Come with me now on a journey through time and space, to the world of Darkest Dungeon.
Darkest Dungeon will resonate with any Dungeons & Dragons player who ever had a particularly wicked person running the game.
Dungeon Masters who delight in hacking the limbs off player characters, afflicting them with a disease, and ensuring every misstep has a lasting consequence are given cruel form with Red Hook Studios’ bleak-but-beautiful role-playing game.
Myself or any other Dungeons & Dragons gamer will see a particular resonance when experiencing what this game has to offer.
Dungeon Masters are cruel creatures who take pleasure in dismembering characters, poisoning with toxins, afflicting with various diseases and ailments and making sure that every mistake is punished three-fold.
This roleplay experience is given true-to-form life by Red Hook in this punishing, brutal and – sometimes – unforgiving game.
As a D&D participant who has witnessed friend-and-foe alike suffer horrific injuries and experience complete mental breakdowns over almost a decade of brutal and unforgiving campaigns, I can testify that Darkest Dungeon is an astonishingly true-to-life portrayal of DMs at their most cunning and vindictive.
Having said that, gruelling and grinding campaigns are not very entertaining .
The reason I continue to play and enjoy D&D is the same reason I am obsessed with Darkest Dungeon, there lies a strange appeal and allure in an unforgiving and sadistic game – one only needs to look at the BloodSouls series in order to prove this.
Darkest Dungeon’s vile and vicious nature is displayed in it’s internal stress system.
Often I find myself wondering while playing Roleplaying games – ‘What would these experiences do to the adventurer?’
Red Hook seeks to answer this question in the most graphic and over-stated way possible.
As your party withstands barrage after barrage of attack from fishermen, necromancers and the like, you find yourself under constant emotional assault – not to mention physically.
Stress damage can be incurred by innocently lingering in a darkened hallway for just a second too long – this is displayed via a meter gauge.
Another factor that affects your party’s psychological state is a direct attack either from lunatic accusations or spells of sorcerous cultists – to name a few.
If a member of your party happens to ‘break’ they will render an already difficult game even more so, as they struggle to cope with new challenges and new attacks, it is important to keep this in check as, when one character falls it won’t be very long until all have fallen – it’s a house of cards, kiddies!
The game takes the form of a traditional turn-based RPG; each quest sees you guide four heroes through a series of sidescrolling rooms which are connected by corridors.
As the adventure progresses the party will be forced to disarm traps, loot hazardous loot piles and fight a cacophony of misshapen and hideous beasts of all shapes and sizes.
In addition, the party will also need to stave off hunger and ensure they get enough rest to recuperate during lengthy quests if they fail to do so, they run the risk of losing members to insanity or worse.
Combat side-steps standard RPG protocol by presenting battles as more of a set of cunning puzzles to be solved than brutal smash-and-thrash conflicts which will only bear one true victor – there is only still one victor, of course, you.
Many encounters shield the most dangerous foes behind lesser-powered ‘combat-fodder’, the more dangerous foes – though physically inferior – are capable of stress damage attacks, AOE attacks and crippling debuff attacks.
Observing enemy placement, using stun attacks and locating the most dangerous opponents are instrumental in order to succeed in battle and emerge with minimal lasting damage.
If you want to succeed in Darkest Dungeon you will need to become a misanthropic anti-hero who, to get ahead, will use and discard humans like trading cards in a sick, depraved and cruel world of dog-eat-dog – or sorcerer-destroy-monster, if you will.
There are a number of features that serve to supply further tactical depth to conflicts.
Corpses left behind by the enemy tend to fill the battlefield, this can cause issues as the outcome of a battle can depend – heavily – on the position of party members and opponents, therefore it is best to try and rearrange the odds in your favour by clearing the bodies as soon as possible.
Darkest Dungeon oozes from its pores with style and gravitas, with a superb Garth Ennis-style of illustration – reminiscent of Preacher and Crossed, superb character design and breathtakingly-fitting audio – in particularly the unseen voice of your ancestor, narrating your failures and victories in a deep and melancholic tone.
The game’s soundtrack is eerily fitting and never takes attention away from the overall package of gore, horror and insanity – depressing but beautiful.
My experience with DD has been – for the most part – a blindingly amusing and tenacious affair and I wish anyone who is willing to give this game a try, a fantastic and enjoyable journey to the darkest depths of human depravity and despair.
The experience is an unforgiving and punishing affair which will make most adventurers head for the hills with their sanity between their legs but if you can get past the – almost impossible at times – difficulty curve, you will find a gruelling, rewarding and psychologically damaging experience that will leave you asking, what the HELL just happened?
There is more content than I care to discuss as, I believe, to discuss the game any further is to destroy your experience and rob you of the fascinatingly gruesome journey which lies in the shadows; watching, waiting…