Grinding in the darkness: Darkest Dungeon

Now then. Darkest Dungeon. An absolute BASTARD of a game, but… but QUITE BRILLIANT with it. Developer Red Hook Studios have made a game that is utterly sumptuous in the way it looks and feels. The presentation throughout is just stunning, with wonderful artwork and animation, great typography and menu design. The whole package is just so slick. Arguably one of the best-looking roguelike RPGs in the history of gaming. Honestly. And it plays beautifully too.

In essence Darkest Dungeon is a party-based level-grinder, where you build up the experience of your ‘heroes’ and take them out on ever more difficult missions. The definition of “difficult” is subjective, though, and in the case of Darkest Dungeon the developers have chosen to border on the unfair. Just look at any of the reviews on Steam and you’ll see a torrent of people complaining! And, personally, I can see what they’re complaining about.

Take for example, the subject of “heart attacks” – these can happen if any of your characters are under extreme stress (each character in your roster is highly attuned to stress – stress levels are a key part of character behaviours and mechanics). A heart attack will always put a character in imminent danger of death (and that’s PermadeathTM by the way), and unfortunately heart attacks seem to happen with alarming regularity in Darkest Dungeon. During one battle, I had three of my four characters succumb to heart attacks, and two of them had decent health at the time! So fucking unfair! Aaaargh!

But ‘heart attacks’ are just the tip of a very big, dark, pessimistic iceberg in Darkest Dungeon. The whole tone of the game is miserable and downbeat. Just listen to the deep, depressing announcements from the narrator as the story rolls along, baiting you with their self-referential mockery. It’s hilarious, really, the unrelenting misery of it all! But just going back to the gameplay for a second again: Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based combat fan’s wet dream – it surprised me with its level of detail, and drew me in deeply on a basic game play level. What I could NOT get on with, though, was how unfair the game was in killing off my carefully-nurtured characters. Darkest Dungeon is NOT a game where you want to get too attached to your creations. I couldn’t. And for that reason alone I can’t see me going back to it. Too much emotional (and financial) attachment to my characters. It costs a lot in gold and time to keep them alive and happy, and to kill them off so easily seems harsh. So: fuck you, game! I’m not playing you any more.

I think Darkest Dungeon WANTS to be known as the most difficult and unfair game of all time. It revels so much in despair that it HAS to. So only true masochists need apply to give it the distance.

Paul Mallinson

Loves “grabbing”. No, that is not a euphemism. “Grabbing” is a term video games magazines used in the 1990s for taking digital screenshots of games for inclusion in their printed articles. Some might call it ‘in-game photography’ – the art of taking screenshots of what you’re playing. Good grabbing requires a good eye, good timing, and good editorial skills.

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