Darkest Dungeon Review

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Red Hook Studios
Release Date:2016-01-19
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Of course, not all battles go well, and since the game auto-saves after everything, you can't simply load and try again.  When your heroes lose all of their health, they move to "death's door," and any subsequent damage (including bleed or poison effects) can kill them, which permanently removes them from the game.  If a hero dies but you win the battle, then you get their trinkets back, but if you have to flee (which causes a lot of stress), then you lose the items.  And if your entire party wipes, then you lose everything.  Luckily, if your heroes die, then it's annoying but it doesn't end the game (which is why I wouldn't characterize Darkest Dungeon as a roguelike).  You just have to recruit and build up other heroes to replace them, which costs time and money but nothing else.

Along with regular quests, there are also special boss quests where you're required to defeat a very powerful creature.  Each of the game's four regions has two bosses that come in three difficulties (for 24 boss fights total), and there are also four random-ish bosses who can appear during regular quests, or who can show up during special hamlet events, like a giant bird who steals some of your trinkets, and you have to defeat it to get your stuff back.  Boss fights tend to be difficult, and they often require hero parties that are tuned for the task.  For example, to defeat the bird boss, you have to kill it within four rounds of combat, which means you have to focus way more on offense than defense.

Because heroes take a lot of stress during quests -- just exploring causes stress, and enemies can deal stress damage as well -- they frequently have to rest for a week after completing a quest.  And if they pick up a negative quirk or a disease you don't like, then they might have to sit out for multiple weeks while those are removed as well.  That means Darkest Dungeon isn't one of those games where you just pick your four favorite heroes and have them do everything.  You have to build up a large number of heroes and then rotate them into and out of your active party as their health and your quest objectives dictate.

To win a game of Darkest Dungeon, you have to beat four special high-level quests (which are about the only fixed parts of the game).  These quests require you to sacrifice a hero if you want to flee from them, and the final quest can't be aborted at all, meaning it's easy to lose some of your heroes when you try them out.  Annoyingly, heroes who beat one of the final quests aren't allowed to go on any of the others, and this means you need to build up at least 16 maxed-out heroes -- and realistically several more -- to finish the game.  This "no repeat" rule turns Darkest Dungeon from being sort of grindy into being excessively grindy, which is unfortunate since otherwise it works so well.

When I played Darkest Dungeon, I chose the "radiant" difficulty setting, which is supposed to be the quickest version of the game.  This ended up being a lucky mistake for me.  I thought Darkest Dungeon was going to be like other roguelikes, where you fail multiple times before eventually succeeding, and so my initial plan was to start with the easiest setting and then make things more difficult as I went along.  But even playing on the "radiant" setting, the campaign took me over 130 game weeks and 70 real life hours to complete, and I can't imagine what it might be like playing on the "darkest" (default) or "stygian" (extra hard) settings.

As it is, I really liked Darkest Dungeon when I first started playing it, but then all of the grinding required to build up my heroes started wearing me down, and by the end almost all of my goodwill had eroded away.  The main culprit was the "no repeat" rule, which added somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-20 hours to my playing time, where nothing I did or saw during that time was new or interesting or fun.  It just added unnecessary padding.

Still, Darkest Dungeon has a lot of redeeming features going for it, especially if long, grindy games don't bother you much.  The variety to the heroes and enemies is great, the battles stay interesting and challenging from start to finish, and while the art style isn't fancy (or even 3D), it is effective in channeling the mood of the game and portraying events in a graphic novel sort of way.  Plus, I didn't encounter a single bug during my playthorugh, and the game is relatively cheap at its $25 asking price.  So while I didn't always enjoy my time with Darkest Dungeon, it has enough quality to it that I don't mind recommending it anyway.  It's a game that's worthwhile to play at least once just to try it out.