Darkest Dungeon (PC)
Tom Awesome’s Review Score: 9
Darkest Dungeon is a side-scrolling rougelike dungeon crawler from Red Hook Inc. that tasks you with uncovering the secrets and defeating the horrors that plague your ancestral manor. You bring a team of four heroes from a vast array of options into the dungeon at one time to tackle missions. Successfully completing missions rewards you with heirlooms used for updating your hamlet, failing usually means that all your heroes are dead.
Adventures take place in five different areas: Warrens, Weald, Cove, Ruins and the Darkest Dungeon. Each area has different enemy types and obstacles. Enemies can cause physical damage, give you stress, or inflict issues like bleeding and blight. When your stress reaches certain thresholds, the character’s resolve is tested and they usually gain a negative trait or malady. These can be removed in your hamlet but it can be a costly use of resources.
Each hero type starts with four of seven different class-specific abilities, meaning two different Witch Doctors can have nearly completely different abilities. Each ability can reach new levels by training at the Guild. Each class has its own weapon type and armor that can be upgraded at the Blacksmith. In order to advance a skill or item, you have to purchase an upgrade to the appropriate building with heirlooms.
Your heroes also level up. After starting as an apprentice at level one, they become a veteran at level three. It is rewarding to have a hero survive this long, but it unfortunately means that they will no longer be willing to take on the lower-level quests. For me, this meant my Crusader was heading to the bench while new waves of heroes died without him pummeling the foes.
Nine hours into the game, I have unlocked all the buildings in the hamlet, advanced some of their features, and lost 14 heroes. To help you keep track of your fallen, the graveyard tells you their name, class, what week they died and which monster slayed them. Each mission is a week-long adventure. Longer adventures can have you spend a night camping in the dungeon, where heroes use a different set of skills to regroup for the next leg of the adventure.
There are several resources you purchase as provisions before heading out on each adventure. You need a healthy supply of torches. The longer you are in the dungeon, the darker it gets, and the darker it is the harder the monster are. Your heroes also need to eat, at random times throughout the dungeon you will be prompted to eat rations or your heroes will suffer. You can also purchase shovels for clearing debris, keys for chests, bandages to stop bleeding and antidote to counter the blight.
The heroes and their skills are for the most part very interesting. I found it very challenging to find good healers. Each week, new heroes arrive via a caravan, and can be added to your roster. They are random classes with random skill sets. As you upgrade your caravan, more heroes and more experienced heroes can show up.
Battles are tactical, turn-based affairs. Heroes and enemies are both aligned in a single row. Some abilities will only work from some certain spots to certain spots. A Highwayman with a pistol shot for example, won’t work if he’s in the front position.
After a particularly frustrating party wipe, I decided to start over and see if my experience made things any easier. It didn’t. After a short session and a couple runs, I decided to return to my original file and the flawed heroes I knew over the flawed heroes I didn’t.
This is a game I thoroughly enjoy, and I can’t wait to dive back into it! It can be extremely frustrating, and sometimes it’s best just to take a break and play something else, but it is arguably my favorite game in my Steam library right now.
The Good: The gameplay is deep and highly addictive. Deciding whether to continue a run or return to town with my earnings was always challenging, and often led to disaster in “just one more room.” There are many diverse types of characters. I loved the gothic art style and Lovecraftian enemies.
The Bad: The game is punishingly difficult. When things go bad and your healer goes down, it’s usually best to run away and preserve whatever heroes you can. I found the extremely tight resources to be frustrating at times. With so many issues and maladies affecting individual heroes, I found it difficult to keep up with which heroes would work with whom, and where they could go to heal.
Background: Generally, I am a fan of rougelike dungeon crawlers. This game sets itself apart in many ways.