Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old-fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes.
I bought this game many, many months ago, back near the start of early access, but Darkest Dungeon as of the 19th January has been officially released. If you’re looking for a cute, cuddly RPG that leaves you with a feel-good factor, then Darkest Dungeon is really not the game for you. It’s an RPG in which you recruit adventurers to send into various monster-infested dungeons, and these aren’t your average indestructible type adventures either, as each one of them has a stress bar. The closest game I can think of which tackled character sanity levels is Eternal Darkness, but in that the stress wasn’t lethal. In Darkest Dungeon it can be.
If you’re the type of player who gets very attached to your characters, then you might need a therapist on standby because the characters you recruit can, and frequently do, die and there’s no getting them back. But fear not because caravans of eager recruits turn up daily and it costs you nothing to hire them, actually making human lives the most disposable resource in the game. Obviously Red Hook do not suggest that you follow the same model in running a real life company. Just saying.
In this game party dynamics are key. It’s not a game where you can just click on four characters and throw them in a dungeon, as each class has certain positions in the team in which they function best, and many can’t function at all if you put them in the wrong slot. For example healers can generally only heal near the back of the party and melee can generally only attack from the front two slots. Back in the early days there were only a few classes available, but now that the game is complete, this has doubled.
My main complaint with the game is that the number of healing classes hasn’t increased, and that’s not because I feel they, as such, need more healing classes. Group dynamics generally demand that you have at least one healer per team. This was fine back during early access, as the stage coach generally provided for all my healing needs. However, since starting a new game post launch, I’ve noticed that all the new classes quite often lead to a healer drought, as there are now far more DPS classes in proportion to healer classes making them less likely to pop up in the stage coach for recruitment. In my new game, I had two healers but then one went AWOL for a week (game time) when gambling to de-stress. My other healer had just returned and had a near full stress bar, and so I was forced to send out a party without a healer, not just once but several times until my missing healer reappeared. During that time not a single healer was available in the stage coach to recruit.
I just think that a game that demands such fine tuning in party dynamics, particularly at the higher difficulties, should take that into consideration when spawning the recruitment roster and make the healer classes spawn more often in relation to the DPS classes. Healers are also quite squishy and die fairly easily, even in the back slot, and if your healer dies that would put you in an even worst position to having one go AWOL. But that’s a minor gripe, really. With careful management, it is possible to complete the short dungeons with no healer, but it does require a certain amount of luck as well as judgement, as one bad group of mobs could near wipe your party of HP and force you into a hasty retreat.
The art style is 2d and comic book like, and it pulls it off extremely well. The environments ooze atmosphere from the Hamlet, where you make your base, to the dungeons. The dungeons are randomly generated each time you launch one, and that does prevent them getting too repetitive as enemies and items and even the layout is never the same twice. However, with only five different locations to choose from you may find familiarity starting to creep in, at least for the visuals, after a good few hours of play. With fourteen different classes to explore and the wide range of group dynamics that unlocked, I found the gameplay remained fresh a lot longer and it is worth experimenting with different mixes of classes as some seemingly unusual combinations can have surprisingly good results, particularly if you tailor your teams to the specific dungeons.
I would say that Darkest Dungeon, while a simple enough game to get to grips with, is more difficult to master. After a while, you’ll start to unlock character customisation, which allows you to improve a character’s armour, weapons and skills. This introduces more advanced considerations of not just what classes to take but what skills to equip, as only four can be made available at once. When you start a dungeon, you also need to decide what supplies to purchase to take with you. With a severe lack in inventory space, you need to remember to balance the need for supplies with saving enough space to carry any loot you might find. De-stressing and curing your team between dungeons can get expensive and dismissing high-level characters when they bogged down with diseases, mental disorders and high stress, while possible, isn’t too time effective when you get later into the game and have to level up new characters to take their place.
Overall, this is a really fun game but not for those who want a sweet, easy, feel good game. It can be frustrating and despite the best of planning, things won’t always go your way 100% of the time. Characters will die and quests will have to be abandoned, but fear not as there’s always fresh recruits to drive to the depths of madness, and after the fourth attack in a row has just missed, you might even join them there. Just keep those stress balls on standby.
Great visuals and atmosphere
Wide range of classes leads to varied gameplay
Randomly generated dungeons increase longevity of game
Good level of character customisation
With only five areas available the look of the dungeons may get tired
Healers can be hard to recruit sometimes – leading to forced bad group dynamics