Darkest Dungeon - Review
But let's go in order. Exactly what is Red Hook Studios' first effort? Darkest Dungeon is essentially a 2D horizontal scrolling dungeon crawler with many RPG elements and with strong debts towards the roguelike genre, as evidenced by the permanent death of our heroes, the procedurally created dungeons (including everything inside them) and, as already said, a level of difficulty that will make it very unpleasant (not to say hateful) in the eyes of less experienced and less patient players.
The aim of the game is to solve all the quests by exploring five great levels which are in turn divided into several more or less difficult missions. To do this, before starting the adventure, it is necessary to create a party of four characters by choosing them from an increasingly large roster and possibly trying to assemble a group as varied as possible. Which is not difficult if we think that there are 14 classes available (there are all kinds of crossings) and that each offers a completely different type of game from the other.
Magicians, warriors, scouts, thieves and other classic faces of the fantasy role-playing tradition will keep us company in Darkest Dungeon, but it would be ungenerous (to say the least) to relegate the game to a simple dungeon crawler. It is no coincidence that the exploration phases in these gloomy mazes (but some missions will also take us outside) are the least interesting of the game, in the sense that the level-design is reduced to the minimum terms and that in the end it always seems to find itself in the same places.
Excluded settings, Darkest Dungeon draws its strength and its uniqueness elsewhere. To begin with, after each mission you can return to the village which serves as the main hub of the game. Here it is possible to recruit new characters, choose the skills to equip for subsequent missions and above all cure our adventurers trying to reduce their stress immediately during the quest just completed. Stress is the happiest stunt in the game. In fact, if during a mission a character reaches the maximum level of stress, he can start behaving in a wicked way, for example refusing treatment, not carrying out our orders, "infecting" the other members of the group and even dying from a heart attack.
Keeping the stress bar to the minimum possible is, in short, fundamental in order not to compromise the results of the quests and, to do this, the village offers different types of treatments including prayer, spiritual retreat, a beautiful drunkenness, services of young damsels (we are there understood) and real psychiatric treatments. Even during actual missions, however, it is possible to limit the inconvenience of our party. Do not stay in the dark for example (a good supply of torches is essential), always have enough food, insist on magic that strengthens the spirit. Yet (it is inevitable) the stress will always be there and sometimes a critical blow received from an enemy is enough to make it skyrocket, thus forcing us to remain always vigilant and, if necessary, to abandon the quest before it is too late.
As already said, in fact, if a party member dies, he does it forever and with it also goes up in smoke all the time spent to enhance it, not to mention the minimum of "affection" that is established with a character after hours and hours of play (and here for hours put into account at least fifty). Darkest Dungeon is not a game for everyone.
The fights take place randomly, with the enemies appearing suddenly out of nowhere and are on average difficult, especially when it comes to the final boss of each dungeon. We must also consider other obstacles in the combat phase such as the disposition of the party members that can change even during a clash, if for example a hit warrior is scared and runs away at the bottom of the group, even if he should stay in front and absorb the most number of attacks.
To complicate things, the remains of the killed enemies that act as a "barrier" are also brought and must be destroyed if we want to hit the enemies behind them, in addition to the traps that are encountered in exploration and in general with careful planning of every move. Luckily Red Hook Studios has opted for a turn-based fighting system that makes it possible to face the clashes with all the calm of the case, but otherwise you'll have to sweat the proverbial seven shirts to get out of a dungeon alive. A lot, then, experiences, especially if you want to prevent heart attacks and start a mission by making the right supplies.
Yet, despite some inevitable accident that you will throw after you may have lost your wizard after 10 hours of play for a critical attack at the last second, Darkest Dungeon never gives the impression of cheating or being too difficult just for the taste of be. And this is its strength, as well as its uniqueness. In fact, combining this psychological cue of stress with a complete role system (loot, skill, buff and debuff) and various strategic hints, such as the possibility of upgrading the buildings of the village to improve their effectiveness (which is very X-COM), yes has proven to be a winning choice and if you let yourself be conquered by the gameplay, Darkest Dungeon will give you enormous satisfaction.
The same is true of the visual sector, certainly not monstrous but very flashy with its comic style and its simplicity combined with a lugubrious, gloomy and gothic touch that on certain occasions reminded me of the Lovecraftian imaginary. Another reason to be enveloped by the dark hood of Darkest Dungeon with its psychological deviations, its monstrous enemies and its crazy dark fantasy atmosphere.
I downloaded Darkest Dungeon from Steam thanks to a review code provided by the developers. The game, expected soon also on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, is in English and in other languages (Italian is unfortunately missing) and offers almost no major graphic options. Keyboard controls are also available, but everything is best managed with the mouse and the control system is really well done in terms of simplicity and immediacy.