Darkest Dungeon

Screenshot

First Impressions

When I first opened the game, the first thing that struck me was the interesting and unique art style and the powerful narration. Both of these combined were part of what hooked me without even having played far at all. The game is a gorgeous but dark 2D side-scrolling game with rogue-like and rpg elements similar to the combat in Final Fantasy, with your four selected team members selecting moves to make against the enemies opposite of you. Positioning of your people is very important, as it determines what enemies can hit them and what moves they can use against the enemies. For example, archers can typically only shoot when in the back and a swordsman can usually only stab from the front. The game seemed a little difficult at first, but it wasn't long at all before I realized what attacks were most effective against what types, where to position all your people, and how to manage your teams and town after missions. The combat feels powerful, and the game takes every opportunity to make going into dungeons feel as tense as it feels for your people, and the dramatic blows both from and to your teams make the game extremely engaging. Part of what makes the game feel powerful is that your people can never really become that much more powerful than many of the monsters, relying on the player to make good decisions, otherwise they do get inflicted with permanent death. When I lost my first character, one of the ones I had from the very beginning of the game, I recall just staring at my screen in shock while I thought about what I should do next. Losing teammates and taking blows also causes your people stress, which is an interesting mechanic in that it adds another layer of combat that the player must keep acutely aware of, lest their team go completely insane in the dungeons and try to take everyone else with them. There is also a town management mechanic, where you try and rebuild the town, unlocking a more permanent progression and allowing you to better care for and upgrade your teams, though this is pretty unimportant in comparison to actual combat and exploration in the dungeons. The story is explained a bit at the start, but mostly in pieces every time you reach a new zone or a new difficulty, and all of these little snippets do a great deal to explain the misfortunes that befell the town before you arrived.

 

Going Further

Unfortunately, after a certain point the flaws of the game become very apparent and detract pretty significantly from the experience. Once you get good at the game, you eventually lose any attachment to the people you are sending, and more often than not just curse at them for their incompetence. As the difficulty of the zones increases, the gap between your teams and the enemies increases, but definitely not in your favor. As a result, you can end up with too many situations where the enemies can smash 100% of the health of one of your characters out on the first blow, pretty much ruining any attempt at continuing in the dungeon and potentially setting you back hours while you try and get more recruits up to a sufficient level. There is massive variability in the damage rolls an enemy can make, but almost all hits are unsustainable, even with a dedicated healer. This, combined with the near inability to heal outside of combat makes many longer dungeons extremely difficult to manage. However, I found that with a good understanding of the game mechanics, a 100% raw recruit can even kill bosses in the first difficulty, but defeating a boss in a higher difficulty may fail even with a team that has been invested in with the best gear. That gear is also extremely expensive, so it felt like I was just forced to send "suicide" squads made of the literally endless recruits into dungeons and to try and collect as much money as I could until they either were nearly wiped out and retreated or improbably completed the mission. Then, instead fo taking care of them, you just throw them away and build a new team of worthless recruits until you are uselessly rich. It is possible to send nearly any composition of team into the first dungeons, but it was also extremely frustrating to me that you are essentially limited to a couple pre-built teams to succeed in the veteran difficulty, which can be found online in forums. If you try and be creative and come up with your own, you'll either come to find the pre-builts are in fact the best teams and that any other combinations will have difficulties in the veteran dungeons. Another odd trait of suicide squads is that they reduce the stress of your expensive soldiers, even if they suffer an almost complete team wipe, allowing you to heal stress on high level people for free, which is important since the cost of healing high level units is extremely expensive. In the end, I think the game may be overtuned in difficulty between normal and veteran, and that such difficulty cliffs should have been flattened out more, and let a new game plus handle having the difficulty ramped to unreasonable levels for those who are into brutal slogs through merciless enemies. As a result, it is likely a casual player will not get past veteran, resulting in much of the game's incredible story and enemies never being seen. If you are dedicated to this genre I think it is a deep and rich combat system and environment, but for many the sheer difficulty may be overwhelming when all you want to do is just complete the game.

- Billy Fritters