Darkest Dungeon

Screenshot: An overworld map of a decrepit island, rendered in a posterized macabre style.

First Impressions

When I first started up Darkest Dungeon, I was really impressed by the opening cut scene. The narrator was great, and the art style really fit the theme the developers wanted to convey while providing the player with information and story background.

The primary basis of the story is that the player is responding to a letter an ancestor sent, to return to their ancestral home and reclaim what is rightly “theirs.” The catch is that the player will have to “clean up” and restore the place to its former glory -- meaning that the player must defeat all the monsters and miscreants that have settled into the area. (The ancestor dabbled in some very dark arts and released a slew of evil creatures in the area.)

After the two opening cut scenes, the player is dropped straight into a battle. The game threw the player headfirst, and I felt like I was really immersed into the game. The battles are turn based. At first, I really didn’t pay attention to the stats and just attacked. That was a bad idea as I came out of that first battle with my team more injured than necessary. I reached the end of the tutorial and reached the hamlet, which is the base of this game.

Going Further into the Game

At this point, there is almost nothing to do at the hamlet (the player’s base of operation). The player can open new points of interest or upgrade the current places in the hamlet by going on expeditions and paying in gold and items (portraits, statues, or documents) recovered from the expeditions. Time passes in weekly increments and will advance after every expedition.

The player goes on expeditions in the dilapidated manor with a team of four characters. In the hamlet, the player can view a roster of characters who the player has hired to play through the game. This roster can be expanded through upgrades, but at the very beginning, the player is very limited on how many characters they can hire. Every week (after every expedition), a caravan arrives with new characters for hire. The player can choose to hire new people or not. The “mercenaries” do not really have a cost of hiring them from the start, but the player pays for their upkeep. The player pays for the armor, weapons, skills, and care for the mercenaries or people that they have on their roster. The characters for hire have different classes, each which their own skillset, advantages, and disadvantages. The characters also have quirks that affect how they behave in the expeditions, battles, and the hamlet.

The expeditions are the main part of this game. Each expedition to a different part of the manor has different surroundings, obstacles, and creatures. I learned that each of the character classes have certain advantages or disadvantages over different places or creatures. As I played, I found that I can hire new characters and dismissed old people to negate their upkeep. This strategy help make me money, but it also set me back as I I did not have a chance to level my characters for harder dungeon expeditions. I then found that I could have a dedicated 2 teams (8 characters) to level and keep to do the harder expeditions. The easier expeditions could be done by new characters that I'd dismiss later on.

Keeping a character and leveling them is very costly. If the character dies on the expedition, the player loses that character forever and will have to retrain a new character. This is games’ theme is about making the most of out of a dire situation, which I believe that the developers did very well. The expeditions that you think you are prepared to take on might have a twist and end up in disaster. If the player fails to surrender and the team is all killed, all the items and money that the player has gathered will be lost. During an expedition, a player can choose to surrender and return, but it will affect the team they have by adding stress.

Stress is a major stat in this game and it is well-implemented. Each of the characters has a stress meter. Stress builds up during an expedition and can be quite dangerous if it reaches high levels. If stress builds up to a midpoint, a character’s resolve is tested and can end up being virtuous or afflicted. Being virtuous can give a character a power boost and help the other team members by lowering their stress. On the opposite end, being afflicted increases the stress of all team members and might even deal a small bit of damage to the character.

This game can be a long one if the player wishes it to be. The main goal is to go deep into the darkest dungeon and defeat the creatures residing there. To achieve that, the player must have a well-balanced team that can both withstand stress and be able to defeat the creatures they encounter. I did not get a chance to try to defeat the darkest dungeon, but I know that being prepared is the best thing one can do in this game.

- AC