Review: Darkest Dungeon

Review copy of this game provided by its developer, Red Hook Studios.

Darkest Dungeon is a rare breed of game – it was successfully Kickstarted, entered Early Access a year after its campaign was succesful, and exited the Early Access stage a year after that. In my opinion, this is one of the best examples of a game developer using crowdfunding to complete its game – and without the game in question being stuck in Early Access forever, to boot!

On September 27, the game then transitioned to Playstation 4 and Vita as well.

Darkest Dungeon is described by Red Hook Studios as a Gothic RPG, which is a pretty good way of describing it. The game has a killer art style, and H.P. Lovecraft’s influence all over it. The general atmosphere of the game is complemented by the soundtrack as well, with both the music and sound effects being really satisfying.

The game is a turn-based RPG where your party of adventurers delve into the depths of human endurance while exploring their way towards the darkest dungeon. Story-wise,  you take the role of someone returning to the Hamlet at the behest of his or her Ancestor, to right the wrongs that they have performed. To put it another way, if you were to mix a drink of the Darkest Dungeon story,  you’d mix one part Hell House by Richard Matheson with three parts H.P. Lovecraft, served chilled in a high glass…You’d have Darkest Dungeon.

Gameplaywise, there are two distinct aspects – managing your Hamlet (or town, if you’re not into old-timey words) and the actual adventuring bit. Both parts are informed by the other, and if you’re not using the loot you collect while adventuring to upgrade  your Hamlet, you will soon find yourself woefully unprepared to face the horrors that the game throws at you. The Hamlet consists of a handful of buildings you need to upgrade – from the Stagecoach where  you’ll recruit new adventurers to the Guild or Blacksmith where you upgrade your adventurers or their kit. Of particular importance is the ways for your  adventurers to recuperate from adventuring – like the Abbey, or the Inn.

The reason you’ll want to upgrade the latter buildings is simple – while adventuring, your adventurers will build up Stress. Build up enough, and you risk them getting negative Quirks. Your tank may decide that it’s better for him to bleed than to receive healing, or your healer may panic at the sight of  the undead. Stress is not only a bad thing, however – your  adventurers may prove to excel under pressure and gain a positive Quirk. These Quirks can be anything from being better at dodging to dealing or withstanding more damage, which becomes essential to manage as  the game goes on.

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Additionally, you’ll need to keep your adventurers stocked up on items such as torches, food and shovels – because the darkness increases stress, starving increases stress, and trying to clear obstacles without a shovel may get your heroes hurt.

As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s thematic universe, this is one of my favorite games set in that theme, ever. The game itself is not scary as such – but you will feel the stress and anxiety that your adventurers are submitted to, as well. The game can both be uncompromisingly punishing as well as super rewarding. The feeling of joy when a stressed character copes with Stress by getting a positive Quirk can be amazing, especially at the lower levels where you don’t have a lot of options with regards  to gear and skills.

I mostly played the game on my Playstation Vita – and I’m thoroughly impressed with its performance on this platform. The game plays without a hitch on the platform, basically. My only two gripes with the Vita version is the fact that the game does not utilize the touch screen, as the controls can be kind of clunky, and that the UI is not scaled up just a little bit. I was still able to play the game just fine, but having the UI and text in general being just a bit bigger on the small screen would have been great.

As it stands, though, I’m keeping Darkest Dungeon on my Vita – the gameplay is, as mentioned, top notch and the performance of the Vita port (along with cross-buy and cross-save) makes Darkest Dungeon a must-have for Vita owners.

Darkest Dungeon is available on PC, Mac, Linux as well as Playstation 4 and Vita.