Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based strategy RPG by indie developer Red Hook Studios. Darkest Dungeon is about loss of materiel and personnel, decay of body and mind, and the psychological toll of fighting monsters. Friedrich Nietzche once said, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you,” and Red Hook marvelously captures this concept in Darkest Dungeon. The player’s journey through the game will see many would-be heroes fail, despair, and even turn against comrades in their ever-increasing madness.
Fans of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft will find much to love in Darkest Dungeon, as many of the enemies, areas, items, and bosses are inspired by his fiction. Many RPGs have drawn from his work, including Blizzard’s MMO titan, World of Warcraft, but no game before Darkest Dungeon has captured the fearful essence of his work so well.
The story of Darkest Dungeon focuses on a dilapidated familial estate left to the player by a relative. The older man had spent his entire life there, before discovering rumors that a great power was hidden beneath the manor. Hiring excavators, he dug deep, eventually finding a sinister doorway and legions of madness-inducing monsters. In the end, he escaped, but was unable to go on, ending his own life after sending a letter to the player, entreating him to return and destroy the horrors which lurk below.
The player’s time is spent in dungeons, where players will level up, collect items, and gain traits (both positive and negative), and in the small town outside the manor, where players can recruit new party members, upgrade skills and equipment, and most importantly, send party members to spend time on various diversions to relieve stress. Unlike most RPGs, in which players only have to worry about health, mana, and the occasional status effect, in Darkest Dungeon the biggest killer is stress. As parties journey further in each dungeon, take critical hits or special attacks from enemies, or even loot certain disturbing chests, they will incur stress.
At higher levels of stress, players may obtain negative attributes that affect their ability, or willingness, to fight, or even allow themselves to be healed. Managing stress is absolutely critical to success, and so after each mission, party members must be sent to the church or the tavern to engage in everything from meditation to gambling to ease the burden of what they have seen.
Because of these systems, Darkest Dungeon is laser-focused on strategy. Players who spend time planning their parties, selecting specific skills and classes that work well together, and learning which supplies to bring on missions will see far more success than players who treat Darkest Dungeon like any other dungeon crawler. Still, Darkest Dungeon is the perfect Murphy’s Law simulator, so even for players who make every decision wisely, if something can go wrong, it probably will.
There are many systems to manage in Darkest Dungeon, each of them vital to success. Although the game’s menus are certainly manageable, with many options for organization, I would have preferred Red Hook revise the menu system (as Blizzard did for the console release of Diablo III) to better suit controllers, especially since touch controls do not function while the game is docked, and the game was originally designed with a mouse and keyboard setup in mind.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
Darkest Dungeon has a decidedly sinister style. From the gradual change from light to dark as your doomed adventurers make their way through the depths, to the disturbing rubbery, fleshy depictions of Eldritch horrors, the game has a style like a dark graphic novel, and it translates extremely well to the subject matter and overall aesthetic.
Everything in Darkest Dungeon works together to create a stressful atmosphere, to convey the party’s tense feelings, and in no place is this more true than the music. The soundtrack so perfectly evokes the terror and stress of fighting monsters, I found my shoulders involuntarily tensing up at times. As a result, I typically only played the game in short bursts. In spite of this, my mind never strayed far from it; like a Lovecraftian protagonist addicted to arcane knowledge, I had to know what waited for me in the depths.
Darkest Dungeon is a foul masterpiece. From monsters lurking around every corner to madness-inducing enemies, from the dark and stylish graphics to the satisfaction of narrowly defeating an eldritch abomination, Darkest Dungeon is essential to those seeking a challenge in a Lovecraftian RPG like no other. The $25 price tag is also a steal, considering there is over 100 hours of content in the game, for those will the nerve to complete every side-quest.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Red Hook Studios
Developer – Red Hook Studios
Price – $24.99
Genre – Role-Playing, Strategy, Adventure
Size – 2.3 GB