Darkest Dungeon Will Drive You Mad in Varied and Fascinating Ways

We’ve touched on Darkest Dungeon a little before, but that was more about Red Hook’s (wildly successful) self-promotion strategy than the game itself. The business aspects are certainly fascinating, but I think it’s a crying shame that we haven’t yet looked at the game’s hardcore rogue-like gameplay and dense eldritch atmosphere. I plan to change that right here. With less than two days left in their kickstarter campaign, this is more or less last call to board the hype train.

Now, we at Hardcore Gamer are no strangers to games with lovecraftian themes, or even lovecraft-inspired rogue-likes in particular, but Darkest Dungeon does a lot to stand out. Whereas other eldritch horror games have a sanity meter in play, Darkest Dungeon features a whole slew of mental ailments that can be brought on by stress. Your characters can become paranoid, schizophrenic, or even abusive toward one another, and can develop phobias of certain enemy types. There are immediate and obvious consequences for this in-combat, but these maladies stick around once the battle’s ended, and can have lasting effects on your group’s cohesion. You can counteract these ailments by sending your units out on the town to blow off steam, or finding other methods of therapy, but those only work to a point. Ultimately, the game wants you to work around your character’s flaws and do great things in spite of them. This, it posits, is true heroism.

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You really will have to work at it, though, because Darkest Dungeon features deep, challenging turn-based combat. Positioning and party order are hugely important – some attacks can only be used from the front of the party, but of course that’s also the most vulnerable position. You can change positions mid-combat, but it’ll cost you a turn. When enemies (or your allies) are killed, the rest of their party moves up to fill the gap, which can effectively lock your rear guard out of using their best attacks. You always have a multitude of tactical options at your disposal, and the ailment system makes things exponentially more complicated. Your raging alcoholic warrior might do more damage with his wild, drunken swings, but his erratic behavior might also unsettle the rest of your party, and you never know… he may just snap. Keeping your individual party members happy and sane is as vital as keeping them healthy, and when preparing for an expedition you’ll have to make sure that whatever party you send out can actually work together.

A powerful atmosphere pervades Darkest Dungeon, enhanced by eerie, discordant music and the game’s heavily-shaded “Gothic crow quill” art style, and punctuated with some fantastically deep, brooding voiceover. All we’ve seen so far is trailers, and obviously what works there doesn’t necessarily translate to a solid play experience, but it’s clear that Red Hook have a grasp on the basics of suspense and tension, which bodes well for the prospect of the game not boding well in the slightest. If a tense, unnerving, balls-hard RPG sounds up your alley, then I’d recommend backing the game on kickstarter while there’s still time. Not only will you help the team push toward a few really cool stretch goals (like character customization and kick-ass animated cutscenes), but you’ll be able to snag some gorgeous merchandise ranging from art books to paper dioramas.