Wot I’m Playing, Part 2: Darkest Dungeon

So, as I said below, my first game of the Core Four in the Fifteen For February is Darkest Dungeon. A fun game where you inherit a mansion and surrounding land that unfortunately has gone to hell. Not sure if I mean that literally or not.

Personally, I would have said “Thanks, ancestor of mine, but, um.. RUN AWAY.” But that’s not much of a game, is it? Instead, you gather a bag of ragtag.. um.. I was going to say heroes, but that’s kind of a misnomer, as their hold on sanity can be less then optimal even before venturing into a place Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have said “Yeah, thanks, I’m calling in the Air Force”. So let’s just call them Characters, to try to cleanse the grounds and redeem your family’s good name.

Darkest Dungeon is a true “bolt out of nowhere”, as it’s the first game from Red Hook Studios, formed in 2013 by two industry veterans (Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman) who asked for a meager $75,000 on Kickstarter, and got over $300,000. That was the first sign of greatness. The game hit Steam a year ago on Early Access.. and promptly became the best selling game on Steam, even while not yet complete, mission wise.

And playing it now on full release for the first time, yes, I can definitely see why it’s so addicting. Because your characters AREN’T heroes. They will rage, they will do unspeakable things, they will barely escape with their sanity, doing horrible things in a vain attempt to remove the stress.. and then when it comes time, they will pick up their armor and step back into Hell again. Because it’s what they do.. Like most games, characters can die from physical damage (when they hit 0 hit points, they are “at Death’s Door”, where they can continue to act, but any further damage could kill them (and there is NO coming back from the dead in this game. But also, they take stress from wandering around the halls in the dark, being attacked by monsters, and scared half to death. This is tracked on a mental stress scale, when your character hits 100 stress, they are afflicted with a condition, usually negative, such as Abusive (where they mock their teammates for their failures, which could add to THEIR Stress as well), and if they hit 200 stress? They lose all their Hit Points as their heart threatens to explode on them, and any further stress could cause an instantly fatal heart attack.



BACK, FOUL FIEND! (I always wanted to say that.. especially in a situation where right afterwards I wouldn't get my face chewed off by said foul fiends)
The treasures are great, but so are the risks. And yes, in this game, a Grave Robber is a hero. Or the closest thing you’re going to get anyway.


So, as you wander from area to area, you must manage your character’s health and stress levels carefully. There’s no shame in quitting a mission early.. well there is, but there’s a heck of a lot less shame from having used a fairly easy escape route then there is from having your party die before you can either escape or finish the mission. And as your characters grow in ability, they also get quirks. Some are positive, providing bonuses to scouting and attacks, while others are, less so, for example, they could become less effective at dropping stress in between weeks..

Oh, and you’re going to have to continually manage your characters stress levels. Most games like this are fairly easy to beat.. you get a party of doom, grind them up, and then Stomp everything in sight. It doesn’t quite work that way in Darkest Dungeon. Not only are your characters at risk for death in the dungeon (and there’s no save-scumming to try to keep your most beloved characters alive, a system of constant autosaves means if you let one of your character’s die.. yup they’re gone for good).. but they need time and um.. recreational activities such as boozing, gambling, and.. well, I was going to say another -ing word, but let’s bowdlerize it by saying “visiting a brothel”. to relieve their stress. And while they’re doing that, you won’t have those characters available for your next trek into the Dungeon. And all that costs money. Money may be the root of all evil, but it’s the root of saving your characters from going insane.


BACK, FOUL FIEND! (I always wanted to say that, without, you know, getting my face ripped off immediately afterwards by said foul fiend)
BACK, FOUL FIEND! (I always wanted to say that, without, you know, getting my face ripped off immediately afterwards by said foul fiend)


The game is now out in full release, (which was the reason I put in on my “Fifteen for February” list, as I had owned it for a while, but wanted to wait for the full release, and was constantly tormented by my friends going “Foz, you HAVE TO PLAY THIS”

So now, I’m playing it, and I love it. I’m growing attached to my crew (despite the fact that they could die), and the risk of permadeath makes for a more gripping experience, as you try to push the odds, and it makes the victories even sweeter when you know that if it had even gone a bit the other way, you are looking at losing hours and hours of work you spent on a great character.

So, yeah, the Darkest Dungeon is not a place I’d want to live. I wouldn’t even want to visit it, or EVEN see it in a Travel Channel special.

But it’s one hell of a game, featuring heroes who’re not heroes.  Heroes wouldn’t have anything to do with the place.

But that makes their actions even more heroic.

So, let’s break it down:

The Good: An atmospheric game that prioritizes risk management, that builds your relationship with your characters, and makes every victory sweeter, and every defeat sting harder.

The Bad: Perma-death and constant autosaves mean one mistake can lose you hours of work. Intimidating amount of things to juggle

Should you buy it: Yes. Do it. The price just went back up to $25, but that’s still a steal for a great game.

The Number: 89/100