There simply aren’t any bones about it. As a game, Darkest Dungeon is a stressful experience just as much for you as it is for the various party members you’ll take a hold of throughout this generously long rogue-like dungeon crawler. Challenging the player is a concept that the game actively encourages, and since its recent release on Sony’s PS4 and Vita, it’s a unique gameplay element that remains successfully intact.
For all intents and purposes, what you’ll be doing throughout the majority of your time in Darkest Dungeon is managing resources, keeping party members alive and just generally trying to keep a level head. It’s a turn-based RPG at its core, but one that’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Whereas with other games in the genre you would typically journey onwards to unravel what remains of the plot, Darkest Dungeon tasks you to merely stay alive, chancing your way through the game’s various procedurally generated dungeons as you gamble by taking specific route.
The unique risk-reward system presented here comes in the form of a very basic loot system, that while optional on the surface, becomes a near essential more and more as the game goes on. When adventuring into each of the game’s respective dungeons you’ll be given the option to take multiple routes that each may foster their own reward. Many times whilst playing did I question, “Do I skip through each room in an attempt to barrel my way to the main objective or is it worth taking the scenic route in an attempt to get yet another precious torch in which to light the way?”
In terms of a battle system, Darkest Dungeon is more about the management of your party as opposed to the initiating of certain attacks and timing. Whilst journeying, opposing enemies will regularly restructure the linier order of your character party in the midst of a battle, often forcing you weakest character to the front of the line only to be destroyed in a visually flourishing yet brutal manner. It’s easy to see how some players might be initially put off by how harsh progression is in the game, yet anything the enemy can do you can do it too, never making the sense of challenge feel unfair or unrewarding. Think Dark Souls if that game was a 2D turn-based RPG.
Darkest Dungeon places just as much importance on preparation as it does execution. Each time prior to you entering the next dungeon, you’ll visit a hub-town area that if fairly basic is a necessary evil. This is where you’ll spend time purchasing supplies in which to next take in with you, recruit higher powered party members and just generally plan your next move. The more currency and items you accumulate, the more you can upgrade the particular sections of the town, with the game taunting you to venture further into its deep dungeons only to better prepare yourself for the rough times ahead.
From a pure aesthetic point of view the game is absolutely gorgeous. It fully commits to its hand-drawn ink blotted art style that regularly kept me entertained each time I stunned an opposing enemy or saw the defeat of my last healer character. Being developed by a relatively new and small studio in Red Hook Studios, Darkest Dungeon knows its strengths and weaknesses, and the game is more about tweaking stats than it is visual flair.
Overall, Darkest Dungeon is a welcome addition both to the vast library of PS4 indie darlings and the even less expansive range of Vita titles. If you’re tired of living in a period where you the games you play are nothing but hand-holding, Darkest Dungeon is the game you’ve been waiting for, offering players a challenging, deep and rich RPG experience that is more than worth your time!
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