Darkest Dungeon, the roguelike with a dark atmosphere, developed by Red Hook Studios, is the newest in a long line of if you die you stay dead games coming out in recent years. Following in the footsteps of games like Magicite and FTL: Faster than Light, Darkest Dungeon sets itself up like something from Lovecraftian Horror, with madness thrown into the mix of death and illness. Can this dark approach to the genre set up a new formulae for future games?
Your family estate has been taken over by ruin and darkness, with the encroaching undead and necromancers. Full of tentacles and traps you must make your way through the local areas, including dungeons, cemeteries and wilderness, you will return to your home and try to relinquish it from the control of the dark forces that now occupy it.
Darkest Dungeon is a hard game to put a time length on, as with any roguelike you will find failure around every corner, the game even explicitly saying that you will die and that is how the game is designed. One group won’t carry you through the game, you will need a rotation and a plan set out beforehand to tackle this whirlwind of a game. The game can last anywhere between 8 hours to 50 depending on how you play the game, with all tiers of bosses to fight, classes to get to max level and making the best team you can to beat the endgame areas.
Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike dungeon crawler with RPG elements and resource management thrown in to the mix. You will take control of and preserve a team of adventurers to take into the dungeons, starting with a small roster of around 10, and then upgrading to a higher capacity. Levelling up your characters, making sure they don’t suffer mental or physical illnesses, all the while upgrading your city and equipment.
The roguelike elements are that if your characters die they stay dead and you will need to replace them, along with the added penalty of using them for a prolonged time by giving them semi-permanent statuses like -10% to damage or a fear of enclosed spaces, to good effects like +10% damage in the Warrens. Your characters will also suffer from a Call of Cthulhu style insanity system, with characters going more insane with the time spent in dungeons. All aspects of the game can be controlled however, with downtime decreasing the insanity gauge and medicine being used to get rid of harsh effects on characters.
The town you use as a hub will upgrade with the amount of quests completed to a point, from then on it is up to you how it develops, from increasing the size of the character roster, improving the downtime buildings and the blacksmith for better equipment, though all of these require items gained from dungeoneering. Sadly there isn’t much going on in town in the current build and I hope there will be some more improvements and additions put into this part of the game.
The dungeons are where the meat and potatoes of the game lie, simulating a side-scrolling dungeoneering experience with turn-based RPG style battles. You move along hallways by holding down the left mouse button, clicking on objects to interact with them and using items in your backpack. When you hit a random battle the game slows down to a turn-by-turn battle where you select a skill with a character then choose who it affects, though the turn order is more random then structured sometimes. All the while you will be losing health, taking status effects and changing the value of your characters insanity meters.
The main goal of the game is to retake your manor, but to do so you must defeat several bosses along the way to unlock new areas and retake the land piece by piece. As you travel through the dungeons you will get gold and relics that are used to upgrade the town and your characters, as well as levelling your characters up and getting they ready for higher level areas. The sad thing I found with levelling is that when characters get above a certain level they refuse to visit lower level areas, which kind of discourages you having a main team and was slightly demoralising when my dream team became practically useless at endgame as they would only fight endgame bosses and meant I had to leave them behind and use a new team to clean up the earlier areas.
Overall Thoughts and Feelings
The music score in Darkest Dungeon fits the game really well, with dark sombre music for the downtimes and action packed gritty tracks for the battles. While the soundtrack has this sort of symbiosis with the game and its aesthetic I do feel that it can become quite repetitive at times, and found myself putting on my own music when I chose a side team to clear out an earlier dungeon. A variety in soundtrack would have been greatly appreciated in this game and I hope the final game adds in a few more tracks for the Dungeon areas.
While I understand that Darkest Dungeon is meant to be a roguelike, the death and penalties you suffer through playing the game seem to deter me from continuing rather than make me strive to be better. Some of the areas take a large jump in difficulty and sometimes force you to lose to learn the areas and come back with a different team setup to beat, which adds to the repetitive nature of the game even more so. The fact my characters are Level Locked out of areas really put me off, I found it annoying that my favourite character had to stand on the side lines because he felt “This area is too easy”.
The systems at work in Darkest Dungeon are the most interesting I have seen from the genre in a long while and I could see myself enjoying the final product, but right now it feels the mechanics have be exaggerated in the early release to show off what the game is meant to represent. I feel as if the values and points need to be scaled back a bit to allow for a more fluid and calming ride rather than at the moment where every 5 seconds I hear my characters shout “We aren’t going to make it out of here”