Only thing more creepier than a dimly lit dungeon is a dungeon that is pitch black. In all the RPGs I’ve played over the years (and I’ve played a lot), dungeon crawling had been nothing but a means for amassing countless loot, even if that meant that you had to face off against some challenging foes. It’s always been an exciting, or in some cases, a tedious process. If you buy into Darkest Dungeon thinking that it’s just another dungeon crawler where you powerplay through your typical looking dungeons in epic RPG fashion, then you’ve not been more wrong your entire life. Stumbling through filthy antediluvian halls and dark, slimy corridoors not knowing what on earth lurks around the corner, where even a simple mistake is payable in blood and madness, is what Red Hook‘s Darkest Dungeon is all about.
The gist of the story is that you inherit your huge family mansion and the surrounding lands from a depressed relative that makes you go “damn! I wish I had an uncle like this.” Well turns out that he was a hedonistic idiot who spent the family fortune excavating an ancient portal underneath the family estate and inadvertently released ancient horrors into the world. Like any loving relative, he takes his own life and basically gives you the keys to the estate, along with the responsibility to free the lands from the ravenous clutching shadows of the Darkest Dungeon. With a hugeass mansion free of cost comes shambling corpses and apocayptic cultists wanting nothing but some sweet, warm meat-yours. Yeah, sounds about right.
If you are fresh off the boat from games that constantly remind you how much of a badass you are, then Darkest Dungeon will chew you up, spit you out and take a piss on your mangled corpse. It’s a game where you go from one bad situation to a worse one. I often used to think that I was one of the most unluckiest guys in the world. I’m always depressed, had a scarring childhood, has no stable job, hunted by anxiety and paranoia and one whose favorite music is the sound of his muffled tears. Then I played Darkest Dungeon and met some of the characters. Suddenly, I was feeling a lot better about myself. There are no knights in shining armors or goody-two shoed battle wizards to save the day. The call of the Darkest Dungeon brings basically two kinds of people to your mansion. The opportunistic plunderer and the damaged survivor who just wants to belong somewhere. But the Darkest Dungeon doesn’t discriminate. Death comes free for all.
From the estate hub, you- the player is tasked with pushing back the tides of darkness- one absurdly spaced sewer at a time. You can send a party of four unlikely heroes to their certain death, while restoring the manor to its glorious state, a task so herculean in itself. Darkest Dungeon focuses on the emotional stress and psychological scars of horrifying sights, cosmic events, despair, unforgiving odds and the jester who doesn’t care for the court he is standing in, aka death itself. The dungeons are sidescrolling mazes full of disgusting enemies, rusty traps and of course- sweet loot. Darkest Dungeon is all about making the most of a bad situation, or so it says. The game opens with a warning proclaiming that quests will fail, heroes will die (permanently) and that your actions are permanent. In my experience, the game manages to stay faithful to these words up til the very end.
The RNG infested turn-based combat behaves as if you condemned it to oblivion in a past life. Within 2 hours into the game, I had unlocked achievements for the following; abandon a quest, lose your first hero, lose a hero to a trap, party wipe on a boss and lose a hero to a heart attack. Even if by some degree of luck that you managed to kill whatever halts your progress, psychological stress, hunger and diseases can claim your party members to the valley of death. No matter how rough & tough your heroes may look, they are humans after all. Heroes will soon become paranoid, flagellants, alcoholics, nymphomaniacs, clumsy and zoophobic. Hell I didn’t even know that Phengophobia was even a thing before playing the game. It’s not a game like Dark Souls where you ‘git gud’. In Darkest Dungeon, there is only death and survival. If someone calls this game the Dark Souls of dungeon crawlers, goodbye and I hope we never meet again.
I learned a few things playing Darkest Dungeon. The first thing is that RNJesus really despises my existence. The silver lining is a lie. If you’re a guy who cries over the loss of a soldier in X-Com, then you better pour some hot metal over that squishy heart of yours. Because in Darkest Dungeon, everyone is expendable. If you love challenging games that constantly pushes your sanity and willpower, then this is the game for you. If you aren’t getting it for the addictive and challenging gameplay, get it for the excellent gothic atmosphere, gritty art style and the narrator who has some of the most badass lines since Caleb from Blood. Despite getting my ass handed over to me by RNG goddess time after time, I always return for more. Remember, the darkness can be fought, they can be beaten… but there is always more.