Review: Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios)
Games are played for many reasons: to have fun, challenge us or just to get lost within a world. Rarely we play games that drive us to rage and lead us to punch an occasional hole in our desks or monitors. However, occasionally there comes a game that drives you to anger, yet has you frequently coming back. Darkest Dungeon is a dark, twisted, gothic-dungeon crawling adventure that will push you to the brink of sanity. To say it is challenging is an understatement, this is a game that isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Darkest dungeon, developed by Red Hook, borrows the basic mechanics of a turn-based strategy game but its innovation within this simple gameplay is impeccable, it creates a unique gaming experience unlike any other within the genre. The game becomes a stress-induced claustrophobic nightmare as you traverse one of the four main areas, each getting progressively more difficult as you return countless times in search of more glittering gold, trinkets, and baubles. Battle is tense, erratic, and strategic with a heavy focus on party composition and positioning. With eighteen different classes, you can enjoy your more traditional archetypes, like rouges and crusaders, to more unique entries like the abomination and flagellant. Heroes get progressively stronger as the game goes on, but do not get attached to them, death is a big part of this game and you can expect to lose some of your most treasured adventurers along the way. When you are not slaying your way through hoards of the undead or gruesome fish demons, you will be at the hamlet upgrading whatever you can afford with your limited resources. It is a nice touch and serves as the games hub world which offers a sense of greater progression outside of the dungeons. You are constantly working towards something inside and outside of the main gameplay, and it is rewarding to see this dishevelled town slowly rebuild itself thanks to your efforts. The gameplay loop is fun and frustrating it urges you forward for that little bit of extra loot and keeps you coming back after a tense defeat, even when you inevitably smash your keyboard to smithereens.
The art style is drenched in dark gothic and Lovecraftian influences with a harsh, gritty take on a twisted landscape. Steeped in a shadowy and desolate palette devoid of colour with flashes of red and greens depending on the area. This perfectly encapsulates the themes of hopelessness, death, and decay, it is visually striking and a pleasure to look at, well as pleasing as a decaying skeleton can be. You can appreciate the amount of care and detail that has gone into crafting a world that has been brutally torn apart by the presence of otherworldly horrors. It is hard to make something so unpleasing and distraught look this good and I applaud Red Hook for that.
The music is sparse, and for a main portion of the game you will be listening to nothing but echoey footsteps and the occasional drip of water. It picks up during encounters however and moulds itself to the flow of battle, your party about to die? The music picks up into this deep orchestral symphony which ramps up the intensity as you hope to survive. Accompanying this is the familiar voice of the ancestor, voiced by Wayne June. The narration is wonderful, Wayne’s voice gives you this deep feeling of dread as he portrays this derelict husky gentleman that seems lost to time, much like the music it's used sparingly to enhance the current situation. The audio design is great and never overstays its welcome, you will never get bored of hearing the same music or voice lines over and over.
If you are looking for something to challenge and occasionally bring you to tears, Darkest Dungeon is worth every penny of its £18.99 price point. It spans countless hours of gameplay and has few DLC’s that spice up gameplay significantly for a few extra pounds.