"You Should Try" is a series of articles where I'll showcase you a game I really enjoy while explaining what exactly makes it fun. This can be any game, new or old, indie or AAA, the only requirement is that it has to be something I've found myself greatly enjoying and in need of sharing with the world.
Today I think you should try Darkest Dungeon, a brutally difficult turn-based RPG that features numerous roguelike elements, a gorgeous art style filled with Lovecraftian horrors, and a story that manages to stick to the back-lines, yet still draw you ever-forward in an effort to plunder its secrets.
The first thing worth mentioning is that when I said "brutally difficult" I was not exaggerating. Darkest Dungeon prays on the weak, by which mean the moment your party starts to crumble and the once noble crusaders lose their wits the inevitability of defeat will begin looming oppressively over their heads. The lucky ones will be the first to die from the ghoulish horrors, while those less fortunate will return back to the Hamlet, not as men, but as gibbering lunatics forever scared by the things they have witnessed.
It is easy to get attached to your characters, especially since they will constantly be skirting death's door and thus producing some rather exciting tales of heroism and perseverance in the face of oblivion, but its probably for the best if you consider them expendable, as that is exactly what they are. No matter how much gold you invest into equipment and training, and no matter how much experience your characters have, there is always that a chance they will not return from their mission, and this is a reality you need to be prepared for.
While I would usually never advocate save-scumming, mostly because it tends to make the whole experience a rather boring one without the player ever realizing why, I would recommend you do so for the end-game in Darkest Dungeon if you simply can't be bothered re-leveling and equipping your entire party, over and over again. I personally managed to resist this temptation until I finally wandered into the Darkest Dungeon and realized that its not actually that fun spending 2 hours equipping a party, only to have them die within 10 minutes due to circumstances I couldn't possibly have known about without sending a well equipped team in there simply to die.
Mortality clarified in a single blow
Now that I've gotten the one big issue out of the way, allow me to tell you why I love playing Darkest Dungeon, and why I continuously keep creating new save files just to experience it anew.
The first reason, and this one should be obvious to anyone that ever saw even a single Youtube clip of it, is the stellar audio-visual design that somehow always manages to get me immersed into a world I know nearly nothing about, and characters that have literally zero personality outside of the ones I give them. The art style is dark and gloomy, even intentionally ugly on occasion, and it perfectly conveys the depressing nature of your near-impossible quest to oust the creatures of nightmare from once-beautiful places that are now nothing more than a spawning ground for corruption.
All that remains of a once holy place
Your 'noble' characters are all clearly mad, or driven by motives that are less than virtuous, which would be the only realistic explanation for why anyone would volunteer to go to the gates of Hell itself armed with a toothpick and a bit of good will. It is because of this that it never feels strange when they panic in a dangerous situation. They aren't the chosen heroes sent here to save the world from a great evil, they are an expendable bunch of fools that have decided to stake their lives and sanity for a small sack of gold, and they are fully aware of this fact!
But perhaps the best part of Darkest Dungeon, in terms of design anyway, is the gravely voiced narrator that always manages to make each event happening on screen that much more impressive and important. Entering a corrupted forest at night would be terrifying enough on its own, but when you hear something along the lines of "There is method in the wild corruption here. It bears a form both wretched and malevolent." you know that the situation is truly dire, and that you are in for one hell of a fight!
There's nothing quite like a good narrator to set the mood
As for the actual gameplay, it comes in two stages. During your stay at the Hamlet you will need to send your wounded to the hospital, the highly stressed ones to the bar in order to hopefully get them to forget the monstrosities they've faced, use the blacksmith and guild halls to improve your fighting skills, and so forth. All of this costs money, and a lot of it, so each character is a steep investment that will need to be protected at all costs, or you might find your already dismal treasure trove rapidly depleting itself.
And if you thought those would be your only expenses I'm afraid you would be terribly wrong as each of your trips into the accursed Manor and its surrounding areas will require a great deal of supplies, rather expensive supplies provided by the only merchant in town. The one thing that you can bring with you into the dungeon without going bankrupt are the trinkets, items with powerful effects and equally harsh downsides. While they sound like a great idea, in truth the trinket system is by far the weakest part of Darkest Dungeon since your choices are limited to only a couple of really good ones, with the rest being garbage you peddle to the local gypsy at the Hamlet. A real shame given how much potential there is within them, but there are just not that many useful ones.
Head in a bloody bag? Better carry that with me into the mouth of Hell itself!
With your team well rested, their supplies firmly packed, and hopes raised high its time to start the actual gameplay portion of Darkest Dungeon, by which I mean wander aimlessly through the dark halls and twisted pathways in hopes of the enemies you bump into being more startled than you are. If you decide to constantly keep your torches well lit you will enjoy a greater scouting chance, your characters will be more relaxed, and the odds of you ambushing the dark cultists will increase significantly, though all of this comes at the cost of swiftly burning through your meager supply of torches.
On the other hand, if you decide that torches are for wimps you can stumble blindly through the abyss which will result in your heroes getting stressed out more often, and the monsters will mostly have an advantage over you when it comes to initiating battles, but the reward is a greatly increased amount of treasure you can find, because... well, its a video game. Another benefit of doing things hardcore is that your pack size is fairly limited, so if you want to bring back home tons and tons of treasure you will need to dump some of your precious supplies, which isn't as much of an issue when you aren't carrying around a ton of bulky torches in your backpack.
Leave treasure behind? Inconceivable!
Along your journey throughout the dungeon you will find various cursed objects, altars to the dark gods, or just malformed scraps of nature still clinging to life. All of these have a chance to bestow upon you a great boon, or even just loot, but also a massively negative effect that could potentially result in your demise. In other to activate these curios without them dishing out a healthy dosage of the plague upon your characters you will need a specific item, each one corresponding to a specific curio. What this means is that if you want to salvage as much loot as possible you will need to further limit your pack size with 'useless' Holy Water, Shovels, and so forth.
It might not sound like much, but its this sort of decision making that makes Darkest Dungeon such a fantastic game for me. Do you risk the safety of your mission by dropping potentially crucial bandages in order to grab even more loot, or do you go for the 'safe' approach and simply try to survive to the very end? Do you risk missing out on a guaranteed payoff by not dropping your supply of Holy Water, or do you press forward in hopes of more even more loot showing up later? Decisions, decisions...
Mysterious liquid found at the bottom of a cave? Better drink it!
All of that, however, plays second fiddle to the main aspect of Darkest Dungeon, the combat. As you might already know its a fairly standard turn-based affair, though I have to commend the developers for the nearly impeccable balance as I've never had a character that felt useless, or completely without a role. Some are stronger against groups, others against certain enemies, and a couple only function in specific configurations, but the important thing is that every single one of them is viable.
This comes down to the fact that each character has a set of 7 spells and abilities, most of which are designed around two different styles of play. There are some that are primarily melee orientated and require your character to stand in the first two positions in order to hit the enemy, while another configuration of spells will enable the hero to stand in the back lines and transition into a more support orientated role with plentiful buffs and protection effects.
That is one hell of a quote
Add to this enemies that are genuinely tough and attack not only your health pool but also your sanity, and you've got yourself a combat system that doesn't become less interesting the further on you go, but quite the opposite. Once you stop doing the short and easy missions you will begin seeing enemies that are far stronger than you, enemies that require special tactics and excellent use of all your available resources in order to beat them without losing most of your health in the process.
I could talk about the combat in Darkest Dungeon for hours, but in an effort to keep this as brief as possible allow me to simply say that no matter how strong you are there will always be some way to challenge yourself, either by fighting the rather nasty bosses, or by embarking on extremely long missions against equally deadly enemies. With plenty of characters to chose from, team compositions to create, and a wide assortment of enemies to fight I can comfortably say that Darkest Dungeon has some of the most engaging turn-based combat in recent time.
Darkest Dungeon is a deeply flawed game when it comes to difficulty, and it might occasionally anger you enough to the point of rage-quitting, but if you can get past that you will find a turn-based RPG with incredible depth, an intriguing combat system, and so much grim charm that its difficult to put down once you get a couple of dungeons under your belt.
If you enjoy challenging roguelike games, or tricky turn-based combat in general, then I do believe you should try Darkest Dungeon. Its an excellent game, despite its shortcomings, and with relatively frequent updates it has managed to stay consistently fresh and exciting for me, and hopefully it will do the same for you.
Looking for more interesting games to play? How about Divinity: Original Sin, another combat orientated turn-based RPG that offers you a myriad of ways to blast your enemies in to teeny-weeny bits and pieces. It also features one of the best co-op modes I've ever seen!