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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Darkest Dungeon Review: Gambler's Ruin.

This is the first game I've ever reviewed that I didn't finish. I don't think I ever will. But I have played it, shall we say, enough?  I had to bum a ride from a friend the second day after I bought it and this was maybe the third week of it's early access. I hadn't really spoken to him in week or two and after stumbling into his car, bleary eyed and anxious, I barked "HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT DARKEST DUNGEON?!" He gave me the exact look I deserved.

I was completely enraptured. It's loops of bitterly difficult turn-based combat, worthwhile loot, town building; and the slow motion heart break of watching one wrong step gradually sending your favorite band of mercenaries into early graves made me manic. This game hurt me and had me begging for more.
I'll let the art speak for itself. And if you do experience the art actually speaking for itself, well... I'd light another torch.

There have been accusations that this game is too random, too cruel, and I'll get to my many caveats in a second. That specific charge is simply not true. Darkest Dungeon does not cheat. It demands perfection and that is not possible all of the time. Sometimes you try a buckshot method instead of a surgical strike, the game raps you hard on the knuckles. "Again!" It screams in an otherworldly screech without even moving it's lips. And you listen... for a while. But you will fall back on bad habits eventually and it will be none too pleased about it. The next time you put a toe over the line it will throw hours of progress into the proverbial hearth and force you to watch it all twist into ash.

You can't keep all your tin soldiers. Some will go mad, others will die too soon, and there are those who were just worthless from the start. This game is about learning your place in it's eldritch universe and that includes adapting to seemingly impossible odds. Once you realize you can always start over, often times with superior facilities, the heart of darkness is yours to reach.

Yeah, surprise motherf*&#ers!!!!!
But I do have serious misgivings. I watched this game grow over a year and I did not like everything I saw. Red Rook loves their fans... but they listened to their lunatic fringe a little too closely. They started adding features that had no business being outside of an "iron man mode" to name check another wonderful and notoriously difficult strategy game.

Enemies started leaving corpses. Barriers between you and the ranged enemies in the back of the row. Killing these freaks once was enough of a struggle and for a while the game forced me to kill them all twice! You can turn that off in the pause menu but it's on by default. Near the end they were designing the game for people that had been playing it for months already. They were all bored and wanted a harder mode. Instead of actually doing that, they catered to the reining champions and left those that were already struggling (this guy) in the dust. That was a huge mistake in my opinion. Especially with their stalwart "no easy mode" approach.

...but I digress.

Darkest Dungeon is a wild, wonderful, and original work of art, make no mistake. It's visual design is so evocative it barely needs to be animated. It's menagerie of eldritch horrors are so lovingly crafted they're hard to look at. Seriously, years down the line you'll hear people talking about how they walked in on their dad one night as a small child while he was fighting "the flesh." Kind of like the way we talk about Penny Wise the clown. Even if you never beat it (yo.), even if you barely tolerate turn based strategy, if you stick with it for at least a couple hours you will have had an experience worth your time and money.

Darkest Dungeon is truly unforgettable.

Just... look at it!