Darkest Dungeon. Oh, Darkest Dungeon. How I hate you, and yet I love you. This roguelike created by Red Hook Studios is many things. If you had to ask me to sum this title up in one sentence I would tell you, “Darkest Dungeon is what happens when Lovecraft and Dark Souls have a child.” This game is filled with hopelessness, adversity and a hefty helping of bad luck. But it is for these reasons that I can’t stop playing it. It’s for these reasons that I feel you should all play it too. That’s why I’ll be giving you the rundown on this in hopes that you too will be inspired to send a group of adventurers to die for the glory of your noble house. Don’t let the fact that this title is Early Access and technically not finished deter you. This game really feels like a complete package.
Darkest Dungeon doesn’t set you in the role of the hopeful adventurer. Your role is that of a noble who inherited a mansion from their dear Uncle, a man who killed himself upon digging up an ancient horror that threatens to swallow up the world. It is now up to you to clean up his mess. You will manage your town and estate, sending other people to face eldritch horrors and die in your service instead. It’s a refreshing feeling to know you’re not the one directly risking your life for the world. You have plenty of young, fresh-faced adventurers ready to do your dirty work for you!
Here’s where Darkest Dungeon really gets interesting. You’ll get plenty of adventurers to send into these awful catacombs and forests surrounding your tiny hamlet. Crusaders and Vestals of the holy light, devious Highwaymen, possibly insane Jesters, Grave Robbers, Plague Doctors, Occultists who worship eldritch abominations, barbaric Hellions, and pitiable Lepers all make up your ragtag group of adventurers. You’ll not only have to use your hard-earned money to outfit these people but you’ll also need to help them relieve stress. Adventuring takes a toll on your party’s members, and without regular stress relief they stand a chance of going completely mad and causing your entire party to die in the dungeons beneath your city. Not only can this be upsetting when you lose a favorite member of your A-Team, but any gold you invested into that character or any skills you taught them are now gone forever and you have to start from scratch. It really makes the player weigh their options in dungeons. Do you press onward for greater treasure, or do you retreat so your party will surely live to fight another day—forfeiting most of what you’ve gotten so far in this dungeon crawl? After your dungeon crawl is finished you are then faced with another decision. Do you send your men back into the dungeon to try and find more riches, or do you dip into your stash of gold and decide that they have earned a week off at the brothel for all of their hard work? It’s a careful balancing act that you’ll need to maintain, lest you be forced to train and outfit a whole new stable of hope-filled adventurers.
Combat in these dungeons is turn-based but manages to keep the tension at a constant high. You never know when an unlucky critical hit from the enemy will leave a party member at death’s door. You’ll need to hope for a chance to heal them or lose them forever. There are plenty of ways to turn the tides of combat to your advantage. Jesters can debuff enemies with scathing tirades or buff your party with a rousing tune. Lepers are adept at steeling themselves for the fight ahead, unleashing absolutely astonishing amounts of damage later. Even Grave Robbers can poison enemies with darts, giving your party the upper hand. Every class manages to feel unique itself. But that gets taken to a whole other level when you consider that each individual character has their own set of skills and character traits that help augment their abilities. You could have two Vestals available to you, but while one excels at frontline fighting the other could be all about hiding in the back and healing your group. Building a party that complements each other well is an absolute joy to watch unfold. And what’s offered here isn’t even the full array of classes that the final game will have!
If dungeon crawling has always been your thing or if you enjoy a difficult game that will constantly make you measure every action, then I’d definitely recommend giving Darkest Dungeon a look. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this title but know I’ll definitely dive in for more. If you decide to do the same, I promise that you’ll have tons of fun with the game and then endure soul-crushing despair as you watch your entire party get wiped out by four skeletons, just as I have.