You Should Be Playing: Darkest Dungeon

Just a heads up for those looking for a nice, relaxing Rogue-like; the Lovecraftian nightmare that is Darkest Dungeon is not the game you are looking for. This game is ruthless, unforgiving, and a whole bunch of fun if you’re into that sort of thing. By the end of your campaign you will have developed a new hatred for bookcases, an unsettling love for lepers, and a strong vendetta against RNGesus.

The game starts with you inheriting an estate from an unknown relative. This relative informs you, through the narration his will, that his quest for fame and glory lead him to below the estate, excavating the dungeons and catacombs which lie below. Whilst underway the narrator stumbles upon gateways to another plane, and accidently unleashes a horde of nightmarish creatures. Rather than face his mistake and try to fix it, the narrator takes his life.

There are currently six areas for you to clear out, each one slowly increasing in difficulty the further you descend. It is up to you, the player, to cleanse these plots of land from all things unholy, and this can be achieved by recruiting some foolhardy adventurers to do it for you. The adventurers that you can recruit come in various shapes and sizes, each one adept in certain skills that are invaluable for some areas, but fall off into the useless category for other areas. Each class comes with seven abilities, but only four slots to use, so you must customise your characters to suit your playstyle. Build a team composition that supports each other; if one of your adventurers has an ability that marks the enemy, then bring along someone who deals more damage to marked enemies.

Your run-down estate can be upgraded and will flourish into a shoddy hamlet if given enough lovin’. It has everything you need to equip your adventurers with the best armour and weapons to ensure their deaths are delayed, but as painless as possible. The upgrading of these buildings is done through the use of heirlooms: long-forgotten belongings that can be found scattered throughout the many dungeons and crevices below your estate. Some are hard to come by, and make finally upgrading the blacksmith to its highest level all the more rewarding. You can also loot valuable jewels from the dungeons and sell them for cold cash, keep an eye out for those.

When you undertake your first dungeon you are taken to the caretaker; an old, raggedy man who looks after the estate and does a bit of shop-keeping on the side. From him you can buy provisions before being set loose into the dungeon. Don’t skimp on your provisions as you will certainly run out of torches, and an extra set of bandages wouldn't hurt. Be careful of overstocking, as the sixteen slots you have for your provisions fills up much faster than you realise, so only take what you feel you need as those heirlooms and jewels take up a slot each. Each location calls for its own set of provisions, so learn the areas and don’t bring anti-poisons when the monsters all cause you to bleed from every orifice. Do note that the supplies you don’t use are sold back at a much lower price, so either use it all up or get good at predictions.

As you begin, you are given one or maybe two ways to go: forwards or backwards. The game plays like a 2D, isometric side-scroller, so you can only move in two directions: forwards or backwards. You can flee from the dungeon, saving any adventurers who aren’t already dead, but at the cost of them losing a bit of their determination. Unfortunately, to those of you who also have a slight tendency to save-scum, the game saves automatically and throws the ability to fall back on a previous save if things go tits up out the window. Each choice you make had best be the one you truly believe will work, or your crusader will end up six-feet under instead of drinking away his PTSD at the local tavern.

There will be times when your characters develop quirks after each battle, some of which are good, whereas others are crippling. This is mostly brought on by coming into contact with a curio: a random object so curious that you can’t help yourself but see what’s inside. Sometimes your adventurer will find treasure, sometimes they find a book all about how good stealing is and develop kleptomania, other times they get scurvy. Each curio is different from the last and each offers a different chance for a different quirk, and sometimes the risk of treasure outweighs the risk of syphilis. The negative quirks can be cured at your local Sanitarium, whereas the positive quirks can be drilled into their tiny little heads.

Another fun tool to take on board is the light meter, found on the top of your screen. This bar represents the amount of light your party is currently radiating, due to torches or certain abilities that increase your light level. When the light level is high your party will be allowed to scout ahead for traps and even surprise packs of monsters, allowing you to strike first. As the light level lowers you lose your ability to scout ahead and also run the risk of enemies surprising you. There are benefits to a lower light level, as the lower your light level the higher your chance of receiving loot is. Try not to let it drop to 0, though, or you might be ambushed by something nightmares are made of. Trust me.

But, the crème de la crème of screwing you over is the affliction system. Whenever a character is hit, or activates a trap, or sees their teammate die, or even when they take a step backwards (seriously), they get all stressed and lose a chunk of their sanity. Once this stress meter is full the character must undergo a test of mental strength to see if they come out of it stronger than before, or just go insane and develop a gambling habit.

Despite how much I love this game, one of my biggest complaints with the game is how samey the dungeons become after only a handful of hours. I find the whole dungeon exploring aspect which was so hyped up to be incredibly lacklustre. I’d love to find more random events sprawling along each corridor, or multiple layers to each different dungeon.
That said, I would recommend this game without any hesitation. Just try not to get disheartened when your entire party is wiped out by a horde of tiny maggots.

Special thanks to Reddit users Jackeea and Urbchaos for all the help with finalizing the article.

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