Darkest Dungeon

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Description

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Complete Review & Description

“Ruin has come to our family.”
With an opening like this, you just know you’re in for a good time.

Darkest Dungeon is a side scrolling turn based roguelike RPG from indie developer Red Hook Studios, and is best described as a punishing, torturous grind through horror and loss. More importantly, it is so. Much. Fun.
Your ‘ancestor’ has written you a letter saying to get your butt home, because he has totally messed up the estate and needs you to fix it. But while this sounds like the same setup as Stardew Valley, it immediately takes a turn when your crazed stagecoach driver straight-up crashes in the woods, forcing your starting roster of Heroes to journey to the estate on foot.
No time is wasted in getting you into the gameplay as you struggle through the forest towards your new home. The text popups are extremely helpful, but also very wordy; I accidentally skipped one, and still have no idea how much it would have helped me out.
For each quest, you choose 4 heroes, each with their own pros and cons. Your starting roster consists of a Crusader, a religious tank/ damage-dealer, a Highwayman, wielding pistols for ranged damage, a Plague Doctor, the masked woman who supports with Blight damage and some party buffs, and the Vestal, a nun with some kick ass healing abilities. This team is balanced, a great intro for beginners, and actually remains really effective the whole way through the game, but they’re not the only ones. From the Grave Robber, a versatile support/attack unit to the werewolf-esque Abomination, there’s a huge variety of Heroes and Skills to take into quests, and half the fun of Darkest Dungeon comes from experimentation with your party.

And believe you me, this game wants you to experiment. My go-to in most games is to find something that works and stick to it, but Darkest Dungeons has never even heard of a comfort zone; it drives your characters insane with stress, gives them nasty diseases, and sometimes has your faves sit out a round or two just because, making you bring in the B-team. This is how I discovered my favourite class, the Hellion, and what seemed like an inconvenience became the best thing ever. She is hype. She also immediately got Rabies in the first Dungeon she entered, which actually gave her a boost of 25% to damage at the cost of some accuracy, and ended up making her even more devastating. Rabid barbarian women for the win.
Stress, the real innovation here, is arguably more important than health in Darkest Dungeon. At 100 Stress, your Hero will develop an Affliction, and this stays in effect after quests. These are, by the way, the absolute worst. Some aren’t terrible, like a compulsion to search every box you come across (which also carry their own risk-reward balance), but some, like Paranoid, make the Hero randomly refuse Healing, and also add to the Stress of other party members with their ramblings. My first to lose his mind, Spiffington the Houndmaster, ended up driving two more of the party insane with his craziness before he died because he wouldn’t let me heal him.

There’s always the chance a Hero will rise to the occasion with Virtue instead, and gain a useful skill instead of madness, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Some Heroes like the Jester can reduce the Stress of their teammates, either with combat or campfire abilities, and I cannot understate how valuable that was once I found it out. You can always send an Afflicted Hero to pray or booze their stress away in town to remove these issues, for a price, but sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and either fire them or just let them die.

The autosave is merciless. Permadeath initially doesn’t seem so bad, as you get to choose from a minimum of 4 new Heroes after each quest, win or lose. But when you’ve invested hours and gold into levelling and upgrading a Hero, losing your first hurts. I gave all my guys custom names as well, and when my Plague Doctor Lazy Susan fell to a Hag, I was enraged, and no Trophy will take away the pain (the game literally rewards you when people die). Stress can kill too, by the way; while Afflictions seemed bad at 100 Stress, once you hit 200 you’re in heart attack territory. You can later visit the ever-growing graveyard in your estate to remember the fallen and how they died, which gets depressing, but really makes you care about your Heroes and think about how far you’ll push them for that sweet sweet loot.

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