Darkest Dungeon was a game I had on my wish list for a while. Some months ago, my dear friend Anna decided to gift it to me as a belated birthday present, and after playing the game for a while, I can say it wasn’t a bad choice.
The story is simple: called back to your father’s mansion, you find it overrode with all sorts of monsters. When the first four of your adventurers dive into the depths of the dark corridors, you don’t know yet that you’ll need many more to succeed at your task of cleansing the evil and discovering what happened. Bit by bit, through your predecessor’s diary entries as well as torn pages found by the dead adventurers, you discover your relative’s dark path.
Already upon starting of the game, Darkest Dungeon warns you that it’s not very forgiving. Some heroes will die, so getting attached to them is not the best idea, but in a way, you can’t help yourself, so when they perish, it hurts. Especially there’s no way to load the previous save game: the game saves the progress automatically, so forget about trial & error if you want to keep your heroes. Such a harsh approach requires applying some strategy and logistic as well as choosing the area to explore (sometimes it makes sense to take a weaker team to the easier place while the most powerful heroes recover) instead of charging in and hoping for the best.
The amount of distinct classes available and some customization within them allows to try different teams to explore dark corridors. It helps to make the rather monotonous and grind-like gameplay a little bit more varies and entertaining.
The two-dimensional graphics are a bit comic-like, but pleasant and dark enough to contribute to the game’s mood. I found the music pleasant and atmospheric enough, but at the same time, rather simplistic. Same goes for the sound effects and voice overs. They aren’t bad, but at several instances they sound rather amateurish.
Darkest Dungeon’s strength is the Lovecraftian atmosphere with its odd and eldritch creatures and the risk of insanity. As our heroes explore the dungeons, they start suffering from multitude of mental illnesses. These affect not only how they perform in battles, but also influence other heroes in the team. After all, nobody feels better when a team members shouts “we’re all doomed!” every other moment. And as the torch slowly burns out, drowning everything in darkness, everyone’s stress level rises, bringing them closer to a mental breakdown. The chances of getting back from a dungeon unscathed are close to none.
Thankfully, back in the little hamlet, you can treat your characters, curing them from their mental and physical afflictions. You can also sent them to the temple or to the tavern to at least partially relieve their stress. Of course, intense gambling, binge drinking, or even prolonged prayer might result in the heroes developing another set of quirks… You can’t get rid of them quickly enough so you have to choose the most damaging ones.
As you collect various heirlooms, you can upgrade the hamlet and your heroes (provided they don’t die first) so there’s money management involved too; especially that you’ll need funds to buy supplies for your expedition (torches, food, bandages, and other necessities).
Sadly, the weakest part of Darkest Dungeon is the main part of the game: exploration and fight. It quickly becomes repetitive, and the slow progress of the characters versus the rapid growing strength of the opponents forces a lot of grinding weaker dungeons. To level up new heroes to replace the fallen ones. To gather money necessary for both the expeditions and characters’ advancement (and treatment too!). And to collect heirlooms necessary to upgrade the hamlet.
What’s even more annoying, the characters’ progress stops at level 6. It means that even tedious grind won’t save them from dying in the more challenging battles. It seems that only luck can do so. Some randomness is expected in any game, but if winning any serious battle is only a matter of luck, the entertainment fades, replaced by annoyance.
It seems like a bit of lost potential, and in the end Darkest Dungeon, even though entertaining, fails to be the game I’d spent hours playing. Several dungeon explorations at the time and I found myself switching it off, either bored or frustrated (or both). But at least I’ll get some writing done, right?
- Story: Medium
- Immersion: Low
- Inspiration: Medium
- Relaxation factor: Medium
- Procrastination risk: Low
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.