Generally, the horror game genre is too niched for my taste, but this game has made me reevaluate my opinion. New indie game “Darkest Dungeon” is “Dark Souls,” meets “Final Fantasy.”
You play an unnamed character who has just inherited an estate from a distant relative. Your relative’s sanity broke as he scoured the estate’s ancient dungeons for fortune and he died in the search. You must now recruit a host of adventurers to clear the estate of the terrible monsters that now inhabit it. Hopefully your will is stronger than your ancestor and the secrets you uncover do not break it.
“Darkest Dungeon,” doesn’t seem to have the setting or gameplay that would inspire terror. It does though; fear hangs in the air like a noxious cloud. The game is devoid of conventional scares, but every dungeon feels terrifying. The game’s intricate provisions system means your limited inventory space will likely leave you without enough food to keep your characters healthy during their expedition. Did one of your characters starve and die last round? Maybe you’ll get more food this time instead of extra bandages. You set out on your expedition questioning every decision you’ve made thus far. Everyone stayed fed this time, but not bringing enough bandages means that one of your characters bled to death this time around.
The frequency of death is common in “Darkest Dungeon.” Characters die as quick as they arrive. Thank goodness there is a constant flow of adventurers to hire from the stagecoach, but that doesn’t make the death of them any less potent. The death of a character is preventable in many ways so every death is your fault. It’s gory, heartbreaking and stressful.
In fact, stressful is one of the perfect words to explain “Darkest Dungeon,” and not just because one of the game’s main mechanics is based on a stress component. A lesser game would only have you keep track of your characters health, but your character’s sanity is also important in this hellish land. There are many different ways to lower the stress done to your characters, but insanity is just as inevitable as death in “Darkest Dungeon.” In fact, death is almost a gift compared to the game’s multitude of afflictions that a character can receive if they become too stressed.
They may become irrational and will refuse to be healed or will choose their own attack. They may become abusive, shouting insults to your party that heightens their stress level.
The most interesting mechanic is Light, a common motif in “Darkest Dungeon.” Torches are a provision you must acquire before searching a dungeon to keep your light levels high. Using a torch refills your light meter, but then plunges you into awful darkness. As you search a dungeon the torch begins to dim. Depending on your light level, the game’s visuals actually react. It means not having enough torches will likely find you shrouded by darkness. These moments are the most terrifying in the game and truly test your mettle in battle.
These complex mechanics make “Darkest Dungeon” one of the most compelling dungeon-crawlers in recent memory. It’s characters are unique and intriguing, the mechanics are innovative and difficult and it inspires a sense of real dread. Whatever is hiding in that next room may be the thing that decimates your entire party. Even worse, it may drive them to inconsolable madness. In fact, it’s so hard that you might just go insane with them.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars