Developer: Red Hook Studios
Publisher: Red Hook Studios
Release Date: 18/01/2018
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, Linux
Have you ever heard so many good things about a game that you’ve simply HAD to play it? That’s how I’d been feeling about Darkest Dungeon, the rogue-like dungeon crawler from Red Hook Studios that started life on PC but has now made its way over to the Nintendo Switch. I’d missed out on the title for quite a while, but with the convenience of the portability with the Switch, it seemed like the perfect time to play it.
Of course, whilst it has mostly been compliments that are associated with Darkest Dungeon, I’ve also heard how punishing it can be to play. This isn’t a game for the fainthearted, but rather one for those who enjoy a challenge and are willing to sink the hours in to build up a team that’s strong enough (mentally and physically) to conquer the darkest of dungeons.
I’ve spent a good while with the game now, and yes, I can confirm that it’s particularly brutal at times. It also just so happens to be bloody brilliant too, and a game I highly recommend Switch owners checking out – if they’re brave enough…
Anyone who has played a rogue-like will know what to expect from Darkest Dungeon; you’ve got your randomised heroes to recruit, randomised dungeons to explore, and randomised situations to find yourself in. There’s also a permadeath element in place, meaning that if your characters die in battle they’re gone for good. Don’t worry about that too much though because there are plenty of characters around to join your team.
One of the more unique hooks of Darkest Dungeon comes with its stress system. You’ve actually got to look after the well-being of your team from a mental standpoint, with factors like the constant killing, damage, and lack of light often putting them into a troubled mind-set. This troubled mind-set can actually offer both positive and negative effects throughout the game, especially if your character manages to overcome their trials and tribulations, but it’s still something that you’ve got to pay careful attention to.
Of course, there’s a reason behind all of the deadly adventuring you’ll be taking part in. You’ve inherited your now deceased Uncle’s mansion, which would typically be a dream come true. However, this mansion also has deadly dungeons surrounding it that are full to the brim with monsters, all thanks to your Uncle’s adventuring and messing around with mysterious and dark forces. Everything has to have a downside, right? It’s up to you to vanquish these monsters, not only to make yourself a cosy new home but also to protect those surrounding it.
You don’t personally do this on your own, but instead recruit a group of heroes to do your fighting for you. You can have twelve at a time, but can only ever send out four in a party.
All of the characters of the game are randomly generated so you’ll never quite know who you’re going to stumble across, though there are multiple classes in place that make up their personality and fighting style. You’ve got the likes of the Bounty Hunter who’s effective at taking out enemies with his powerful attacks, the Grave Robber who carefully positions herself to fight from afar, the Houndmaster who brings his dog into battle with him, and the Abomination who is incredibly strong but can’t be in a party with any religious characters. There are a lot of different classes to play around with and you’ll certainly find some work better with each other than others – the experimentation to find out what works best is one of the more intriguing (and enjoyable) aspects of the game during your initial few hours though.
Don’t forget though: if they die, they’re gone forever. It’s all well and good putting together a brave team of heroes, but if one of them falls in combat there are no checkpoints or save points to return to in order to save them – they’re just gone. Whilst this is one of the core features of Darkest Dungeon and, at times, one of the things that makes it feel so intense, it could prove frustrating. Characters need strengthening up before you can tackle the trickier areas of the game, so it’s incredibly disheartening to see your tough ragtag gang meet an untimely demise. Of course, you can keep levelling up the endless supply of characters that are available to recruit, but it can be a little tedious to keep taking them through the grind.
At least battling itself is a lot of fun, with a surprising amount of depth to the turn-based RPG fighting that takes into consideration the stress level of your characters, their positioning, and the skills they can use. It makes for encounters that are not only tense but also demand a lot of thought from the player. Of course, there’s an RNG system in place for the success of your attacks which could prove a bit of a mixed bag, especially with the permadeath aspects of the game. It’s not that the game ever feels unfair per se, but rather that seeing an attack fail because of a randomly generated number and then having a character die could prove annoying – as mentioned though, Darkest Dungeon is not for the fainthearted.
Behind all of the moments of frustration though is a game that completely hooks you in and won’t let you go until the battery has died on your Switch (and believe me, this happens a lot). Darkest Dungeon is certainly a tough game, but it never feels like it’s being ridiculously unfair; the player has a fair chance of success and, with clever thinking and proper tinkering with your team, it becomes easier to make your way through tricky battles unscathed the more you play. You’re constantly on edge, but it makes for an experience that simply feels riveting. No matter how often you die, you’ll be back for more and more – it’s THAT addictive.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a few little flaws though, with the menu proving a little clumsy even with the touch screen controls (which I struggled to get on with). There are a heck of a lot of menus to work through too, and potching through them with a controller is a lot less intuitive than a mouse would be on PC. The text is a bit small in the game’s portable mode too, though it never really became a problem for me – you might just have to squint a little here and there.
Besides the fact that it’s a lot of fun to play, Darkest Dungeon also looks fantastic too, with its comic book-style gothic visuals looking absolutely superb in-game. There’s a surprisingly cinematic feel to the combat too, with it cleverly zooming in on each and every attack to add to the sense of action that’s often missing from a 2D turn-based RPG. The character and environment design is also absolutely on point and no matter where you go in the game, you’re always going to see some visual marvel – even if it is viciously grotesque…
With its deep combat system, its clever stress mechanic, and it’s vicious yet beautiful art style, there’s a whole lot to love about Darkest Dungeon. It’s just a brilliant game, and whilst it does have a few flaws here and there and will demand a lot of patience from the player, once its hooked you in you’ll find it difficult to stop playing. What more could you want from a dark RPG like this? Nintendo Switch owners simply need to grab it.