You will endure this loss and learn from it.
Before sitting down to write this, I suffered two total party kills in a row. I got cocky – a few expeditions went about as well as could be expected, meaning: everyone escaped from death’s grasp, no one went too insane, treasures were seized and monsters were slain. A couple of my so-called heroes had leveled up. Surely now was the time for bravery. Alas, my foolhardiness had a high price in souls; everyone died. No worries. I had my B team. Into the dungeon went the lot of them, rested and confident, only to find the same fate as the previous party. Is this fun? Yes, yes it is.
See, Darkest Dungeon is trying to teach you, if you’d only just watch and listen and take your punishment. Expecting ample, congenial handholding tutorials will only lead to disappointment. Darkest Dungeon doesn’t do handholding. It doesn’t even have hands to hold. Maybe you reach out and find a stinging hook, or a slime-wreathed and suckered tentacle, or your grasp finds only bloody stumps. Whatever Darkest Dungeon has at the end of its appendages, it loves to thrash you with them. If you grew up in the nascent years of video gaming where games expected you to do some work, you’ll be right at home here. There’s a willful and chilly opaqueness about Darkest Dungeon, but if you embrace it, that’s where the fun is had. Each savage defeat is a lesson in its arcane systems.
Well, except the times that it’s not. When the dice roll and come up all wrong. A common complaint here: the random number generation aspect. Yes, there is a heavy element of randomness to Darkest Dungeon, and sometimes, no matter how you prepare the bulwark against them, the stars just don’t ever seem to be right. If that sets you on edge before you have even set out, then perhaps you should rethink a journey to this benighted Hamlet. It can definitely be frustrating, but in a game about encroaching corruption and cosmic horror, a little chaos seems about right. The most enlightening perspective shift I had was hearing the relationship between the heroes and the town explained like this: the heroes are the bullets, the town is the gun. If you own a gun, you expect to lose a few bullets.
So, what is it you do in Darkest Dungeon? You play a sort of town manager, upgrading the facilities in the town, hiring adventurers, outfitting them, caring for them, and then sending them off to quest at terrible locations. At these locations you explore, hallway by hallway and room by room, until the quest is complete, you retreat, or everyone is dead. As the adventurers explore, they suffer the psychological effects of the horrors they encounter which may manifest in positive or negative ways. Most often, it’s that darned negative that comes up. You can choose to treat these mental maladies, ride them out and see what happens – will they rush to steal when the party encounters chests in the dungeon, or perhaps they’ll be barred from visiting the brothel – or you can cut them loose. All of this is wrapped in Wayne June’s incredible narration. Each upgrade, each victory and defeat, every progression and every setback is narrated, and it’s fantastic. It’s written in the purplish, halcyon-days-of-Weird-Tales style of writers such as Lovecraft and Clarke Ashton Smith, and there is no narrator better suited to the task than June.
Darkest Dungeon is a wonderful game. The art by Chris Bourassa is incredible as you can readily see, evoking a gloriously pulpy Hammer Films meets Lovecraft world of misted alleys and monsters. The soundtrack by Stuart Chatwood is a perfectly dismal and doom-laden affair. Darkest Dungeon is great no matter the system, but if you have a Nintendo Switch and don’t care about the modding potential that the PC release provides, grab it there. The controls are a little clunky due to their mouse and keyboard roots, the text a little small, but there is nothing here that can’t be expertly wielded in little time. Having the ability to quickly delve a dungeon and then sleep the system is a great experience – get your team suited and booted before bed, then roll them out while you train to work. It’s liberating to be able to take your punishment wherever and whenever you want.
If you possess the mettle, buy this game. It’s horrific in all the right ways.