Darkest Dungeon — Red Hook Studios — PS4, Vita, Mac, PC, Linux — September 27, 2016 — $24.99
“Darkest Dungeon” from “Red Hook Studios,” is a rogue-like turn-based RPG that uses a lot of basic turn-based mechanics, but what makes their title stand out is their Affliction System. There’s a plethora of bad ass heroes to choose from, but instead of making them powerful and unwavering warriors, they opted to make them fragile and tormented souls. The goal of “Darkest Dungeon” is to reclaim the House in Ruin and eradicate the vast population of macabre creatures and demons that were unleashed unto to the land by a man who grew tired of his luxurious and tranquil life through relics and rituals.
The main hub of the game is Hamlet, a village just outside the House in Ruin. This is where you recruit new heroes, view your ancestors memoirs and pay respects to fallen heroes. At the end of every mission, afflicted heroes must be sent to the abbey or the tavern to relieve their stresses of battle, or checked into the sanitarium to treat negative quirks or detrimental diseases. The blacksmith allows you to upgrade weapons and armor once a hero has achieved rank 1 or higher, and the guild allows them to learn new skills or upgrade their existing ones to become more effective and powerful on the battlefield. The downside to all of this micromanaging (unless I suck at this game, which is possible) is how quickly your finite amount of money disappears when you have to upgrade all the various locations that alleviate stress levels and eradicate diseases. New abilities, weaponry, and armor upgrades don’t help, but your heroes need every upgrade possible to better their chances of success.
Before embarking on any mission, you need to purchase and manage your (costly) provisions. These range from food rations to keep from starving, skeleton keys to enter locked doors or chests, bandages to stop bleeding, holy water to vanquish evil, antivenom to counter blights and poisons, shovels to clear obstructed paths, etc. Torches, however, dictate how difficult or manageable things are going to be for you and your team. More light grants your squad more power, greater scouting skills, and higher damage output, while the darkness adds copious amounts of stress and strength for both you and the enemy.
Every hero has unique statistics and skills attached to them, as well as varying resistance to ailments and diseases. Each class can have four active abilities at a time and work best when placed in their preferred positions, and are most effective against their respective targets. You can mix and match your squad however you see fit, but because of the Affliction System everyone in the party gains stress throughout the various incursions. On top of the stresses of battling demons, their positive traits can be hampered by the negative ones they inherit along the way, making them less likely to dodge attacks, miss targets more often, or be left more susceptible to critical strikes from the enemy. If their stress levels get too far out of hand, they can become masochistic, hopeless, selfish, or cowardly (to name a few), and they begin to negatively affect those around them; let the stress meter fill up too much and your heroes will die of a heart attack.
The true beauty of this game — underneath the macabre despair that constantly hovers over your squad — is that it starts out stressful and becomes merciless in no time. One moment you will feel like you’re kicking ass and taking names, but within in an instant your entire squad is smashed to pieces, both physically and mentally. The problem with “Darkest Dungeon”, which also happens to be its strength, is how unrelentingly rancorous it becomes. Every little detail of this game was designed to piss you off like a cat being teased by its human who dangles a string high above its head. Eventually, you have to forget it and do something else for a while. Fortunately for those who like punishment and games that test your resolve and strategic abilities, “Darkest Dungeon” will constantly taunt you (like the “Book of the Dead”) every time you see it on your cross media bar.