Darkest Dungeon and The Flaws Within

  • Completion Date: December 2020
  • Platform: PC
  • Completed: Main Story
  • Score: 8 out of 10
I’ve looked. This one is the darkest.

For one year of my life, my one and only goal was to speak as little as possible.

I was in high school, and a confused kid. I think most of us have been there, except for maybe some of us who were well-liked and very popular. If that were the case, then maybe you wouldn’t think of doing things as crazy as that. I can’t quite recall how I justified the behavior. Maybe I thought, “I’m not like these people, so why should I talk to them?”. Sooner or later (a little more on the later side), I realized that this was my (selfish) way of getting attention.

That was my flaw. Well, one of them (I have loads more). How about you?

. . .

Line up, men (and women)!

Darkest Dungeon is a game about flaws. Instead of the usual trope – you know, when the hero comes to confidently save the day – the heroes in Darkest Dungeon have many flaws that impede them from completing their quest. As the owner of the Darkest estate, it’s your job to mitigate these flaws as much as possible, in order for you to make your way into the heart of the Darkest Dungeon and slay the evil within.

This game and I have a pretty long history. I picked it up a few years ago, probably around 2015 or so, and was pretty immediately hooked. The game tells a grim story of the owner of the Darkest estate looking for treasure deep within the depths of the dungeons, only to open a door to great evil (ie very Cthulhu-esque monstrosities), which ultimately leads him down the path of insanity. He quests you, his next of kin, with undoing the evil that he has done, and to close the ancient evil that stirs within (you guessed it) the Darkest Dungeon.

There is a lot to like about this game. The game will immediately separate itself with a unique, minimalist art style that is readily apparent the moment you start playing, and the narrator was born with a voice of gold (more on that later). There are about 16 heroes available, with each having a certain set of skills (Taken pun not intended). All the typical classes are present – tank, support, buffer, de-buffer, and healer. However, Darkest Dungeon goes far beyond these standard roles by forcing you to assemble your heroes in a line with ranks 1 through 4.

So, if a particular hero is in rank 1 (i.e. first in line), they will only be able to use abilities they have when they’re in rank 1, and so on for ranks 2-4.

Obviously, heroes are well-suited for a particular rank, usually either front (1 or 2) or back (3 or 4). However, the game leaves enough flexibility for you to play a front-line hero in the back-line, or vice versa. This adds an extraordinary amount of depth to the game that you wouldn’t have expected from a seemingly minor change. The game also has four different areas which have their own set of enemies with weaknesses and strengths. In one area, the enemies might be particularly weak to bleed damage, so you wouldn’t want to bring someone with strong blight (ie poison) skills. There are also areas where enemies mitigate physical damage, so you will need to bring someone with strong DOT (damage over time) skills. Understanding these things and assembling the best team for your next run is a fun experience, and takes many hours master.

You can use “captivate” only in rank 2-3, and you can only hit an enemy in enemy rank 2-3

Beyond the classes and ranks, the game adds another never-before-seen element (at least as far as I can tell). Every character not only has an HP bar, but they also have a Stress bar. An enemy will either do an HP or Stress attack against a character. When a player first starts the game, they will likely try to prioritize mitigating HP damage, but they will find out quickly that Stress is as important to manage, if not more. If a hero gets too stressed, they will gain an Affliction (Fearful, Paranoid, Selfish, Abusive, etc). Obviously, this is bad. The hero will begin to take actions on their own, not follow your commands, and stress out the other heroes in your party. This is a very cool (and frustrating) element of the game that is simply not explored in any other game that I’ve played. A “normal” person, volunteering to explore a dungeon full of evil creatures would certainly be a stressful experience, even to the point where they will not be able to think clearly, or even – if pressed hard enough – may become a burden to the party rather than a help.

. . .

Darkest Dungeon is a cool game not just because of what I already mentioned, but the history of the game’s development is interesting in its own right. The game was produced by a very small team of people who raised enough to fund the game on Kickstarter. The developers tell their story of many ups-and-downs, starting even before the game began development, all the way through the release of the game (warning, there are swears in the video). I can’t help but relate the heroes in Darkest Dungeon – with all of their flaws – to the developers who ended up creating it. They dealt with self-doubt, frustration, denial, etc, all the way through, and still managed to put out a solid title in the end.

. . .

Now, onto perhaps the perhaps biggest reason why this game saw success – the narrator (aka the Ancestor). He has become a virtual icon in the video game world (pun intended). There have been mods created for other games just to make other narrators sound like him.

Not only is his voice golden, but the dialogue in this game is certainly some of the best writing done in a video game.

This line is spoken in the first few minutes of the game (check out the complete scene here):

You will arrive along the old road. It winds with a troubling, serpent-like suggestion through the corrupted countryside.

– The Ancestor

I think there is a particular path I could’ve taken in life that would’ve lead me to poetry. I like how words go together, and I notice when something sounds forced or canned. All of the Ancestor’s lines are top-notch, unique, and nuanced. Even the most mechanical minds, I think, will have to acknowledge that every line is painfully crafted into pure poetry.

. . .

Okay, on to the bad stuff. This game is a GRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND!!! As I mentioned, I picked this game up years ago, and thought it would be a quick, fun experience. After 80 hours, I still wasn’t to the Darkest Dungeon (the last few dungeons of the game, which I understand is confusing because it’s also the title of the game, but games gotta game and devs gotta dev). I put it down, frustrated that what I thought would be a “quick, fun” game had taken so much time (I have since discovered howlongtobeat.com). Years later, I bought it on the switch, and played through several hours, but gave up on that run only after several hours. However, last month, after reviewing my bullpen (check it out here), I decided that I liked the game enough to move it over to the completed list. However, I didn’t want another 80-100 hour grind, so I decided to use several mods such as Faster Combat, Faster Walking, and Anti-grind & Larger Roster. All of these things definitely sped up the gameplay and cut out a lot of grind, but I was still surprised by how long it took to get it done. In the end, my steam account says I spent over 150 hours between my multiple runs of the game. That statistic alone should convince you that this game is well-worth considering.

. . .

As I mentioned, Darkest Dungeon is a game about flaws. Every time a hero journeys into a dungeon, whether they finish their quest or not, they will pick up positive and negative quirks that the player must then manage to make their team as effective as possible. This plays well with the developers narrative. Not every hero is perfect, impeccable, or even possesses a strong moral code (I’m looking at you, Supes). In fact, some of the best stories present heroes of the story with flaws that make their journey all the more challenging.

In our own lives, I think some lessons can be drawn. We all have flaws. We all have problems. It doesn’t mean that we should avoid going up against our greatest challenges in life in order to achieve our greatest dreams. Quite the opposite. If someone were confident that victory is assured, then that victory, it seems, is less meaningful than the one who attempted their own challenge without any certainty of the outcome. For some, getting out of bed and getting to work is a monstrous, nearly impossible task. To those of you who brave the world and get it done, I applaud you. You are a hero. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Game On.

By Steve Bongiorno

I write about gaming, books, faith, and family.

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