Review: Darkest Dungeon (PS4).
From Software’s Souls have taught me to keep my distance from the announcement of how incredibly difficult selected games are. When Darkest Dungeon (PS4) greeted me with the message that the game was very difficult, I shrugged impassively. After well over 20 hours with the game, she admits that she is right – it’s terribly difficult.
Dungeon crawlers are by nature a more difficult sub-genre of RPGs. The random nature of the dungeons we explore, the game mechanics are often more complicated than in most of today’s mainstream RPGs. These are the basics of dungeon walking. However, the mere fact of being a game of this genre is not enough to stand out in today’s market. So what did the Red Hook team set? On the level of difficulty, graphic style and lovecraft atmosphere.
We come to an abandoned mansion, where our ancestors lived and conducted mysterious experiments for many years. The goal of the game is simple – rebuild the mansion, explore nearby locations, and when we are properly prepared – enter the Darkest Dungeon and learn the truth. It would seem that four dungeon locations are not enough and we will finish the game very quickly, but the combination of three levels of mission difficulty, their types, various bosses and an incredibly high level of difficulty mean that before we reach the last dungeon, it will take at least several hours, even if we hurry and fate gives us a huge dose of happiness. Because it is essential for this game.
However, before we go to visit the surrounding forests, ruins, burrows and docks, we must recruit the daredevils, train them and prepare them for the journey. One foray equals a week in the game. Each time there are new daredevils who can join our team, and there are so many classes that we have a lot to choose from. Each of them is well-balanced, suitable for various situations and boss fights. How we play depends only on us. But let’s go back to our property. There are several buildings with assigned functions in it. The Tavern and the Abbey help reduce the stress of our heroes (a very important mechanic, more about it in the following paragraphs), in Lazaret we will heal diseases and get rid of negative character traits and acquired traits (all sexual deviations or drunkenness). At the blacksmith, we will strengthen weapons and armor, and in the Guild, we will increase combat skills. We also have a place where we can buy trinkets as accessories, as well as a Survivalist, which will allow you to learn new skills used during camping. Each of the buildings can of course be improved, but this requires souvenirs obtained in the dungeons, and believe me – too many of them will not fall out if we do not risk a long and exhausting trip.
Okay, we’ve gathered the right team, prepared what we need to do, so we set out to explore and look for treasures. It doesn’t get any easier, right? True button. First, each mission has three levels of difficulty. Our heroes have a will level, the higher they are, the better they can withstand wandering through the dungeons, but at the same time overly experienced heroes will not bother with low-level excursions, so there is no chance for any grind and ease the game with a packed team. While the tasks themselves are standard (“discover 90% of the rooms”, “fight 100% of the required fights”, “do the XYZ thing using the ZYX item”), the gameplay can be completely different each time. The game allows us to take our supplies on a trip, which is one of the key mechanics. Hungry heroes not only stress faster, but also lose health points. These are like a cure, especially at the beginning, so any lack of food results in a completely sprinkled preparation plan. Stocks such as antidotes and bandages allow you to get rid of bad status, and other items, apart from utility activities, also have special properties if we use them on the appropriate objects of interest. For longer trips, we also take a bundle of wood to light a fire and relax. Almost. Because if we are unlucky, creatures will attack us at night, and what initially seemed to be a moment of relief becomes the resting place of our heroes.
What about the PS Vita version?
When buying Darkest Dungeon (PS4), we also get the PS Vita version for free. It would seem that this type of game is perfect for a handheld. Unfortunately, the production interface says something different. It is very inconvenient to use the buttons alone. The more so because the developer has not implemented touch screen support (which would seem like a logical move). It is true that the Red Hook team announced that this problem will be eliminated in the next update, but at the moment it is better to play on PS4.
The exploration itself is presented from the side. Leading a team of four, we move right non-stop, choosing the direction of movement with the right knob in rooms. In them, we can find treasures or objects that affect our characters, and always in such cases – combat. When we face the enemy, we choose attacks in subsequent turns defined by the speed of movement. There are not many statistics describing heroes, but each of them has a huge impact on movement. Even for a moment, there is no situation where we can slap the basic attack of a given class to break through the hosts of enemies as quickly as possible. Each skirmish can really be the last one, it is enough for the enemy to surprise our team, which will result in a crumbling ranks and shuffling the places where we set the classes. Because you must know – each class works better in one of four positions, and its attacks also activate depending on where we stand. I’ve even stopped counting how many times a seemingly easy duel turned into a heroic fight for survival, when half of the fight I had to rearrange my team to be able to attack the enemy at all. But don’t think that this is the only element the game is letting about.
In addition to the standard health bar, we also have a stress bar that fills up to a maximum of 200 points, with two thresholds every 100. Going out light, entering a trap, receiving critical damage, hunger or special attacks from enemies – all this increases stress. The less experienced the soldier, the faster he will reach the first threshold and pass the test of faith. If it succeeds – energized will become even more useful and will motivate the rest with your word. But this happens very rarely. More often we just fall into paranoia, fear, selfishness or masochism. Commenting negatively on the actions of the rest of the team – we stress them. We start to act irrational and sometimes the AI takes actions for us, not necessarily those that are appropriate and meaningful at the moment. When we reach 200, the character gets a heart attack and, regardless of health points, enters the death vestibule state. This is actually quite an interesting mechanic. A character in such a state may die from the next blow, although if he is extremely lucky, he does not have to. The game in a way makes us balance on the edge very often, which also raises our pressure. In my case, we managed to survive a maximum of eight blows in this state and defeat the boss. Satisfaction is several times greater than in any jRPG.
The hopelessness of our fate is completed by the complete randomness of the dungeons. Of course, it is limited by the difficulty level and length of the mission, but the layout of rooms, random events, enemies or traps is completely random. If our character is good at scouting, we generally know where to go, but if not, imagine this situation – we are left with food scraps, our team is on the verge of death and we do not know which direction to go in to complete the mission and safely (but with a dose of stress) return to the property. Yes, we can give up, but it will have a bad effect on the characters and we will get negative qualities that make our life difficult.
Of course, in this pushing the player is the fishing rod that makes us constantly want more. The initial difficulty level slightly weakens after some time as we get to know the game mechanics and learn to better manage characters. A moment later, however, it will quickly jump to the appropriate level, when we are forced to go further. The graphic style harmonizes well with this, which is very nice, but at the same time incredibly depressing, depriving you of the joy of life. All this is given with a good Polish language version, although the developer did not avoid a few minor errors. Some messages are cut off and poorly translated, and a few times while firing up a random event in the property, I was greeted by a text written in Czech … Also technical errors happened, but these were fixed very quickly in the update and only once the game kicked me to the menu (this was before installing the patch).
Is Darkest Dungeon (PS4) a game worth recommending? Of course. Although the production of the Red Hook studio is for the player and wants to prove to him at every step that he is not suitable, the motivation to push forward is strong. Well, unless you are completely impatient and can’t play such titles. Then it’s better to let go and turn on some mainstream RPG, where we can get to the last boss with one attack.