Friday, July 8, 2016

Game Review - Darkest Dungeon (build 14620)

Game Review: Darkest Dungeon  (build 14620)
Score: +6/
You can buy Darkest Dungeon with no-hassle setup and risk-free money-back guarantee from Good Old Games.

Even before you play the Campaign, Darkest Dungeon sets your expectations: "Darkest Dungeon is about making the most of a bad situation. Quests will fail or must be abandoned. Heroes will die. And when they die, they stay dead. Progress autosaves constantly, so actions are permanent. The game expects a lot out of you. How far will you push your adventurers? How much are you willing to risk in your quest to restore the Hamlet? What will you sacrifice to save the life of your favorite hero? Thankfully, there are always fresh souls arriving on the stage coach, seeking both adventure and fame in the shadow of the Darkest Dungeon"

The balance in Darkest Dungeon is one where you fight attrition on every front and thereby slowly make headway. This attrition is mostly manifested in the Stress system which handicaps your characters (but occasionally helps them) very quickly (as it is very easy to gain Stress) and the autosave system which means random sudden death cannot be rolled back and you are forced several steps back. Your slow progress basically translates to "grinding", in a worse way than grinding in online MMOs.
While this fits perfectly with the gothic Lovecraftian genre, there is nevertheless one fatal flaw in the game design -- Disrespect for the player's time.

Now, more than ever, there are so many great games. For any game to basically waste my time grinding over and over again, doing extremely repetitive things, is inexcusable. Cheap online MMOs get you to do that at higher levels of character development for two reasons:
  • You'll otherwise run out of content and be bored, leave the game, and stop spending money
  • You need to be frustrated by slow progress so you'll spend money in all sots of ways to make headway.
And once you spend money you'll be hooked because you don't want to lose your investment.
But Darkest Dungeon is not an online game. They've already got your money, so there's no reason to waste your time.

If an encounter suddenly goes bad and you lose a key character like a healer and suddenly things can collapse very quickly, forcing you to wait for a healer to randomly show up and improve them again while everyone else waits -- more time-wasting. In fact, combat is so chancy that you are actually NOT guaranteed to see both tutorial characters survive even the tutorial getting-to-the-town mission of killing a total of three bandits.
Even when combat isn't being hard, it can be tedious. See how the devs have a talent for wasting your time, and it's not even that interesting or exciting:

Suppose you actually like the bleak "Lovecraftian realism", there are clearly many gameplay mechanics that are ludicrous but designed to keep pulling you back and losing ground.
For example, if you abort a dungeon raid, there is a Stress penalty. Why? There should be stress relief, though possibly with a penalty in gold or goods representing paying the wages of the adventurers.
And because Stress accumulates so quickly and has to be dealt with, you are basically running at least two parties, alternating them between resting in town (costing you gold to stress-relief them) or being sent on an adventure that will hopefully net a profit. You may seem to get a lot of gold, but it's deceptive as your expenses will mount.

Another example: You cannot use healing skills outside of combat. Why? You can only camp a certain number of times. Why? Earlier versions apparently let you eat a lot of food outside of combat to heal, but a limit was implemented (you can only eat so much before you are full, and 3 units won't heal anything useful).

For the reasons mentioned, the basic score is FAIL.

Caveat: You may have dungeon missions that go very nicely and your team doesn't come out crippled by stress or a member short. But often this can be quite chancy, depending on the encounter you come upon. Therefore the one single thing you need to do to make this game less frustrating and at possibly decently playable is to find out where the savegames are and regularly back them up. Just doing this will at least remove some element of chance having a sudden devastating impact.

If you want a "making the most of a bad situation" game, I highly recommend you instead play Fallout Shelter. For one thing, it's FREE. You can get your masochistic fix there for free. If you do well and want to graduate to spending money to waste your time doing the same things over and over, then try Darkest Dungeon.


Since Darkest Dungeon is fortunately easily modded in many ways to reduce the mechanics that contribute to grind, if you are willing to do that, then it has all the trappings of a very nice game. Especially once you find that the saved games are in ...\Documents\Darkest\ so you can just backup that entire directory and can roll back your saves to help keep making incremental progress.

So, since we have these workarounds, let's look at the key positives of Darkest Dungeon -- and there really are some good ones.
+ Interesting characters and abilities
+ Simple combat but with enough strategy to make it tactical
+ Lovecraftian genre, which isn't easy to find done well
++ Atmosphere! From the narration to the music to contextually appropriate speech bubbles of the characters, the game sets up a very interesting and interactive atmosphere with the right gothic mood.
+ Graphically a nice game

We have some basic tweaks that you can apply yourself to Darkeest Dungeon:
  • Darkest Dungeon prevents hitgher level characters from going back to lower level dungeons, which really just results in helping you lose characters permanently and having to start all over with new characters. This simple fix will remove this mechanic.
  • Darkest Dungeon limits your ability to rest during a mission (raid) and limits how much loot you can haul back. Our article on Camping addresses both. I find it extremely silly that your healer can throw out unlimited faith healing while in combat but not outside of it; and can heal even less than in battle when camped. DUH.
Darkest Dungeon has a great framework for MODDING. Straight out of the box, it's not worth your time grinding it.

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