You are the ancestor of the games unnamed narrator, you have been called upon to restore peace in a land that has been corrupted by evil because of the narrators thirst for knowledge. Much of plot is slowly fed to you via small cut scenes and the odd line in the narration, however there isn’t much in terms of a linear story, it’s very much a puzzle that must be pieced together. To go too in-depth with the plot would almost take away some of the fun from the game as you find various journal entries and relics that contain more of the backstory hidden within missions. Whilst the narrator drives the story, he is rarely seen; instead you control a party up to 4 adventures, “foolishly seeking fortune and glory, in this domain of the damned”.
The adventures are of varied classes, each with their own unique playstyle and move set. Some of the classes include: Abomination (think a werewolf, but a lot more horrible), Antiquarian (Weak in combat, amazing at looting), Arbalest (Weak in close quarters, amazing with a bow), Bounty Hunter (Tank, with a hatred of other humans), Crusader (Another tank, but with a hatred of the Unholy), Grave Robber (Quick and deadly with a pair of knives), Hellion (Tank, with a hatred of EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE), Highway Man (Quick shot, with some good area of effect attacks), Houndmaster (Master of the beast, leaves everything bleeding), Jester (Moral booster and deadly with his scythes), Leper (Tank and Taunt), Man At Arms (Group Buffs, Mild Tank abilities), Occultist (Debuffs and is very good at killing Eldritch monsters), Plague Doctor (DISEASED BOMBS! Oh and does some healing…), Vestal (Healer, with the odd debuff and bit of damage). OH BUT WAIT, THERES MORE! The game does also include two DLC Characters, the Flagellant (Tank, who gets massive buffs whilst nearly dead) and the Shield breaker (Fast moving armour breaker).
I for one love an RPG with a diverse set of classes and I think Darkest Dungeon really does well in offering unique classes each with their own feel to them. What makes things even more interesting is some classes refuse to work together, for example the Abomination cannot be in your party at the same time as a religious character i.e The Vestal, due to his unholy nature. For me this is another plus to the game as I love interesting micro-managing, although I can understand for others this may be a tad tedious, yet I feel it adds an extra level of depth to the game.
Now the game only has a single player campaign, the main focus of the campaign is to defeat each area boss as the game is broken into 4 key areas Ruins (full of the undead), Cove (full of Eldritch fish monsters), Warrens (full of poisonous beasts and deprived humans) and the Weald (full of fungus monsters and bandits). Now there are 3 versions of each area boss, each one requiring higher leveled heroes to beat it. Once each boss has been beaten, you should have enough surviving high level characters to enter the darkest dungeon, what’s inside there? Well you’ll have to grind and find out (or ruin all the fun and Google it, whatever I’m a reviewer not a cop). Each area has its own distinctive style and enemies and whilst grinding the same area to level up your party may get a tad stale, the variation of locations means you can keep things fresh.
Now here’s is the most important information for any of you that want to be adventurers, death is very real and very permanent. The game saves nearly constantly so there is no quick save system to abuse when you lose a good character. Now it’s not all bad, when a character loses their entire HP they do not instantly die, instead they’re at “Deaths Door”, in this state any damage has a chance to be negated, or it can be the killing blow. This at least gives you time to react and focus on healing your nearly dead characters.
This isn’t the only thing that adds to the games difficulty, you adventures also have a stress meter. Too much stress can cause your characters to break, meaning they may become unresponsive, self-abusive or attack team mates. If the stress continues past a hero’s breaking point, they have a heart attack and die (FOREVER). Stress can be countered by certain character abilities or by visiting the Tavern (Or Church, if you’re boring) after a quest.
And we’re still not done, alongside Stress, Permadeath and constantly unfavorable RNG; you heroes also have quirks and traits. Some of these may be positive such as Tough Skinned (which increases defense), yet most of them are terrible, such as kleptomania as a hero can take all a rooms loot for themselves, and you just have to accept that and move on. Quirks can be altered and removed, but only in the late game and at a price. I actually found myself just abandoning heroes’ whose traits I didn’t like, but I’m a bit obsessive with Min/Maxing, plus we’re all flawed humans right? If that’s not enough to put you off, then you’re clearly a masochist like me that enjoys the joy of suffering to beat the unbeatable.
Not only does the game play very well, offering a new take on HardPGs with its innovate mechanics, it also looks beautiful. The games art style feels as though you’re playing a graphic novel. It’s dark, gothic styling is perfect for any Lovecraft fan, or any appreciator of Victorian-esque fantasy. Each character oozes their own charm, as each hero has such a different style to the last, meaning your roster will always look interesting. Alongside this the monster design if fantastic, many of the horrors and abominations are mesmerizing to look at, as you see misshapen monstrosities of flesh and bone pulsate and attack you. Without spoiling any of the bosses, note that each one fits its environment as they really look and feel like the top dog of that area.
Now fans of OSTs time to bust out that iPod, because Darkest Dungeon has a fantastic soundtrack. Each song is memorable in its own way, adding a strong sense of atmosphere to each level. Even if you don’t plan on playing the game I highly recommend listening to music from the Mournweald Encounter. It is honestly the most anxiety inducing piece I can think of, and considering the tone and theme of Darkest Dungeon, that’s perfect. The audio really can’t be faulted, even the sound effects fit in and feel natural to the environment, from the sounds of clashing steel to drooling beasts, and it really is on point.
Now it’s time to be real, no game is perfect, and outside of the rage inducing RNG, the game also doesn’t have the best controls. I first played this game on PC when it came out and everything worked perfect for a mouse and keyboard input. However, these controls do not transcribe well into the Xbox version I’ve been playing recently. The menus are clunky and difficult to navigate, and organizing your party can be much more awkward than it should be. Whilst this is a negative, it doesn’t make the game unplayable as controlling you heroes during combat and missions is just fine, the only real issue are the controls whilst in the over world.
Darkest Dungeons is very honest about its difficulty as you are bombarded with warnings, before you begin to play, before you go on an adventure and even sometimes during. I understand the difficulty can make the game inaccessible to some, however I find it’s in the same vain as Dark Souls. The difficulty may be insane, but that makes the victory all the more sweeter.
Overall Darkest Dungeons is a fantastic game that I would highly recommend to any appreciators of turn based combat, punishment, art admires and Lovecraftians. The game has so much to do within it that I found myself constantly saying 1 more mission until the sun came up. Even if you do find yourself blasting through the main content, the game also offers 1 DLC with missions and a DLC Character to keep things interesting, although that’s a story for another review. I really believe this game deserves a 9/10, it has such rich lore, such beautiful environments, amazing characters. Even if you don’t want to suffer at the hands of RNG, still pick it up, you might find you’re stronger willed than you expected.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.