Week 2: Balilleul, our Leper, has succumbed to the madness after a single adventure into the unknown dungeons. He has become Masochistic, refusing healing from our Vestal and even fasting when we eat. We have returned to find our Crusader Raynauld, who had been praying to relieve a stressful first week, shaken by witnessing something whilst we were away, and now refuses to even approach the chapel.
Given that no one died in my first two runs, I was grateful one of my party going insane was the most of my troubles. You may call me an naive – maybe even a newbie to have let one of my party succumb to the insanity in my second week – but then you obviously haven’t played Darkest Dungeon. Here, you’re set up to fail. There is no endgame. There is no big reward, no princes at the end of the castle – only the thought that your favourite character hasn’t died. Yet.
The narrative is very simple; you play the heirs of a rich relative who squandered all of his money on digging deeper into the depths of his own house and ended up opening a portal in search of ancient power. You have been tasked to find the secrets of the darkest dungeon, recover artefacts and treasure, and to ultimately redeem the family name…presumably by closing the portal.
The game has been out for little under two weeks for the general public (having been out since the end of January for backers of the Kickstarter campaign which funded its development. Even though the game is only in ‘Early release Stage, the game has been receiving some very good publicity given how much content the Early Access seems to be providing players – you have a real idea of the gameplay, and where they could (and will) make changes.
One of the key selling points of the game is the Affliction System, which adds a very human element to the game. The characters you pick up and choose to venture forth into the dark aren’t the stalwart, unwavering heroes of high fantasy; they have limits, physically and mentally. They get stressed, develop phobias, proclivities, and other emotional baggage.
Most importantly, venturing into the dark causes each character stress, and when you leave that stress unchecked, your hero ends up getting their resolve tested; either your hero will win out and have a temporary boost for the rest of the dungeon crawl (or til you decide to rest your weary wanderers), or they will have their resolve broken and become Afflicted (ranging from Fearful to Masochistic).
Critical hits become of vital importance – should you land one, your party receives a stress release; should you be hit by one, all the party will quiver in fear of the might of the monster. Similarly, near-death scenarios and Afflicted heroes will constantly stress the rest of your party.
In essence, it very much reminds me of a Lovecraftian X-COM. You have different classes, all with their own unique skills, weapons and problems – only here the crazy is constant. Whilst you could have your cool threatened by laser-fire but recover as soon as you hit HQ in X-COM, you have to settle your adventurers with various relaxing past-times in the town…however, these come at their own cost. Whilst you can have an adventurer de-stress by gambling, the character could very well end up losing at whatever game they were playing, causing a significant hole in your pocket. Additionally, those who have become afflicted are still in the land of the living, and as such take up a space by the campfire unless you use them…which means you are well and truly stuck with all the adventurers you choose until death do you part.
Or they go missing on a 3 day bender after you leave one of them at the tavern to relieve their stress by downing all the ale they can buy with your money.
So, after a few hours, I have become fully invested in my characters – I cannot touch Balilleul because I have a fear he might force the rest of the party to go insane as he continues to refuse healing and spout lines which make me question my sanity; I want to keep a character I started with (Raynauld, looking at you here) safe from the dangers of the world, especially since he discovered Claustrophobia after getting trapped in an Iron Maiden; and I want to never make the mistake of sending out a party of untrained and untested adventurers on what I thought was a simple scouting mission but turned out to be an encounter with the first mini-boss of the game.
Damn you Necromancer Apprentice. Damn you.
Whilst I can spend an eternity praising the game, there are some things I wanted to note: this is an unfinished product. Glitches, repetitive gameplay and changes are inbound, such as more classes, monsters and areas…however, one of the more prominent changes is the introduction to an ‘end’, as the game currently has none in its unfinished state. Which, to me, begs the question…will there be an option for a game mode where there is no endgame?
As odd as it sounds, I like the idea of this game being never ending – a futile attempt to push back the forces of…wherever these things came from. It fits the Lovecraftian theme perfectly – I have never played a ‘Call of Cthulhu RPG’ where my friends and I have come out of it on top; we’ve always either died or gone insane even if we succeeded in our objective.
In conclusion; very good game, I love the narrator, the dialogue is amazing if a little repetitive, and I cannot wait to see how this game will improve.