It’s no secret that we here at MMORPG.com have been excited for the release of Darkest Dungeon for some time now. After all, we enthusiastically gave the game our Best Indie RPG award for PAX Prime 2014. Since then, many of us here have been chomping at the bit waiting for Darkest Dungeon to enter Early Access so we could finally spend more than 20 minutes with the game. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait until the game’s official Early Access debut next Tuesday as the folks at Red Hook were kind enough to allow us to check the game out ahead of time.
We imagine there are quite a few of you out there who are probably hearing about this game for the first time today, so let’s talk about what Darkest Dungeon actually is. At its most basic level, Darkest Dungeon is a Gothic themed side-scrolling turn-based RPG that emphasizes the psychological stresses of dungeon crawling. Ever wonder what’s going on in the head of your Demon Hunter as she explores the nightmarish depths of Hell in Diablo 3? Surely, our heroes are tough – but at some point all of this horror must take a toll, right? Darkest Dungeon puts that question front and center.
All your adventures in Darkest Dungeon are launched from your estate. It’s here that you will recruit, train, and equip new heroes. New buildings will unlock as you adventure and each building can be upgraded with various types of currency that you can find in your travels.
Continuing with the overall theme of the game, your estate is also where you ensure that your heroes get enough R&R through all manner of activities in order to maintain or restore their sanity. These activities include anything from gambling, to prayer, to spending coin at the local brothel. Each hero prefers (or is restricted from) different activities and some of these preferences or restrictions are guided by their quirks. Heroes come with both positive and negative quirks and they can acquire more of these through your adventures. A god-fearing hero may only be able to unwind via prayer while another may be known as a cheat, making him forbidden from gambling.
There are also quirks that affect the way your various heroes react to situations or enemies in the field. One hero may be afraid of unholy enemies and take a combat penalty when facing them while the other may take a reduction to his speed attribute when it gets too dark. There are all sorts of quirks and many of them can be pretty humorous. For example, my Vestal read some unsettling books she found in a bookshelf and inherited ‘The Runs’ quirk, which gave her a debilitating set of debuffs to her various attributes. Nasty.
Darkest Dungeon’s campaign consists of five maps each with their own line of quests that are unlocked by completing a variety of repeatable dungeon run types. When selecting a map, you’ll be able to choose from dungeon goals such as combat, exploration, scouting, and so on. Scouting will require you to explore all but one of the dungeon’s rooms while a combat dungeon will require you to triumph over every combat scenario in the dungeon. Each dungeon run is randomized, in terms of both layout and events, which helps with the game’s replayability. As you complete each run, you’ll earn progress towards the particular map, unlocking new quests along the campaign chain. This will eventually culminate in a fight with that map’s final boss. Once you’ve completed all of the normally available maps, the eponymous ‘Darkest Dungeon’ will unlock, and succeeding here is your primary goal in the game. If you do manage to come out on top, the party members that survive will inherit the ‘Never Again’ trait and will be unable to return to the Darkest Dungeon, though they should be powerful enough to help you train up weaker recruits on the other maps so that they too can make a run at the Darkest Dungeon. Succeed enough times in the Darkest Dungeon to seal the thing forever and you’ll be able to start all over again with a New Game+.
Beginning your adventure requires that you assemble a party of four from your available roster and purchasing provisions for use in your selected run. Provisions are things like food, torches, shovels, and many other types of equipment and concoctions. Food and torches are the most essential, however. Another important thing to note about provisions is that you lose all provisions once you return from your adventure, so you’ll only want to buy as much stuff as you think you’ll need for a particular run.
Periodically, your team will need to stop and eat, so having enough food on you at any given time is important to ensure that your party doesn’t starve. If the dungeon is long enough, you’ll need to bring even more food so that you can camp. Camping allows your team to take a breather, eat, socialize, and use a number of camping skills that can better prepare your team for their adventures once they head back out.
As for torches, available light plays a huge role in your adventures. Torches will go out over time and you’ll need to have a fresh torch available in order to keep your light meter at a safe level. You can elect to let your light run low or even out completely if you’re brave (or crazy) enough. As light levels go lower, the danger of the dungeon increases, but so do its rewards.
Actual dungeon running is a side scrolling affair where you move from room to room along a map. Once you get to the end of a room you can pick which adjacent room you’d like to go to next, until you eventually clear the thing out. Seeded throughout each dungeon are all manner of traps, combat events, as well as interactable objects such as chests, bookshelves, tombs, and more. Many of these objects can be rigged with traps themselves and this is where some of the more specific provisions can come into play. Buying or finding a skeleton key will allow you get into a locked chest or container without setting off its trap. A shovel will let you get past physical barriers (or dig up graves).