Some games have a way of hooking you, and setting the hook deep. Darkest Dungeon not only accomplishes that, it has a class with a hook for a primary weapon. Yes, it is brutal. It is dark, creepy, and sometimes tense. Unlike a lot of games of its ilk, sometimes adventurers just... don't make it out. I already shared a few initial impressions over on Kotaku, but now that I've had a chance to play it for a good chunk of time I thought I'd share some additional thoughts. Yes, I've died numerous times - and you can bet that unless you are incredibly lucky and conservative you probably will too.
Let's be real
Link, Cloud, the Diablo hunters - these guys have seen some shit. Dungeons have been a dark, scary place for a long time, that's part of the point - but somehow the characters we play have this ludicrous ability to shrug off utterly horrifying events. We suspend disbelief because it is convenient and fun, but when you stop and reflect on some of the things these characters have experienced, its hard to explain what why they wouldn't be stark raving mad.
Darkest Dungeon plays the "what if" game and explores what real adventuring would look like in a world with Zombies, Mutants, and Death Cultists. Spoiler Alert: It's dark. Traps spring, loot is sparse, and torches rapidly run low. As things start to look bleak, the resolve of your band of four adventurers is tested - and often they fail. When the pressure starts to get too much, psychotic breaks are frequent - leading to compulsive selfishness, irrational attacks, or acts of cowardice (which probably aren't that crazy given the circumstances). It doesn't take long before any of your adventurers is pretty cracked in the head, and as you develop veterans they will live up to the description of "grizzled" probably better than many of the characters you've seen described that way.
At first, you might wonder what fun there is to have in a world of many harsh realities, chief among them being permadeath. It doesn't take long though to realize that while some adventurers are going to bite it fast, some live to tell the tale. As weeks pass you'll gradually distill some formidable warriors from the soft bunch of noobs that first come knocking at the wagon.
Planning a Quest
After a few plunges into the darkness, I started to become better at estimating what my adventurers would need. Chris from Red Hook advised us at SxSW Gaming that supplies were intended to be a scarcity by design. I found that the order of priorities are 1) Torches 2) Food 3) Everything else. My dungeon crawlers are hard dudes and dudettes, and so they rarely get any of the special stuff, but I've found that darkness and total starvation cause them to accrue insanity at an unprofitable rate. Let's say there were some failed experiments.
No pain, no gain
In the darkness I learned that suffering and starvation are often a necessary evil for my team. Those town upgrades aren't going to buy themselves. A fair number of the early team members, perhaps we could say "interns", had a pretty rough go of it. The amazing phenomenon of this was that I immediately became attached to the Leper that seemed to be an unstoppable tank, and the Grave Robber that cheated death 4 times in a row. I built them up with some early upgrades, but in the end the Necromancer was too tough for them to handle. If you want to succeed, losses like these are part of the game. Don't overspend to try and keep your crawlers coddled. In the end it won't be enough to keep them in good condition anyway, and besides - it would cheapen their legacy.
Pro Tip I do highly recommend keeping a Vestal with the party at all times. Shoot for upgrading her healing abilities as one of your primary goals in the early game. The party heal can be particularly effective, since party members need only be at one hitpoint to avoid "death's door" saving throws.
Darkest Dungeon makes the accomplishments of your intrepid heroes feel meaningful. As I mention above, the Necromancer not only wiped a party of some of my favorite heroes at the time, he also intimidated me. I saw what a boss in this game could do - bad things, man. With that as a goal, I start a whole new season of training for my dungeon explorers. Weeks passed, but over time I put together a hardened group that was prepared for that jerk's undead scourge. Suffice it to say, I still feel pretty damn good about putting the nail in that dudes coffin - and it isn't because of some cut scene where he's killing villagers or desecrating some holy place - it's because of what he did to me and some of my favorite heroes at the time. Such crimes will not be forgotten.
Pro Tip Succession planning is a key aspect of any successful business, and it is key to your role as manager of a team of dungeon crawlers. If you find you like a certain class, check the wagon every so often and make sure you have some back ups. To get the better abilities, you'll also need to rotate these fresh faces into your line up so that they can gain the grim experience that comes only from the darkness.
On a final note, I think it is worth highlighting that Darkest Dungeon is in amazing shape for Early Access, and at the price point it is already worth picking up. Red Hook is doing a great job of regularly updating the game to add new content and tweak/retune what is already in place. It was my favorite game from SxSW and given many more hours it still stands up as an excellently dark and creepy turn-based roguelite. Grab it now, support a great game, and bask in the insanity that ensues.