Thoughts: The Darkest Dungeon

The Darkest Dungeon is a game currently on Steam, released in Early Access. An actual preview will be up on The University Observer soon enough but these are just personal thoughts I’ve had while playing.

So the game is about a man who spent his fortune excavating his house and the grounds around it. What he discovered was some inter-dimensional portal… or a portal to hell I can’t remember which. Either way, the area gets filled with all sorts of nasty creatures. From the undead, with necromancers doing the do, to cross-species swinemen led by a Swine hierarchy. Seriously, there’s a prince and a king of the Swine people. But anyway, rumours and tales spread of this place, with such great fortune and fame being offered to whomever helps this old fool reclaim and purge his mansion.

This is where the adventurers enter the fray. Currently there are about ten classes available with three more to be added soon or upon release. These vary from damage dealers like the Hellion; a fearsome warrior woman with a huge halberd to healers like the Vestal; a warrior nun with a mace and a divine book that can summon lightning and holy powers. The classes are varied and the roots to the classic fantasy archetypes can be seen, but none of them are strictly copies. But here is where it gets very interesting! These are not your indefatigable heroes of a fantasy tale. These are men and women. Fighters, healers, alchemists, enchanters, crusaders, grave robbers and even jesters! They are people like you and I. Well maybe not like you and I but they are people. And when they, regardless of volunteering or not, venture into the darker parts of the world; they see terrible things. They fight terrible creatures beyond imagination. Like a Swine Prince! This is where the balance of the game lies. There is no learning curve, only a deep end and your wits. You must not only keep your adventurers alive, but sane as well. They will suffer combat effects like a bleeding wound or an infection. But they will also carry psychological scars. Each character has virtues and flaws or quirks as the game calls them. And should they be pushed too far in an adventure; they will be tested. A character has one hundred ‘sanity points’, and they start with zero. As they suffer, through terrifying surroundings and difficult enemies, these points will add up. They can be reduced in the same way, fighting and succeeding, and keeping the level of torch light high. But should they reach their limit, they will be tested. And they will break or they will overcome this mental strain. More often, and far more interestingly, they break. This leads to a major character flaw. Masochism, selfishness, abusive, and irrational. These are just a few of what the game calls “afflictions”. These characters will say and do things that will harm the party’s sanity. They will pass their turn without your input or attack by themselves. It disrupts your party and can easily get your adventurers killed.

They can be cured by relaxing back at the hamlet, which serves as a hub for all characters. They can visit the tavern to drink, gamble and whore their troubles away. They can visit the church to pray, meditate or flagellate. And they can be forced into the Sanatorium, where they will… well they’ll be helped.

This game made me unintentionally care about these characters and more importantly, the quest. They all have names of their own, and quirks that define them. My first crusader was faithless, an interesting dynamic for a ‘holy’ warrior. He fell in battle, his last attack one from a holy book. I forged onwards, eventually defeating that dungeon. And until recently I forgot about him. While I did care about the characters, I too found myself getting angry at them for missing an attack during an important fight or succumbing  to their flaws. This crusader I mentioned was also a kleptomaniac and opened a treasure chest I had chosen to ignore. It had been the beginning of his downfall as it was trapped, cutting his health down and leaving him bleeding. I cared and hated so many of them, often at the same time. But it wasn’t until a few hours ago I was playing again, upgrading and maintaining my adventurers in the hamlet. Many had fallen, but I had not noticed. I wanted more gold to upgrade. More heroes to enter these dungeons and become stronger, so that I could get farther. I wanted to get closer to The Darkest Dungeon. A few of the long term survivors were upgraded with better armour, weapons and abilities. I loved having a team of my accomplished adventurers, steeled against the terrors they were facing. They were my A-Team.

But then I remembered the graveyard in the hamlet. And I scrolled through pages of the dead. And I realised this game had succeeded. I had become just like that blind old man who had delved too far. Wasting my money and the lives of those who followed. This game got me invested and I hadn’t even noticed.

So I would definitely suggest anyone who enjoys a difficult game, with permadeath of characters, to check out this title. It’s on Steam in Early Access, but it could easily be released as a full game in its current state.

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