Developer: Red Hook Studios
Release Date: January 19, 2016
According to the text at the beginning of the game, Red Hook Studios’ Darkest Dungeon is “about making the most of a bad situation.” They are not kidding
In Darkest Dungeon, you basically take on the role of a series of heroes who are called to a decrepit old mansion to reclaim their birthright. Since the previous occupant of the house accidentally unleashed an ancient, horrifying evil, this is not as easy as it looks.
Really, the best way I can think of to describe the way the game looks and plays is that this is what it would be like if Diablo and Final Fantasy had a baby, which was then raised by H.P. Lovecraft. The game’s slightly cartoonish graphics still manage to be somewhat unsettling, and the music by Stuart Chatwood adds to the dark and oppressive atmosphere.
Gameplay-wise, Darkest Dungeon is turn-based, but does have some twists on the formula, also containing elements of 2D side scrollers and roguelikes. Death in the game is permanent; unlike a lot of other RPGs there are no ways to resurrect fallen characters. Thankfully, going into town allows you to recruit other characters to replaced those who have fallen. Which is a necessity, because characters will die.
There are numerous classes available in the game, with their own strengths and weaknesses, such as the crusader, highwayman, or houndmaster. Each class is most effective in a certain position, so arranging your party properly is key. Personally, my favorite class is the plague doctor, a hybrid damage dealing and healing class which is also the only class in the game capable of healing blight and bleeding effects. She’s also my favorite design in the game:
The thing that I found most interesting about the game, however, is the inclusion of a stress meter. Things like taking critical hits, certain enemy attacks, and adventuring too long without a torch can cause heroes’ stress meters to go up. If the meter goes up to high, a character can gain negative status effects that cause them to do things like act on their own, or not act at all (there is, however, also a chance that the character can gain positive effects as well). If the meter gets to 200, that character can then suffer a heart attack and die, making managing the party’s stress levels an extremely important aspect of gameplay. Ways to mitigate character stress include special abilities accessible by camping during a quest, making a critical strike, or receiving a critical heal. There are also activities in town, such as sending a character to the tavern or abbey, that reduce stress as well.
This leads to another aspect: having to manage how many characters you have in the abbey or Party members who are sent usually stay in one of those areas for about one week (although they can decide to stay longer as well). While you can remove them from those places early, that character may then have to start a dungeon with a high stress level, which increases risk of death. You need to have 4 members to the party in order to do a quest, which advances the game to the next week. So you do need to make sure you have at least 4 players available at a given time, or you may get stuck. (I actually had to start over at one point because of this fact).
If you are at all a fan of dark fantasy or horror, I highly recommend downloading this game (it is currently available on both Steam and GOG.com for $24.99). It’s a challenging title, but ultimately a lot of fun.