Developer: Red Hook Games
Publisher: Red Hook Games & Merge Games (Physical Release)
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Role-Playing, Strategy, Adventure
Release Date: 18th of January, 2018 (EU & NA)
Slowly trudging through darkened corridors, you hear voices of terror echoing inside the depths of your mind. Eldrich horrors of every kind stand in the way of your progress, poisoning you with their corrosive vomit and shrieking cries of insanity. A swipe of the blade from a bloodthirsty bandit puts one of your fellow heroes at Death’s Door. Despite your best efforts, death will soon come to you, caressing your party in her icy embrace one hero at a time. Welcome to the Darkest Dungeon.
The 2015 poster child for Early Access done right, Darkest Dungeon finally makes its debut on Nintendo Switch. In this Gothic flavored roguelike RPG, you’re tasked with returning to your ancestral family estate and purging it of a foul, unspeakable evil unknowingly unleashed by one of your relatives. To do so you’ll need the help of whatever adventurers you can find. Darkest Dungeon gives you a total of 15 different classes of heroes to choose from, each with their own unique skills and playstyles. At the game’s central hub, heroes will arrive by stagecoach where you can freely choose however many you want and add them to your roster of heroes. On each quest you’ll be allowed to bring a total of 4 heroes with you at any given time -some are better for support, others absorbing damage and dishing it out. A balanced team that can handle any situation is best, so understanding smart party composition is a must. After buying supplies such as food, torches to keep away the darkness, and curatives of all different kinds, it’s time to enter one of the games many different dungeons.
Inside dungeons you’ll be tasked with a different objective to complete. These can range anywhere from going through 90% of that particular dungeon’s map (whose layout is random each time) to fighting every group of enemies on the map or defeating a boss somewhere in the dungeon. Battles are turn-based, with each member of you and the enemy’s team lined up in a row standing across from one another. You’ll need to use your heroes’ many different skills if you hope to have any chance of trouncing your opponents. Enemies usually come in groups of three to five and are every bit as smart as you are. They’ll target your weakest party members, have pesky magic users and ranged attackers in the back where they’re harder to strike, inflict status ailments and more. Much like in other tough-as-nails RPGs series such as Shin Megami Tensei or Etrian Odyssey, brute strength alone will rarely win the day. There’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes from surviving a difficult battle by the skin of your teeth through intelligent use of your heroes’ skills.
Two of the most interesting features in Darkest Dungeon are the Stress and Quirk systems. Every hero in the game has a Stress Meter from 0 to 200. While traversing dungeons, heroes will slowly their grip on reality, gaining Stress Points all the while. Battles are the greatest source of Stress and where you’ll have to pay attention to it the most. When enemies deal a critical hit against you or use moves with insanity effects, your heroes will grow demoralized and gain Stress. Similarly, landing your own critical hits will boost party morale and stave away the voices in your heroes’ heads. When a hero reaches 100 Stress Points they will be pushed to their limits and gain a powerful negative or positive Quirk (modifiers that alter their stats and behaviors) until they exit the dungeon, and proper management of Stress and Quirks is central to success in the game.
Visually, Darkest Dungeon is a feast for the eyes. The game’s grim Gothic 2D art really brings the game to life and adds personality to your heroes as well as the festering abominations lurking in the game’s many dungeons. The sound design is equally as amazing. The music is suitably moody, filled with plenty of depressing tunes filled with violin and clarinets that perfectly fit the tone of the game. The game is narrated throughout by the relative of yours that brought ruin to your family estate. His solemn observations are given throughout the course of the game when you perform certain actions. When defeating a group of enemies, he says something that gives you’re a faint glimmer of hope. When you’re in dire straits he ruminates on the inevitability of your demise. It’s a nice touch that helps keep the game’s story, which is largely non-linear, in the back of your mind at all times.
Darkest Dungeon’s move from PC to Switch has been largely made without incident save a few niggling issues. The game’s text (particularly in menus) is pretty small and would be difficult to read from further than a few feet away in docked mode. In handheld, it’s still quite small but holding the Switch closer to your face is easier than having to move your couch closer to your TV. Additionally, there’s been issues reported with integrating the DLC into the base game. This review only covers the contents of the base game, so I didn’t have the opportunity to try the DLC to confirm this personally. Red Hook has stated it is aware of these issues and has a fix in the works that will arrive soon, so don’t let these small issues keep you away from what is overall a beautifully crafted experience.
Darkest Dungeon is a depressing delight that forces you to make the best of every bad situation it throws at you. Combat is deep and satisfying, character management is excellently streamlined through an excellent UI, and the game looks and sounds superb. Still one of the best and most addicting games available in its genre, Darkest Dungeon was made to be played on a portable system.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*Review Key Provided by Red Hook Games