Darkest Dungeon Previews

Since Darkest Dungeon entered Early Access, a number of publications have taken the chance to give their own impressions on the Kickstarter-funded dungeon crawler on the stresses of dungeon crawling.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

As a result of not being the perfect shining ciphers of most other dungeoneering games, my heroes are a pain in the bloody arse. They'll even occasionally disappear, lost for a time in some den of iniquity because they just can't face any more horror. Well you would, wouldn't you? Much as I sympathise with their breakdowns and coping mechanisms, sometimes I'm glad when a particularly messed-up character kicks the bucket mid-quest.

Where Rogue Legacy played with similar ideas, this isn't anything like so gimmicky. One of the core challenges of Darkest Dungeon is working out how to take care of this collection of maniacs, freaks and phobics, and how to make them most useful. Negative traits can be got rid of in the Sanatorium, but this is both costly and means you can neither take the hero questing or de-stress them until they've been violently cured of their impairment.

Near the start of the game, you have this long list of healthy fresh meat to pick from for each mission (you can take a maximum of four out at a time), but not much latter whoever's not in the graveyard is stressed out, messed up and angrily objecting to the idea of going back out there. In other words, the twist on the XCOM recruitment formula is that old soldiers are essentially as problematic as rookies. Even if someone's not totally messed up, they can be conceptually preposterous for instance, one character was both a leper and a nymphomaniac. 'ňúSafe sex' probably doesn't begin to cover it.

GameSpot has some insight from the develoeprs:

How much can an artist say with a single image? I wonder this as I look at the title screen for Darkest Dungeon. On the surface, it's just a creepy mansion on a hill. But there's something particularly foreboding about this abode. The sky is the color of blood and the mansion itself sits so close to cliff's edge, it look as though it might tumble over it. Of course, I hear the howl of the wind and the call of crows; what eerie house would be complete without the sounds of impending doom? It's just the main title screen, but I already know so much before I've even played. Expectations have been set.


It's no accident that Darkest Dungeon's title screen strikes such a deep chord. I asked Darkest Dungeon creative director Chris Bourassa about that image, and he agreed that this first impression sets the tone for everything that follows. "We wanted to evoke a melancholic, mysterious, and lonely feeling with Darkest Dungeon," says Bourassa. "The opening image is a stark, hard-edged, and high contrast, meant to foreshadow the game's difficulty and overall uncompromising (read: always saving!) nature. The game is also set in an ambiguous time period, outside of history, which is why there are no landmarks or anything identifiable within view. We identify strongly with Gothic horror, and the 'ruined mansion' is a powerful symbol when it comes to quickly calling that up in a viewer."

The characters and visual layering were carefully considered as well. Bourassa wanted the game to look like the pages of an old manuscript illuminated by candlelight, worn and dirty. And indeed, all manner of visual elements look ravaged and ruined. Characters' skirts and loincloths are tattered; vegetation has been blown off of thatched roofs (that wind does sound strong); and dying trees seen in silhouette prick the sky with their branches. You feel the weight of centuries of torture every time you look at the screen.

PC Gamer:

The effects of stress and insanity are also a little too prolific. After five trips into the dungeons, my most decorated adventurer is a nervous, alcoholic Satanophobe with claustrophobia, kleptomania, a guilty conscience, and devout faith. Oh, and he's got stomach cramps and a torn rotator cuff. I understand that dungeon diving is rough business, but come on. Anyone who makes a career of it should do so without sounding like they fell down the Quirks chapter of the D&D book and hit every paragraph on the way down. Sending this character to the sanitarium to sort himself out would take seven in-game weeks and more gold than I've ever earned another great feature that's not quite in balance with the game around it.

Overused though they may be, the insanities are also brilliant. After one too many brushes with death, a rookie bounty hunter's mind snapped and he became abusive, haranguing the other party members and nitpicking their performance in combat. The more of a dick he was, the more it stressed out the other party members. When my plague doctor became irrational, he spouted apocalyptic nonsense and disobeyed orders, refusing to attack when told and switching order with the other party members, becoming a massive liability.


When fighting is the bulk of what you do, it needs to be as slick and carefully paced as possible. Visually, it is, with the 2D papercraft characters delivering brutal and dynamic blows with just a couple of frames of animation. As with much of Darkest Dungeon, the attention to detail is sublime - a particularly cool detail being the slight tilt of the camera to denote combat turns. The timing issues are a rare case where its push for a lugubrious mood goes too far.

The combat plays in largely typical JRPG style, but is a good deal more complex than it looks. Classes have favoured positions and enemies that aren't simply 'tanks in the front, damage at the back'. Skills depend on current position in line, shifting abilities, targets and skills in a way that isn't immediately clear but is always critical for success. On top, you're expected to hit the ground running when it comes to things like buffs and debuffs, combos like the Bounty Hunter marking an enemy for death before delivering his main attack (but the mark still working for anyone else with an ability that can use it), and heroes who are painfully, painfully under-equipped and ill-prepared for fighting anything more than a pacifistic moth. A small one. Most are only passably heroic at best, with a couple like Crusader on the hero side, but others including Highwayman, Grave Robber, and the aforementioned Leper, whose skills all stem from his life of misery. No wonder he just wants to get legless in the tavern.

Finally, RPGamer has a fairly lengthy video that shows a slice of commented gameplay: