A decrepit gothic mansion looms above a tiny band of heroes, a fallen stone beast that surely is dead.
Surely it must be?
The band of five light up a touch and stride continently towards the entrance, the patter of boots against broken marble steps betraying their presence. "We are the flame! And darkness fears us!" This cry of bravery echoes down the labyrinthine insides awaking something in the darkness, little do they know....
One hour later....
"We are not the flame!" they cried "We are but moths, and we are doomed!" a horrid tentacle mass of flesh, teeth and eyes swallow the adventurers one by one; their final moments a nightmarish swirl of terror and madness. That is what Darkest Dungeon is like dear reader, you start confindant and completely safe in that nothing can stop you and the game decides to crush you.
Darkest Dungeon's story is minimal but serviceable; an unnamed relative simply named the Ancestor lived a life of decadence and sin. Until he got bored of that with his interests moving towards tales of a gateway under the house that would lead to some strange place, after years of wasted money he discovers and opens the gate. This allows a large collection of Lovecraftian demons to enter. The only survivor was the Ancestor, who then writes you a letter begging you to come and clean up the mess he made. He kills himself after finishing the letter. After that little bit of story in the opening there is not really much more. You are given little peices of narration before each boss fight but that is about it. And it really works, the writing is strong enough to carry as well as giving you a reason to continue playing. The only bit of voice acting you get is the narrator played by Wayne June. He alone makes this game something special; his voice adds so much to the atmosphere and weight of the game. It is impossible to consider Darkest Dungeon without Wayne June.
The gameplay is split into two camps; one is the Hamlet where you have to manage your resources like making sure that your heroes are relaxed (more on that later ) and upgrading your hamlet to have costs lowered and allow heroes to get stronger, you can only progress after each successful (or failed) mission and you would have to manage your gold use and heirlooms (objects found in dungeons that you can use to upgrade your Hamlet) wisely as you could get stuck in a loop failure. You also need to make sure that all your heroes are not stressed and are levelled appropiately otherwise they will die. Even though you can get more to replace them, the extreamely simple but effective mechanic to name your heroes after friends family can get you really attached to them. It adds to the games tension and makes it fun. The character classes are very unique visually as well as in terms of gameplay.
The dungeon exploration itself is a 2d exploration dungeon crawler; you go from room to room connected by a number of passages where you fight a wide verity of disturbing horrors and loot supplies from the ruins, at certain points you will have to look for a boss, each of which has their own different set of skills. The combat is turn based with each party memeber on either side having a turn. Different enemies can place debuffs like poisons, illness or stuns. Your party has to be arranged correctly with certain classes having to be in certain places in order to work properly, certain events like ambushes can lead to your party positions getting turned on its head.
Now about that stress mechanic, certain events, enemies or just by walking in the darkess can make your heroes stressed. If the stress meter reaches a certain point they will undergo either a mental breakdown which can turn them abusive, depressed or paranoid (just to name a few) or will become virtuous in the face of Lovecraftian terrors and become defiant or powerful etc. This mechanic adds so much to the game; it turns every fight into an intense battle of nerves. You dread each time a little bit of stress adds itself to the meter knowing that it might just pile up, each time an enemy hits a party member you wince knowing that it is drawing them closer to the brink of madness and death. That final anticipation of whether your party member will break or resist the stress stops your heart for those few seconds just waiting, I love and hate this mechanic as it can make the game easy or or make it so much harder because if one party member breaks everyone get affected and can send you into a downward spiral of death and madness.
Have I mentioned this game is hard?
Well there are three difficulties to Darkest Dungeon, Radiant, Darkest and Stygian (easy, normal and hard) I would recommend you try the game on Darkest first before you take on the Radiant or Stygian to get used to the game first. I like that the game allows the player to choose what they want because on Darkest and Stygian you can lose the game due to a critical hit or a random encounter that you could not have anticipated which has a number of runs ending in frustration because the game punished me on a random number generator rather then me messing up. I am not going to lie, I enjoyed this game a lot of the Radiant difficulty because it got rid of a lot of the random encounters with more focus on wits and skill to progress rather than relying on the dice.
The game ran fine both on PS4 and PC. I have nothing to complain about there.
I love the art style and animations, the backgrounds have a nasty sickly look to them that merge well with the Lovecraftian themes, the monster designs too are amazing; much like the backgrounds have the mixture of seemingly hand drawn art and sick rotting visuals that contribute to the wonderful bleak atmosphere. The animations are minimal with only one frame for an attack but with clever framing, sound design and lighting it is as intense as any From Software boss. You feel every blow and every critical hit, you experience every soul crushing test of sanity the party goes through as the monsters become more deadly. It is bood good sound design and style to back up the substance.
Darkest Dungeon is a game that much like other Rouge-Likes should not be played for long periods of time because of that annoying RNG, I enjoyed it more than Kingdom:New Lands and I would consider it as good as Dead Cells. I would recommend it to anyone.