Sunday, January 28

Review: Darkest Dungeon [Nintendo Switch eShop]

It seems that no matter what genre you’re a fan of the roguelike distinction is capable of coming in with new ideas to not only typically make the games tougher but also a hell of a lot more interesting. While there have been many shooters and platforming adventures to take on my favorite game-modifying enhancement I can’t say that I’ve played any turn-based RPGs that have embraced the dark side to date. To say that Darkest Dungeon is quick to make up for the lost time would be an understatement, in fact I’m not sure that the name is sufficiently grim considering the turmoils that await within.

Striking out each time from the hamlet that serves as the game’s hub one half of the key to success in the game is making judicious use of the resources you gather to slowly improve your key buildings, try to mend your heroes’ fragile psyches, or to at least give them a little entertainment with some drink or paid companions. As we’ll soon discuss questing in the game is a rough business and you’re not going to be able to simply dive into dungeons, grab loot, buy new gear, and make a return trip for more. Consider that familiar comfort zone shattered, here you’ll need to keep an eye out at the stagecoach looking for the fresh mea… I mean recruits to your cause, because in this world death is quite literally around every corner and for some of the sorry bastards you’ll try not to get attached to in your parties it would actually be preferred.

It turns out here that, in a much more realistic touch, the mind is a fragile thing and on top of the normal roguelike concerns with the RNG Gods turning their backs on you by allowing a random critical attack to decimate your favorite hero Darkest Dungeon takes things a step further. You see, while your heroes’ bodies may manage not to be broken if they endure enough stress (and they will) it is their minds that you’ll need to be concerned with. First, if you fail to properly gear your party up with the appropriate supplies you can expect there to be a toll. Hunger, roaming in the darkness, or being exposed to a number of different scenarios without the proper equipment will immediately put your party of four on edge. Now, throw in a bad turn of events, whether your fault or through the cruelty of fate and things can quickly go to hell in a hurry. Once one of your party reaches a high enough stress level they will take on an affliction. As a general rule these tend to be negative but perhaps worst of all is how this incident can then throw your entire team into chaos if you’re not careful (or just lucky). In true roguelike fashion there are times when this event will be a net positive and you’ll have someone rise to the challenge, just don’t expect that to be often. Random encounters with traps and objects tantalize with the classic risk/reward proposition, sometimes harming people, sometimes providing direct rewards, and sometimes adding permanent traits to the character to further flesh them out, hopefully they’ll be positive ones.

Outside of the game’s notorious difficulty there are some concerns worth noting. First, there’s simply a lot going on and more things to know than the in-game help is very good at helping you process. With that in mind I would recommend at least reading a starter guide for the game that won’t give everything away but will at least arm you with some solid fundamentals so the early game isn’t quite as perplexing. Second, the controls are a mixed bag overall. Coming from the PC space with a mouse using the touchscreen in handheld mode would obviously be the most ideal way to control the game, and it works very well using a hybrid of physical controls and touchscreen. If you don’t have great eyesight or are playing in a spot that isn’t quite dark enough the type can get pretty small and hard to read though. Move to docked mode and using only the controller is simply clunky though, as moving through all of the screens and elements can be done but can be cumbersome and confusing in places. You’ll likely want to settle on handheld mode and that helps reinforce that getting help outside the game may be best rather than trying to read everything on-screen if you’re having problems.

In the end it’s the difficulty and unpredictability at the core of the game that will either make it incredibly appealing to you or rightfully scare you away. There’s no glory without challenge and sacrifice and when you manage even small victories in Darkest Dungeon they can feel terrific. Sadly, even when you carefully manage your resources and try to keep your accumulated rotation of characters in good shape you’ll need to accept that any happy thoughts and feelings are often fleeting. One particularly bad mission can cripple even your AAA team if enough manages to go wrong and while you can pay to remedy afflictions the cost will make you think it over very carefully. It’s both thrilling and depressing and captures the essence of what makes roguelikes so interesting all at once. If you’re a fan of this style of play it is an easy recommendation but if you’ve not dipped your toe in the pool yet this may be a bit deeper an end to jump into than most so you’ve been warned.

Score: 8

  • A harrowing challenge and no character is safe!
  • Absolutely unique in its style and tone
  • Works best overall in handheld mode with a combination of touch and physical controls

  • A harrowing challenge and no character is safe…
  • There’s a lot to digest here with information, menus, and game systems and the in-game help isn’t always so clear… an online guide is recommended
  • Playing docked means no touch controls and some clunky menu navigation, handheld mode means text that gets pretty small and hard to read

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