Sponsored By: H3TJA, which I’ve decided is pronounced “Josh.”
Time in the dark: 112 minutes
Is it just me, or does the narrator sound like Dr. Zoidberg if he got a job doing dramatic movie trailer narration?
Tactical RPGs are not something I’ve spent a lot of time with. Oh, I’ve heard good things about Final Fantasy Tactics, but in general I’m not playing a Final Fantasy game for the combat; that would be like eating a Quarter Pounder because you like the pickles.
But when Darkest Dungeon landed on my doorstep, I was intrigued. What is this game, with its morose art style and its narrator who sounds like he’s just had his wisdom teeth pulled? Why is it so beloved?
I think it boils down to people liking certain kinds of surprises, which Darkest Dungeon delivers in spades. If you’re in the mood to play something unexpected, then this is a game for you. Everything in it is a surprise.
By this point, procedurally generated levels and enemy encounters are old-hat, so I won’t belabor that aspect of the game. The truly innovative dice-rolls show up in the characters. There are different classes, each with different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. They also have personality traits which factor into what they can do when they’re not in combat. All of those classes, abilities and traits are randomly generated on a per-character basis, which means every time you try to recruit new party members is something of a crap shoot.
Those traits are important, because Darkest Dungeon makes personalities part of the gameplay mechanics. As your adventurers explore, they get stressed out, and if you don’t do something to manage that stress they’ll develop problems. In my run, one of my characters became paranoid, and he refused to accept the ministrations of the group’s healer. At that point I had to make the decision about whether to call off the quest and head back to town, or press on and risk losing my ranger.
Once you get back to town, you have some options for relieving your party’s stress, but that again will depend on their traits. A person with the “known cheat” trait, for example, won’t be able to gamble in the tavern. A devoutly religious person will refuse to enter the tavern at all, and will have to find an open slot at the abbey to pray. And if any of your party members have had mental breakdowns that result in permanent debuffs (like the aforementioned paranoia), then they’ll have to go to the sanitarium for an extended period of rehab.
It all sounds like a lot to manage, and it is, but the game still manages to feel streamlined regardless of the myriad systems that are interacting with each other all the time. Part of that is because you can amass a fairly large stable of adventurers relatively quickly, so you won’t necessarily feel the loss of your card shark while he or she is enjoying a week of drinking at the tavern – at least not in the beginning, when most of the rest of your team is still fresh off the wagon.
I can definitely see the potential for difficulty later on when I have to juggle a bunch of people and all of the slots at the various recreational facilities are full. At that point I’ll have to send out my least worn-out adventurers, and hope they don’t develop any debilitating phobias in the field. Darkest Dungeon is a game about weighing a pair of curculionidae and selecting the lighter one.
The game’s art style does some real yeoman’s work of conveying the hopelessness of the situation that the mechanics create. Everything looks like one of those comic books where the author decided to save money on printing by using enough black ink that the colors don’t really matter that much. Everything is shaded and crosshatched to within an inch of its life.
In other words, it’s a Klei game.
The visuals are beautiful in their own way, though, and the audio matches up with it too. For the most part, anyway. On the downside, I don’t much care for the narrator. He sounds like the actor who voiced Droopy got a bad head cold. With every sentence, you can virtually hear a pair of jowls flapping like a wind sock in a gale-force wind. I can only picture a recording session where they did forty seven takes, after each one the director bellows “more morose!” And then the sound engineer hands the actor a pair of cotton balls and tells the actor to say the lines with one in each cheek, which finally satisfies the director and everyone can finally go home.
Or, more likely, to the tavern to unwind after a very stressful recording session.
Will I Delve Deeper into the Darker Dungeons?
As I said, tactical RPGs aren’t necessarily my thing, but I can see keeping this one around to fiddle with once in awhile. It won’t make my favorites list or anything, but for the time being I’ll leave it installed.
Dark Souls, Dark Dungeons, what’s the difference?
Darkest Dungeon boasts about how hard it is but, frankly, I didn’t see much evidence of it in the first two hours. I have no doubt that there is a difficulty spike on the horizon, but as of right now I’m not feeling it.
It may turn into Dark Souls later on, but the difficulty ramp is too shallow for it to make the grade as a true Dark Souls equivalent. I’ll give it five out of ten, mainly for potential.