“We are not the flame” they will cry out, “We are but moths! And we are doomed!”

There’s always been small break in immersion for me when I play action RPG’s. There’s always the question that pops up of what would happen to my characters if they actually were forced to brave endless corridors of monsters and demons. I always think about the physical and emotional toll it would probably take, and yet they carry on without so much as blinking an eye. As is true for most games, the stress of your adventurers is a concept often overlooked.

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But then again, Darkest Dungeon isn’t like most games. Red Hook Studios put together a game that helps remind players first hand how traumatizing the life of an adventurer can be.

The game seems simple enough on the surface, a 2d roguelike dungeon crawler. Players begin with a party of adventurers tasked with reclaiming your old manor. The manor however, has been plagued by foul creatures found only within the whisperings of a mind since succumbed to the darkness.

While that description might seem a bit contrived, it sets up the tone for the game. The atmosphere is heavily influenced by lovecraftian themes, instilling a sense of hopelessness and dread throughout. The voice acting is also superb, featuring a dark narrator who peppers your adventures with meticulous commentary. Think of the narrator from Bastion‘s more Gothic and depressing brother.

DarkestDungeonThe art style is also a treat, reminding me of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. It manages to combine a stark contrast between its bright hues and dark shades to create a setting that’s truly somber.

But what really sets this game apart is the stress system. As your heroes venture down into several dungeons, they’ll encounter traps, enemies and an ever encroaching darkness. All these add on to a stress meter for each character which culminates in a test of resolve when filled. If a character’s resolve is weak and they fail, they’ll be set upon by maladies of the mind, while others who are more resolute will come out stronger.

The maladies act as debuffs that your characters will have to suffer with as long as their stress meter is full. They can range anywhere from things like kleptomania to becoming irrational. Each of these will have a profound effect on the combat and how your adventurer reacts.

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This is probably going to cause trouble later…

 

One such adventurer of mine because a masochist after her resolve was broken, and from then on out refused to accept healing from her team mates. To make matters worse, she got into the habit of damaging herself before every turn. Other times I’ve had adventurers become paranoid, thinking that others would do them harm. This was reflected by them randomly refusing to follow orders for fear that I was plotting against him.

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Positioning plays an integral role in combat

Things like this can cause havoc during a dungeon crawl, where the turn based combat is very dependent on positioning. Each adventurer has certain moves that are dependent on where they’re positioned in order to work effectively. Some characters prefer to be at the front of the line and use moves that will only attack those close to them, while others serve best hanging back. When the adventures are suddenly suffering from one of the many maladies, it can make controlling them every difficult. In the end, players may have no choice to turn back and exit the dungeon. And that is something they will be doing a lot of. The dungeon crawls can become lengthy affairs, and players will often have to make the call of whether its worth venturing deeper to  reap the spoils at the sake of their party, or if they want to preserve their lives and come back to fight another day. Each choice is not without its consequence however, as the longer players stay in dungeons the higher the risk of death becomes. But while returning to town may spare their lives, they’ll suffer a hefty stress penalty for running away.

That’s not to say that once your characters reach their breaking point they’ll become useless. There’s ways to reduce their stress, from party buffs to resting in town. However, players will still need to be careful as their adventurers may develop random traits that limit where they can relieve stress. A god fearing character will only pray for stress relief, while someone of “deviant tastes” is sadly banned from relieving stress in the brothel. At least if all else fails, players can simply recruit new heroes from a caravan.

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“Darkest Estate. Sure, this seems like a great places to live in”

The game also offers more traditional gameplay mechanics with the gold and loot system. Players gain rewards from their successful dungeon crawls in the form of gold and heirlooms. Those can be spent to upgrade the facilities back at the manor. They can be invested in the Blacksmith or Trainer’s to upgrade the efficiency of their adventurers, or the resources can be spent to upgrade things like the church or brothel, which will provide various ways for your heroes to relieve stress. Loot can also be obtained through dungeons, which will increase a hero’s stats. But like any roguelike, players should be careful with who gets what equipped. Prema-death is a thing, and as your adventurers die so does any chance of retrieving the items you’ve burdened them with.

What ends up being most impressive about Darkest Dungeon however is that it’s still an early access game. While the concept of early access is a highly debated issue amongst gamers, Red Hook Studios managed to release a game that feels very near completion. It can only get better from here on out.

Release Date: 2015

Developer: Red Hook Studios

Genre: Roguelike Dungeon Crawl

Platforms: PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

Check out the trailer below:

About The Author

Enrique C
Editor-in-Chief

There's no problem that can't be fixed with fire. Doesn't matter what game. If that doesn't work, use more.