Darkest Dungeon released on Steam on January 19, and if you’re not playing it yet, you should be.
I want to tell you how great Darkest Dungeon is, to gush over its luscious narration, go on about the sense of dread permeated throughout the game, and share with you the tales of triumph and anguish my characters have survived. But here’s the thing: when the game came out on Steam Early Access in February 2015, GeekDad guest writer Dave Kirby wrote up his thoughts on the game, and he did it far better than I could hope to. Go read it now; I’ll wait.
For those of you who didn’t go read his article (you still should!), here’s the summary: in Darkest Dungeon you assemble a mix of adventurers to explore terrifying locations and fight hideous monsters. Generally, the goal is simple: explore, fight, and defeat enemies. Collect loot, heal up, and repeat. The game’s fresh take on the genre is that your characters react much like you would if you had to descend into an abyss to fight demons from hell: they are severely stressed, they crack under the pressure, and they develop terrible behavioral traits.
The game informs you of its roguelike roots from the opening warning screen. Things don’t slow down from there: the cinematic, along with the narrator’s deeply disturbing tone, set the stage for your experience. Even the opening tutorial isn’t a pass; I lost both characters and sat there in blinking surprise as it sank in: yes, they are really dead. For real real dead.
But losing characters is just fine. There’s always another desperate batch of souls arriving on the stagecoach, ready to sign up for the chance of reward or redemption, irrespective of the cost to their physical health and sanity. Which is good, given that you’ll need a fresh batch of
suckers plucky adventurers to earn you gold and artifacts. You’ll use your loot to upgrade your hamlet and characters. Maybe that will help this new group survive and make a push for the next boss.
I could go on giving you more details, but the amazing thing is this: Kirby’s write-up pretty much stands today, which is a testament to just how polished a game this was when it hit Early Access. Since that time, few core elements of the game have changed. The development has mostly focused on completing the content: more curios, more monsters, and the end goal of the Darkest Dungeon itself. In its release version, Darkest Dungeon features 14 character classes to choose from and 29 mini-boss, boss, and adventure challenges.
One difference since Kirby’s article is how leftover provisions are handled. It used to be that items such as shovels, food, and torches were discarded after a dungeon romp. Personally, I found this quite annoying as it didn’t make sense within the context of the game. The developers listened to player feedback, and now those items are sold back at the end of an expedition at a discounted rate. Sure, they probably amped up the difficulty elsewhere (less loot?) to compensate, but thematically at least you get a few gold for those medicinal herbs.
Another addition is called “New Game +,” but which I refer to as “Masochistic Mode.” Extreme players will find the challenge they want here, with the game on a clock and only 13 deaths allowed. Failure is met with a “game over” and deleted save game file.
To put the icing on this terrifying cake, the development team has promised a free expansion on the way, including town events and a new hero class. They’ve also hinted at future DLC. I think this is a great sign of a game that is going to continue to receive care and attention and good news for fans; I’m certain once people have met the challenges of the released game they’ll be looking for more content.
Darkest Dungeon is an Early Access game that has lived up to its promises. Its hand-drawn gothic art, brilliant sound design, and game mechanics stress the player with a delightful tension that keeps me coming back for more. Buy this game ($19.99, Steam or GOG), turn down the lights, crank the sound, and get ready for an absolutely unique experience.