where many groups will discuss what order they enter the dungeon. This kind of planning lies at the root of being successful in Darkest Dungeon.
Various abilities have secondary effects, such as causing bleed, blight or poison. These various afflictions will force you to spend inventory space and gold on making sure you’re prepared for the worst; bandages, antidotes and camp gear will allow you to overcome the filthy and horrifying world of Darkest Dungeon.
In addition to these common game afflictions, adventurers can also become stressed as they explore the dungeons. Taking damage, walking around and all manner of other triggers and attacks can cause your party to becomes stressed – something that can be a boon or a bust.
Once fully stressed, a character will have a test of resolve resulting in a debilitating mental condition or a bonus. This can turn the nicest party members into abusive monsters, and you should become comfortable with the idea that you will lose party members to death or insanity.
In addition to the other triggers, another thing that affects a character’s stress levels is the lighting in the Darkest Dungeon. Torches allow you to light the way, but you can only take so many with you. And once they are gone, that’s it. The dungeon becomes dark, your characters stressed, and the challenges even more difficult.
This difficulty increase is not without its benefit though; it turns out that in the Darkest Dungeon, you can find the shiniest loot with the loot tables adjusted based on darkness and dungeon environment.
A stressed character will of course need to take a breather and it’s here that the town comes into play. As you unlock various buildings you can have adventurers make use of the town facilities to decrease their stress curing some of their mental or physical maladies.
My time with Darkest Dungeon has been an intriguing and trying experience. As a big fan of dark fantasy, such as From Software’s Souls games and the use of a vague and dark eldritch themes, I find myself drawn into this dank and deadly world and I can’t wait to explore the full thing.