PSA: Darkest Dungeon Is Rad
I don't usually talk much about Early Access games on Steam. I've found that it's often unfair to form a coherent opinion on unfinished works. If I am being quite honest, I tend to dislike how Steam curates Early Access, but that's a topic for another time. Few Early Access titles could be described as whole experiences, but Darkest Dungeon is quite the exception.
Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based roguelike with a grim, gothic art style that compliments the deadly world in which the action takes place. Tasked with restoring their old estate to glory and defeating the evil that lurks in the deepest dungeon below the grounds of their family's faded house, players must lead parties of adventurers into dens of madness and monsters. That's all to say that you should go in expecting to have your adventurers die. A lot.
Adventurers come in all different types; priests, warriors, minstrels, grave diggers, highwaymen, occultists, and more. Each randomly generated seeker has their own quirks, abilities, and names that make them unique. As these heroes for hire progress, they will acquire new mental and physical traits depending on their experiences. These traits can help in battle or while exploring, but they can often prove to be detrimental as well. An adventurer might gain an advantage against human enemies and simultaneously discover that they have an uncontrollable impulse to steal items.
Players will have to keep a close eye on their adventurers' sanity, as well. If they reach their mind's threshold, they will suffer a form of limit break. Most often this manifests as a debilitating state, such as hopelessness or cowardice, but there is a slim chance that they might find a shred of heroism and receive a massive surge in ability.
Half of the fun of Darkest Dungeon is making the best of completely awful situations. You should expect to have terrible things happen to your adventurers. In my very first foray into a dungeon, all of my characters died, either sliced to ribbons by monsters or their own insanity. In fact, the same could be said about my second party of adventurers... and my third. Grinding through the difficulty can be frustrating, but it makes every small victory that much sweeter.
Darkest Dungeon plays like a traditional turn-based RPG with dungeon crawling elements. It is simplistic and easy to understand, but each decision made in battle and while exploring dungeons can have long-lasting consequences with deadly ramifications. Choose to ignore a weaker enemy? They might attack during the next round and infect one of your party members with rabies (not making that up, you can totally get rabies in Darkest Dungeon). Choose to press ahead in a dungeon instead of turning back? You open up your adventurers to derangement and death. Darkest Dungeon revolves around player choice and forces players to live with the results. Screw ups usually end with deaths.
One of the most immediately attractive aspects of Darkest Dungeon is its graphic novel aesthetic. The monsters and world draw on elements of Lovecraftian horror; warped monsters, tentacles, death, and disease, images that erode sanity. Heavy shadows and dark narration emphasize the moody atmosphere that persists throughout the game world. It is twisted, awful, and beautiful all at the same time.
To clarify, this isn't a review. Instead, this is more of a "hey, this is a really cool game that hasn't been fully released, but is currently being sold" situation. Darkest Dungeon only released in its Early Access state yesterday, but I can't stop thinking about it. It's not done, more will be added and bugs will be patched, but it feels like the core experience is finished and amazingly solid. Check it out on Steam if you're willing to face the darkness full of terrors.
Feature originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 02/04/15