Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Darkest Dungeon

The Darkest Dungeon by Red Hook Studios released for early access on steam yesterday and I cannot encourage you enough to go and buy this game and play it a lot.

Well that is if you like roleplaying games, great art, and challenge.

If not then, well, nothing to see here.

I've played about three or four hours of it so far so this would be classified as an early review of an early access game. I have been following Darkest Dungeon for over a year now waiting almost impatiently. I love turn based games and I love scary dark roleplaying games. The C'thulhuian over tones are something I also really appreciate in a game as well as the variety of strange characters you can play. Rather than rambling on I'll hit three specific things about the game that stands out.

Number 1: It is beautiful!
This is a screen capture from the game I was playing and you can see there is a lot on the screen but it is all done in "crow shaw" style art. I love this style of art and the mood it gives and this game is steeped in excellent examples of the style. You can find dozens of pictures of the game on line but I am posting this one to show that in play it holds up. Those were not doctored pre-release versions. Some people will point out that it is highly monochromatic and I will not disagree. I believe that is intentional and meant to affect your emotions giving you a blah feeling. This is a game of hopelessness (and over coming that hopelessness), struggle (and success), and fatigue (and recover) so the creators are probably trying to instill some of that in the player rather than just tell them about it.

Number 2: It is HARD.
The first thing that stands out is that healing is rare and hard to come by, and you need to heal both the body and the mind of your characters. A few characters have healing skills but these are only use able during battle. There are no healing potions or salves that I've encountered yet and while eating food does heal you it only heal 1 point (2 in some characters) and you need it should you become hungry during your adventures. To be fair this might be a little too hard. While I am a fan of challenge I am not a fan of insurmountable challenge. Dark Souls has taught me to be cautious with my resources Darkest Dungeon is not even letting me have resources to be cautious with. In general the damage is of a much higher put out than the recovery and is making it hard to progress or not feel like I'm going to lose all the time. I'm persevering though because I have hopes that past the initial challenge is a land of milk and honey: milk for my hit points an honey for my stress points.

Number 3: The characters are actually characters.
Even though it would be easy to point out the classic tropes (oh look a fighter!) it is really more valuable to realize that rather than try to avoid the tropes (which really you can't avoid) they have decided to develop the tropes into characters and they have done this well I think. Yes you have a cleric, but it is the Vestal in this game (implying a chaste character). You have your rangers but they are Bounty Hunters. You have your fighters but they are Crusaders. Then you have things like the Leper which is just...well its just cool to turn a leper into a viable character for an RPG. In fact the leper may be the MOST viable of all the characters considering his self sustaining nature. You get a roster of characters, which you need to replenish as they die, and they WILL die. So don't get attached to more than one or two. I am actively trying to build one or two up on the sacrifice of others.

Over all my first impressions of Darkest Dungeon are positive. I think there may be some game balance issues, but maybe not. Maybe Red Hook wants you to struggle hard, so hard that few complete the game. I'm no sure that is a viable marketing strategy but it certainly isn't new. You can find a bevy of hard as hell games that are played simply because it is hard. Dark Souls used to fall into that category but it's fear has been largely contained so that even the casual player can have fun with it.

There is literally another dozen things that I could add to this list; provision system, side scrolling exploration, the monsters alone! But I think it is best to impose a limit to my initial gushing. Final word is that you go play the game yourself though. Twenty dollars isn't much for a good game and this is a good game even if it isn't your cup of tea. 

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