Darkest Dungeon review - addictive as hell RPG not for wimps

Author: Adam Zechenter
Date: 2016-01-21 15:00:00
The review was based on the PC version.

Less than two years - this is how long it took for developers from the Canadian Red Hook studio to fulfill their promise made via Kickstarter. Then they showed a wide audience one of the darkest RPGs of recent years - Darkest Dungeon . The title then went to the Steam program for early access games and for many months was consistently developed and constantly improved, as befits decent early access. The authors added new characters, items and maps, as well as introduced new rules for the game. Thanks to this, we felt that things were going in the right direction, so the announced premiere finally attracted the attention of a whole host of RPG fans. On the other hand, during the Early Access phase, there were some critical opinions about the game, most of which boiled down to saying that the title is just too difficult, too random, and extremely unfair. We decided to check what it really is, so get ready for a gloomy trip to the sinister dungeon.

Welcome to the town of Hamlet - a place where the devil doesn't say goodnight, but just pops around the corner and murders your entire team. It is this gloomy and decaying town that we reach right at the beginning of the adventure - the existence of the aforementioned town, reminiscent of Shakespeare's hero, is constantly threatened by monsters, demons and all kinds of filth. Therefore, our task is to assemble a team - as brave and ready to die daredevils who dare to go to the contaminated regions, where they will face the devilish spawn. The title of the review uses the term "RPG", but it must be clarified that in the case of Darkest Dungeon we are dealing with a specific variant of this genre. It is a dungeon crawler spiced up with many elements known from roguelike games . In such productions, the story usually plays a secondary role compared to the gameplay mechanics. Both are and are not the case in Darkest Dungeon . This is because the story that we learn in the background (including through a genius narrator), although it does not affect the gameplay, well justifies what we do, and is presented in such a convincing way that we follow it with incredible pleasure. If that can be said of such a dark and depressing story at all.

Okay, Darkest Dungeon definitely has a dark feel to it - but what exactly? Let's start with a strong statement - I believe that the authors from the Red Hook studio have prepared one of the most beautiful, but also the most disturbing, RPG games in recent years. The hand-painted graphics are carefully finished, and the multitude of different sketches symbolizing, for example, attacks or defense, means that the setting - although essentially static - does not get boring. The atmosphere itself is an interesting mix of a dark gothic story with strong inspirations from the works of H. P. Lovecraft . We are on the way, among others tentacle demons from another dimension, slippery fishmen or poisonous, aggressive mushroom creatures. Contrary to the realities in which the aforementioned master of horror usually set his stories, in the case of Darkest Dungeon we are dealing with a more classic dark fantasy, i.e. a reality straight from the 16th / 17th century, sometimes touching the aesthetics of stories and films under the sign of a cloak and sword .

The core (of darkness, of course) of Darkest Dungeon itself is of course the actual gameplay. And this one is basically based on just a few basics. The town of Hamlet plays a central role in the whole game. It is a kind of center, a hub for our heroes . This is where we recruit new characters, heal and strengthen them, and then send them on dangerous trips, risking their lives and mental health. The core of mechanics is the principle of permanent death - if one of the daredevils dies, we cannot undo this fact. This element, taken straight out of the "croissants", perfectly harmonizes with the gloomy atmosphere of the story that we learn about.

The expeditions themselves come down to searching gloomy locations - e.g. musty ruins or damp coastlines. For each trip, we take four daredevils, the right amount of supplies, and then, by exploring the next corridors or rooms, we try to achieve the goal of the mission - defeat all enemies, collect the indicated items or kill the boss. And here we come to an element many Darkest Dungeon will love ... and many will hate. I am talking about an extremely high level of difficulty . The opponents hinder the traversing of the dungeons, and the turn-based clashes with them are among the most addictive and irritating fights that I have fought in recent years. The obstacle is not only the nasty harassment, but also the health (including mental) of our heroes. Each encountered group of opponents increases the risk of an increase in stress, which can lead not only to madness, but even to a heart attack of a daredevil in such a state of great terror. Stress in Darkest Dungeon is characterized by the fact that it does not pass without additional help - after returning from an escapade, you need to send the frightened hero to an inn or a monastery so that he can rest in peace. However, we cannot use his services then, which - apart from the constant deaths in the team - additionally complicates the gathering of the group for the next trip.

Speaking of the game mechanics, I would like to emphasize three elements - first: it is relatively easy to understand (although unfortunately the introduction, which you can even ... fail and fail, does not explain it perfectly), but difficult to tame. Secondly: the uncomplicated combat mechanics (the battles are turn-based, the characters have one action, and the only difference is their place in the line) has been significantly enriched with ten diametrically different personas from which we can build our teams. As if that was not enough, each of the heroes not only advances to the next levels or develops their weapons and individual skills, but also gains positive and negative traits. And there are many of these, and they greatly affect the effectiveness of a given hero (e.g. a character will be able to deal with some traumas in a dungeon, but will be useless in a bay). Third and finally: the most important element of the game is the mass of connections between the heroes - the gameplay in Darkest Dungeon often consists in building a dream team whose members act as one man, complementing each other and sweeping new groups of creatures from the face of the earth. In any case, by the time they encounter an opponent that is too difficult, they will die or be under stress, and we will have to re-think, arranging new character sets.

There has been a long debate about the difficulties of computer games. Many people pay attention to the fact that modern titles are much simpler than the older representatives of the classics. Others say they are simply better designed. In addition, the Internet is universal, making it easier to quickly find answers to questions that bother us while playing. Darkest Dungeon is a game that just turns this whole debate upside down - difficulty is basically the middle name and essence of the title. So, if you get irritated easily or don't feel like hopeless cases, then stay away from Darkest Dungeon .

The basis of the fun in Darkest Dungeon is the eternal lack of: money for proper training of our soldiers; food when they just want to eat again during the trip (and this has extremely unpleasant consequences); or simply the first move in a given turn, which would save us the entire company from a pitiful death. This feeling of constant scarcity is just typical of the entire gameplay . It also perfectly harmonizes with the depressing audiovisual setting and the climate of inevitable doom that envelops the whole thing. There is nothing else to do but flinch.

Darkest Dungeon is a game in which failure is part of the gameplay. And not even a defeat, but hundreds of failures - in this respect the title resembles the Dark Souls series (something is apparently in these games with the word "dark" in the title ...). The difference, however, is that while in the From Software studio series it is mainly up to the player whether or not to die, in Darkest Dungeon it can be decided by a few unlucky throws. In fact, when starting a fight with a group of opponents, it's hard to judge how it will end - we can easily win after three rounds and lose a team member as well, and "gain" a lot of stress. Darkest Dungeon is therefore a game based on minimizing the inevitable losses. It is not about avoiding failures, because there will be many of them, but about reducing their scope .

While defending this difficult system, I have to agree that its randomness can lead to a shoemaker's passion. There were such evenings that, after a series of failures, I would just get up from the computer with a feeling of deep injustice. And although sometimes on the same day I restarted the Darkest Dungeon , it is impossible to forget about these negative impressions. It seems to me that in some aspects, balancing on a fine line between difficult and irritating gameplay, the developers slightly crossed the line a few times. Few things can upset as much as the situation when, right after the night's overnight stay, our pupils again demand a meal, which we just can't provide them - as a result, a calm and controlled trip turns into a frustrating slaughter . In this particular case, we just never know if our heroes, after a few "normal" forays, will suddenly start throwing themselves at food with true voracity. Someone will probably say that this is part of the game - and I will agree with it, but it is better to warn all potential daredevils in advance: this is not a position for wimps or people who hate randomness.

I must also mention the slightly irritating effect of the mouse - in the city sometimes you have to click on the portraits of characters several times to see their details. There were also some mishaps during the Polish translation (e.g. placeholders appearing in place of the text), although these will probably be quickly corrected. And so, you should be grateful for equipping the game with the native language version - it must be emphasized that due to the climate, the vocabulary used here can be quite sophisticated, so even players with a good command of English might not always understand all the narrator's statements, which would be a great pity.

Finally, the question of grind, that is, laboriously repeating the same activities. Some people still criticized the game during early access not only for its high randomness, but also for its grind. It is difficult to disagree with them on the latter - at least partially. In fact, we constantly repeat the same activities (preparation, expedition, fight, building development, recruiting heroes, "farm" gold and items, etc.), but the depth of the game and its dense atmosphere mean that it does not feel negative. Each escapade is slightly different - due to randomness, each can end tragically, so we keep tightening our fingers on the mouse, counting on the "critic" who will get our team out of trouble .

"This game is too hard," no hardcore roguelike fan had ever said. Darkest Dungeon is a solid RPG with interesting additions from dungeon crawlers and "croissants", although with the proviso that not for everyone . I am having a great time (and I am not going to stop for now), and the momentary irritation quickly gives way to the need to visit the gloomy town of Hamlet once again. Because The Darkest Dungeon is a huge production, with not only the title Darkest Dungeon added on the occasion of the premiere, but also the New Game + mode or a lot of extremely difficult achievements. And I really envy whoever maxes out this grim game - he'll have a lot of fun and satisfaction out of it.