A Kickstarter campaign from two years ago has led to the long-awaited release of Darkest Dungeon, one of the best roguelike RPG titles we’ve ever played.
Gamers who enjoy the challenge of a good roguelike or a great turn-based roleplaying game should look no further: Darkest Dungeon has finally arrived. The game had to go through its own series of hurdles before it could even present its challenges to players: Darkest Dungeon went through a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and had almost two years of development time before finally going gold this week after plenty of fan feedback and a a foreboding trailer.
Now that it’s here, the roguelike genre has a bright and shining example of how a title can bring a unique concept and a breath of fresh air to an oft-repetitive game type, and it’s evident one of the sleeper hits of the year didn’t waste much time in arriving this 2016.
To be successful at Darkest Dungeon, players will have to become heartless managers who send countless heroes to their untimely demise in one of the games five varying dungeons. As heroes gain experience in combat, they will also be collecting stress from enemy encounters. Too much stress leads to the development of negative traits, and players will find themselves dismissing many a hero just because they picked up too much psychological baggage. Of course, players can reduce stress between each adventure by paying for activities in the town, or even remove some negative traits at a sanitarium, but those are costly endeavors – and picking up new heroes is free, which means its far more cost-effective to throw troubled people out than it is to fix them proper.
There are several character class types in Darkest Dungeon, and each of them have their own unique skillsets. Finding which four-person party combinations work best is a trial-and-error process that will result in many failed campaigns. But, the game does offer the option to abandon any quest at any time, a solution that may not be the easiest pill to swallow but will better serve players in the long run. As heroes survive the ordeals that players force them into, they’ll rank up and become much more resilient, but those that die are gone forever, making this game possibly even more unforgiving than the legendary XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
The art style of the game is simply gorgeous, and fans of H.P. Lovecraft will be delighted to find plenty of nods and inspirations within the game’s dark and foreboding corridors. To match this cryptic theme, Darkest Dungeon employs an arcane narrator who guides players through the story: he is the player’s ancestor who toyed with the dark arts and brought the family name into darkness, and the player is there to restore the family to glory. The voice work is perfect for the setting and feel of the game, and a deeper secret lurks right beneath the surface.
There’s a plethora of boss missions riddled throughout the game, and they force players to drastically change their typical dungeon strategy to defeat them without loss. Each boss has three tiers of increasing difficulty, and they do a great job of extending the longevity of the game, especially since the narrator reveals a little bit more about the history of the mysterious hamlet when players embark on each mission. And finally, the ‘end game’ objective is to get to the namesake of this entire title, The Darkest Dungeon. Here, players will face the toughest of challenges, and curse the enemies who take down their precious top-tier heroes which had survived so, so much before entering the Darkest Dungeon.
As players progress through the game, they’ll find that heroes will refuse to go on low-level missions as they rise in rank. This forces the player to manage an ever-building roster of heroes of varying levels, and ensures that there’s no easy path to leveling up a hero to the top of the proverbial food chain. At the end of the day, this makes it all the more heartbreaking when veteran heroes succumb to the horrors of their profession: all of the adventures and invested money was for naught.
On top of this, money management is key: before each adventure, players must stock up on various supplies before each trek (as the game so eloquently puts, ‘measured now in gold, later in blood’). A constant supply of torches is a must, as a withering light leaves the party much more prone to ambush and stress. There are plenty of hidden dangers within each dungeon, and that’s the beauty of Darkest Dungeon: after hours and hours of playing, we’re still finding new strategies and surprises within the gameplay, which is still as punishing as ever.
Darkest Dungeon is one of the best roguelike games to be had, and anyone who enjoys a challenging dungeon crawler will find themselves playing adventure after adventure with rotating rosters of forlorn heroes. At its heart, Darkest Dungeon is Lovecraftian horror of the finest caliber – it’s unforgiving, brutal, and filled with misfortune. Players will feel like they’ve truly earned each successful boss fight or adventure, and we found ourselves constantly wanting to come back for more punishment.
Interested gamers can still pick up Darkest Dungeon for $19.99 until February 2nd, when the game will return to its regular price of $24.99.
Darkest Dungeon is currently available for PC, and is expected to release for PS4 and PS Vita mid-2016. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.