Darkest Dungeon's Harrowing Journey Through Steam Early Access

Kotaku has published a retrospective feature on the development of Darkest Dungeon that focuses on the time that the game spent in Early Access. Specifically, the core of the piece concerns the amount of vitriol caused by the decision to add corpses and heart attacks to the game late in development and the community's immediate and long-term reactions. Things weren't always pretty for the developers over at Red Hook Studios:

Eventually, though, honeymoon periods end, and some end nasty. For Darkest Dungeon, the wake-up call came when developer Red Hook Studios added two controversial mechanics in July 2015: corpses and heart attacks. Darkest Dungeon's combat is all about positioning, and corpses added an extra layer of sometimes frustrating complexity to that. Meanwhile, heart attacks could cause characters to permanently die when they reached a certain level of stress, causing some players to complain that the game relied too much on randomness rather than authentic difficulty.


In August 2015, things reached a fever pitch. Darkest Dungeon's forums were overrun with angry messages, some aimed at the game, others questioning the development team's integrity as people. Some were just profanity and yelling. Plenty devolved into verbal war between players for and against the changes.

Ultimately, Bourassa, Sigman, and co decided to make a tough but necessary alteration to Darkest Dungeon. Acknowledging that heart attacks and corpses weren't tuned to the point of being the pulse-pounding, dead-waking features they'd envisioned, they gave players the option to turn them off. It wasn't an ideal situation, but it was a smart way to deal with an Early Access change that brought out the pitchforks and torches in droves.


As time went on and Darkest Dungeon approached its full 2016 release, it became known for having a small yet vocal group of spurned protesters following in its wake, latching onto conversations and voicing their dissatisfaction. Some of them felt like the developers fucked up a near-perfect game by changing key mechanics and making the game too easy or too hard. Others accused Red Hook of (censoring) their forums of what they perceived to be legitimate and civil criticism.

At one point, they began spamming game critic Jim Sterling to get him to go after Red Hook for old changes (the aforementioned corpses), newer stuff that arguably made the game easier, and their decision to clamp down on discussions. These things apparently constituted (Early Access corruption.) Sterling, known by some as Steam's official unofficial boogeyman, flatly refused. He'd taken a long, hard look at Darkest Dungeon after the corpse and heart attack updates, but he ended up liking the game's full release a lot.