Initial Release: 19 January 2018

Having already won awards and brandishing another blood-soaked campaign in “The Crimson Court” DLC which features a new class, enemies and maps, there’s many reasons to brave the mud and the murk of Darkest Dungeon. The most prevalent however is its new found portability in the Switch, which not only dispels clustered and hulking menus with intuitive touch controls, it means you can take its rot and horror anywhere you please. Just be sure not to break the screen in rage.

Darkest Dungeon is stressful. Maddeningly stressful. In fact, stress itself is soaked into every dismal corner of the hamlet you’re charged with rebuilding, dictating who survives and who crumbles under the insidious, mountainous weight of sights best left unseen. Folks don’t last long out here, plucky adventurers become walking corpses as you guide them from stagecoach to early grave on your own selfish quest for salvation, glory and gold.

This is not a happy game, but it is a compelling one. Darkest Dungeon is a grim, gothic, guttural dungeon crawling RPG where the odds are forever stacked against you. Warned early on, the game is about making the best of bad situations; there will be failures, there will be deaths, but if you’ve planned and the planets align, victory might yet be yours. Auto-saving locks down your decisions and death is a permanent state, which makes every success that much more delicious.

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The bowels of this dungeon are deep, likewise, the range of options, facets, considerations, formations, alterations, attacks and combinations are dizzying. There’s a wealth of information you’re demanded to absorb, meaning your first few blundering escapades are likely to end in grizzled grief and broken bones. Fortunately, there’s a fresh batch of blissfully unaware adventurers to recruit between each mission, ready to be thrown into the jaws of godless hell.

Enemy classes are not only diverse and inventive, they brilliantly reflect the doomed world and missions you face. For who else is best to fend against a Lovecraftian hoard than well-learned Occultists, crooked Highwaymen or Werewolf-afflicted abominations? Joining them of course are clerics and pious, sword-swing crusaders intermingled with spirited Jesters and life-hardened Lepers to name a few, all of which have access to a handful of unique class skills, giving each character individual strengths.

This goes much, much further, as in a party of four, character placement is key, some preferring specific spots to best use their skills. Buffs, debuffs and ailments are also heavily relied upon because if you’re not using attacks that cause bleed and blight, your enemies certainly will. Skeletons don’t bleed but can be putrefied, stunning enemies is sometimes your only defence and attacks that push and pull foes in formations can dictate the tide of battle, that’s not even mentioning the crucial aspect of mental strain.

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These horrific escapades take a toll. Particularly stressed warriors develop potentially lethal quirks, another deeply faceted system, that can make or break entire missions. Under the strain of stressful traps, horrific enemies and maddening hexes, the resolve of your party is tested, some spawn a positive, burgeoning courage where they cheer in the face of adversity, calming the party, but most crack under pressure. They become irrational, abusive, selfish or even masochistic, refusing to be healed, which adds further pressure to party management during a long mission or tough battle. If they can survive these extra pressures, these now scarred wanderers can relieve stress in town, through booze, brothels, prayer or flagellation, depending on creed or preference. This comes at a price, but can heal a member greatly to be used in another, later mission.

These facilities in turn can be upgraded by using artefacts found during missions, but not even the safe haven of the hamlet is pure. A groundskeeper often fills a spot you need to use for an adventurer and both boons and penalties swoop through the town between missions. It’s intimidating yes, but when everything begins to clunk into place, you’ll find yourself felling fiends and grabbing treasure with courage and reckless abandon- it’s the only way to survive.

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Darkest Dungeon is rabidly intent in drowning you in its gruesome, helpless world, a woeful town crier that vomits nothing but misery, fuss and worry as you limply attempt to fight off the inevitable. The joy, much like your hired lackeys, is fighting against this gloom and concocting your own combos to slay any beast of bedlam. An Occultist’s Wyrd Reconstruction is potently curative but causes bleeding, whilst the blight slinging Plague Doctor can dress these wounds as your Crusaders smash through rotting resistance. The thrill of these moments can be intoxicating as you’ll so often find yourself abandoning missions or burying newly arrived favourites, any victory must be cherished.

A slow-burning campaign that swells to an addiction, your first boss fight might end in psychiatric wards and psalms, but finally quelling a prolific, shuffling abomination is worth the failures, losses and wasted upgrades. The learning curve is as bitter as it is steep, a lot is left to chance which doesn’t always feel fair, victory pilfered by a stray trap you tried to disarm or a kleptomaniac Cleric whose curiosity gifts her tetanus. You’re demanded to roll with the punches, bile and raking claws. You suck it up or you die. It stings, but adapting to the darkness is oddly rewarding.

I haven’t even mentioned character interactions and camping skills, or the looming, titular Darkest Dungeon, but know it stands as a readily available challenge. A crypt for your crew to crumble into again and again, but one that holds the loftiest of rewards. This gothic dungeon crawler heaves with content and longevity, a beautiful, striking art style and a wonderfully heavy, aching, dour narration by the talent of Wayne June. His pithy comments during failing expeditions or rallying cheers during bloodshed are truly the crux of what brings the tenebrous world of Darkest Dungeon to life.

Having already won awards and brandishing another blood-soaked campaign in “The Crimson Court” DLC which features a new class, enemies and maps, there’s many reasons to brave the mud and the murk of Darkest Dungeon. The most prevalent however is its new found portability in the Switch, which not only dispels clustered and hulking menus with intuitive touch controls, it means you can take its rot and horror anywhere you please. Just be sure not to break the screen in rage.

Verdict: 8 Out of 10

We were provided a copy of the game for review purposes by the publisher.

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