- Turn-based combat
- Dungeon crawler
- Characters level up
- 15 different hero classes in vanilla game (DLCs add more heroes)
- When heroes die, they stay dead
- High learning curve
- Best narration in modern gaming
Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike that has a broad appeal to gamers who may not be familiar with the genre although is the standard-bearer for punishing players for poor choices. Technically this usually qualifies as a rogueLITE or a game with roguelike elements. Fans of turn-based final fantasy games will enjoy the leveling up and combat qualities of the game. Gamers who enjoy 100%-ing a game can find fulfillment beating every boss and finding every trinket and relic in the game. It has just a little bit for everyone.
The Battle (overall review)
The back-story of Darkest Dungeon is very engaging. You apparently received a letter from a relative who is asking you to come to the family manor to set straight some things that he himself unwittingly set in motion. You uncover his failings with the occult throughout the game, and continues to paint a picture of either a foolhardy man or a complete madman, though I suspect that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
You spend your non-dungeon-crawling times in the Hamlet by the family manor which you slowly resurrect into an undead start. Here you recruit new heroes, upgrade your skills and armor, and heal heroes of stress, afflictions, and diseases they have acquired during their quests in engaging ways.
This is where the game quickly starts to feel overwhelming for the new player. The game does introduce elements to you slowly over the first few quests, but there is still a lot of information to take in and learn. The most common sentiment is that you only truly “get” the game after you’ve decided to start over your 2nd or 3rd time. It’s not that he game is difficult to control (you can play the whole game just using your mouse if you’d like), it’s that there are parts of the game that you don’t notice until much later on that, you normally wish you had known about before.
This, however, just adds layers of intrigue to the game. A large critique I have of many games is that they do not properly help you understand what you need to do. You never feel lost, you just feel like you will never be able to get any better. This matches the dark tones of the game perfectly, so I am actually just fine with that element. Spoiler: You do get better!
The main strategies of the game are: understanding which heroes to take into which areas, which trinkets to apply, what order to put your heroes in (certain attacks and abilities only work from certain positions), and which order to attack the enemies.
The last point there is one of the most interesting parts of Darkest Dungeon. There is only about 1 or 2 combination of enemy mobs were you ever feel that you don’t need some sort of strategy to beat the enemies. There is no chance of reaching boredom with the battles themselves. All of them are engaging and have a chance to end the life of one or more of your heroes.
A unique component to Darkest Dungeon is the idea of stress. Your heroes have the standard HP bars that you would expect, but more impactful to the game is paying attention to the stress that they are taking. Heroes get stress by taking critical damage, by walking down the hall, by reading a book, by sitting around a campfire. Let’s be honest, dungeon-crawling is stressful. A hero has 200 available stress points. At 100 they have chance (about 75%) of becoming afflicted. An afflicted hero can decide to strike one of her own instead of the enemy, skip her turn, attack without direction, etc. Oh, and if a hero hits 200 stress, they have a heart-attack.
Conversely, a hero can have 0 health and survive at death’s door for multiple attacks without dieing. So stress becomes more of the long-term primary concern. Especially due to this: when the party returns to the Hamlet after a quest, all HP is healed to full, but stress levels and afflictions are retained and must be healed manually (for a cost) in town.
The Booty (what’s great)
Darkest Dungeon’s style really sets this game apart in the genre. From the outset you will find the narrator to be very engaging. The good news is that he sticks with you throughout the whole game with quips like “A DECISIVE BLOW!” after hitting a critical on an enemy or “Pres this advantage, give them no quarter!” when you take out an enemy or possibly the most liked of lines “Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer.” which often plays after you win a battle.
The game also gives great senses of accomplishment as you progress through each area, unlock, face, and defeat bosses along your way to the Darkest Dungeon itself. Your heros grow stronger, your confidence gains … then you wipe a party. It is punishing, but in the right ways.
Built into the game is an auto-save system that literally saves at every point. There is no way to cheat the system and quit the game and reload every decision and click that you make is saved and you are committed to it. This ups the level of planning and strategy you have to take into every mission.
The Beasts (what’s bad)
The game itself has some imperfections. I already mentioned the high learning curve which I do feel needs to at least be explained a bit, but that is a minor annoyance.
My main concern is that you do have the ability to irreparably be able to progress your game in a reasonable way. While the game will always compensate and provide you with mission options for your low-level heroes, you can run out of money and feel like your progress has come to a crawl due to either a mistake or an unknown enemy you were not prepared for. This can discourage the seasoned Darkest Dungeon player and the new player alike. Fortunately, there is Radiant Mode which is an easy mode for the game. This removes some of the character level restrictions (who can go on which quests), and helps to prevent this situation. It is a shame that you have to effectively play on the easy mode to prevent a situation where you feel that starting over is the best alternative.
The Branding (the final note and d20 scores)
Overall — 17
Darkest Dungeon is a very well rounded roguelite dungeon crawler that is accessible to players not familiar with the genre and want to see what all of the hype is about. The game style, artwork, and narration put the game over the top and have in part lead to the games continued success.
Roguelike Permadeath — 6
Individual characters and heroes die, but a even a full-party wipe does not reset the progress of the game
Roguelike Procedural Level Generation — 14
Map layouts are definitely random, although the enemies you can discover in certain areas are slightly predictable
Battle System — 16
This is turn-based at its best. A lot going on, but battles do tend to take a long time to plan effectively. RNG can be VERY painful.
Replayability — 12
While many can find hours and hours of entertainment going through the Darkest Dungeon, many find the game to be a grind. This limits the replayability a bit. However, you can put hundreds of hours into the game and not play the final levels if you wish. Also, the rage-ability of the game may limit some gamers’ ability to return to the game after a punishing defeat.
Graphics & Artwork — 18
Great look and feel of the game. This is the most obvious strong perks of the game. You know what you’re getting from the title of the release and a screenshot alone – morbid, punishing dungeon crawls. Rarely do games match up with their ‘look’ so well and this one takes the cake.
Sound — 18
Narration is off the charts, but the overall soundtrack isn’t all too memorable. However, the soundtrack isn’t annoying, so it scores high due to that mix. That said, the music mathces perfectly to what is going in the game. Often you may find yourself wanting your own soundtrack instead of the in-game music, but this game’s music is spot-on.
Story — 14
The developing story is entertaining and engaging, but not critical to the game if you choose to skip past it. Many elements are very memorable but less so exciting in regards to the story, however – the slow revelations by the narrator of the actual truth of his damnation is tense and quite original. The game makes management of character’s sanity, carrying capacity, party/skill combinations the forefront as you slip into the same pattern of striving for ‘success’ (aka conquest) that ruined the manor in the first place. The cyclical and weaving nature of the past and present storylines is intoxicating.