Tremendous highs and tumultuous lows combine in the Lovecraft-inspired, turn-based dungeon-crawler “Darkest Dungeon.”
You’re always one hit-point or one mind-sliver away from complete collapse as you explore winding halls of ruins, warrens, coves, and the titular Darkest Dungeon itself. Featuring permadeath, procedurally generated levels, and some aspects of permanent progression as the player builds up the decrepit hamlet into a bustling economy, the game is ultimately about finding combinations of curious glory seekers and treasure hunters and putting them to work against swarms of deadly and debilitating monsters.
This dread ensemble is a pleasure to manage down to the finest details. With 14 different classes to choose from, each with many unique abilities, weapons to customize, skills to upgrade, quirks to manage, and diseases and afflictions to cure, you’re always managing something.
The game strikes a brilliant balance most of the time, constantly testing the player to weigh resources and risks, but training a fresh team after a massive loss can be time consuming and punishing. This too, can be an important lesson: In “Darkest Dungeon,” discretion is often the better part of valor, and while mechanics make cowardice costly, it’s far better than losing a team to the grave forever.
“Darkest Dungeon” tweaks the traditional task of managing character hit points by adding another element called stress. Darkness, enemy attacks, critical strikes, and watching comrades fall can all cause despair. A full stress bar gives the hero a chance for greatness in the face of terror, but the more likely outcome is a serious malady such as masochistic or antagonistic tendencies, which could lead your characters to injure themselves, become unresponsive to your orders, or chastise the rest of the team into deep depression.
Managing these two resources along with light sources, provisions, and other supply items as you traverse the depths makes for an insightful lesson in risk-management, and it feels wonderfully satisfying when you deliver the deathblow to a crawling chaos.
The game boasts plenty of substance and style, but if you’re averse to crushing difficulty, it may prove to be too frustrating.
“Darkest Dungeon” is an incredible take on the classic dungeon crawl. The game brings Lovecraftian lore to new heights with cool classes, powerful narration, stylish art, and addictive gameplay that will keep you crawling back to battle slithering monstrosities even as your favorite heroes become corpses.
Concept: Assemble various teams of unique characters to battle against deadly dungeons and bosses in stylized turn-based combat.
Platform: PC and Mac
Sound: The narration – by Wayne June of Lovecraft audiobook fame – is stunning and makes the game feel like turning the pages of a Cthulhu nightmare.
Playability: The game is unforgivingly difficult, making it perfect for those looking for a dungeon-crawling challenge. Easily frustrated players will have a tough time adapting to the gameplay.
Entertainment: The game can feel like a grind at times, and losing a critical team is soul crushing. But taking down big bosses, collecting treasure and restoring the fallen hamlet to glory is challenging and fun.
Replay Value: High
The Bottom Line: 9.25/10