Darkest Dungeon: Difficult, deep, and delightful - Games Weekly

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Darkest Dungeon: Difficult, deep, and delightful

Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike, party-based procedurally-generated dungeon crawler with dark stylized graphics and themes, conjuring up notions of doomed excursions to bottomless crypts and encounters with eldritch horrors too terrifying to speak of. The turn-based, position-critical combat offers some serious decision making when choosing your teams of adventurers, many of whom may never return home. Death is permanent, and in the depths of the dungeons your party members may die or lose their grip on reality, becoming a burden on the living as they struggle to survive for just one more room.

If all this sounds grim, it is Darkest Dungeon is not a cheery tale. If you’re up for a challenge, it’s an excellent roguelike to throw yourself at, coming up with ideal group compositions, skill builds, and special artifacts to perfect the package. Your teams are always changing, from a roster of 10 different character types in early access (more expected in the final build). During your adventures, characters level up and gain resolve for the trials ahead, helping them maintain their stress levels as they face greater dangers.

Teams are made up of four party members at any given time, but players rotate from a much larger stable as heroes must take time off to rest in town gambling, praying, and drinking their stress away after a harrowing dungeon delve. The character roster is stylish and interesting, from commonplace archetypal role-playing fare like crusaders and highwaymen to grave robbers, jesters, hellions, plague doctors, and occultists all with specialized movesets and skills.

Stress is a major mechanic in Darkest Dungeon, something a player must keep track of at all times. As your heroes receive crits, watch other players fall in combat, get hit with special demoralizing attacks, or witness terrible horrors, their stress bar will fill. If the stress bar reaches maximum level, the character will endure a test of will.

On occasion, the hero uses the pressure to gain a nice buff for the duration of the dungeon, but the far more common result is a massive debuff that puts the character and the rest of the team in great danger. Panicked characters don’t take commands and can mess up your line structure, masochistic characters will refuse healing and inflict self-harm, and still others could turn abusive and begin rattling insults at the rest of your team, which in turn raises their stress levels and sends the whole thing snowballing into a failed dungeon run and a heap of dead explorers.

Players must also keep a watchful eye on supplies during their dungeon crawls, especially torches and food. Without food, your party starves. Without torches, the party encounters much more difficult trials. Lack of light provides exceptional rewards, but survival is anything but guaranteed.

As dead adventurers pile up in the graveyard, players still make progress as they work on bringing the town hub back to life via relics found in the dungeons. These permanent boosts help take the edge off losing a prized hero or an entire crew of plucky novices.

While official launch is probably a few months away, players can start diving into the dungeons in Early Access on Steam, with a full release coming to PlayStation 4 and Vita later this year. The dungeons are dark, but they’re looking extremely fun too.

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