Darkest Dungeon ReviewPrice:
Red Hook Studios
Red Hook Studios
As an experience, Darkest Dungeon brings to mind the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings. Forged in the fires of Early Access, Darkest Dungeon demonstrates exceptional craftsmanship and has a mighty power to impress. Yet having said that, I would struggle to recommend spending too much time in its company, because that way madness lies. It exists at the crossroads between Roguelike and the recent trend for vaguely masochistic RPGs like Dark Souls. The resulting blend is extremely potent - a little too potent for my tastes, in fact.
The premise is simple, if a little bizarre. You've inherited a mansion estate from a long-lost relative - fantastic news for anyone given the current state of the housing market. There's only one small problem, the mansion's outskirts and expansive undercroft are filled with virtually every monster imaginable, from heavily armed bandits to hordes of undead to squealing pigmen to walking jellyfish, all of which need clearing out before you can sit back and enjoy your inheritance.
Basically, you've got a serious vermin problem, requiring the pest-control equivalent of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. Fortunately for you, there's a hamlet situated close to the mansion that receives a regular influx of heroes and adventurers, attracted to this foreboding locale by tales of treasure that lie beneath the mansion. It's up to you to organise these Heroes into parties, equip them appropriately, and guide them through the dungeon's procedurally generated mazes of rooms and corridors.
The basic structure is that of a traditional rogue-like. You explore rooms, battle monsters and loot treasure from chests and corpses. If one of your party dies, they're gone for good, as is all of the experience and abilities they accrued up to that point. What makes Darkest Dungeon different is that danger comes from within as well as without.
Alongside their standard health-bar, each Hero also has a "stress" meter that gradually ticks up during exploration and combat. If the stress meter reaches halfway full, that Hero's "Resolve" is tested. This usually results in them becoming beset with one of a wide range of afflictions. If a Hero becomes "Selfish" for example, they'll try to steal glory and wealth for themselves, becoming irate if another hero kills an enemy they've marked, or takes treasure they covet. Masochistic Heroes will deliberately seek out damage, resisting healing attempts, and even harming themselves. Fearful Heroes will avoid the front-lines of combat, and occasionally skip turns entirely.
Stress and afflictions result create a snowballing effect in what is already a fiendishly difficult rogue-like. The game's massive roster of monsters can damage and debilitate your party in vast range of ways; poisoning them, stunning them, pushing them out of formation and thus affecting their abilities. Alongside the brutal combat are various smaller systems that run during exploring. The light of your torch affects the difficulty of combat and the rewards received, while during quests heroes must consume food or suffer stress and damage due to hunger. The ability to heal both stress and damage is limited to just a few points per turn, and only during combat or camping.