Darkest Dungeon Review

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Game Title: Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 592 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download

There are a lot of games in the indie world that have becoming incredibly popular on PC and then consoles. The king of the hill here is clearly Minecraft, but lots of indies have done this. Terraria, The Binding of Isaac, the list goes on. The fact that these games do come to console (and handhelds via the PS Vita) introduces console gamers to experiences that took the PC and Steam world by storm.

Darkest Dungeon is one of those games. It’s dark, gritty, incredibly difficult, yet it has a massive following on Steam. PlayStation gamers have been looking forward to seeing the game’s console and handheld debut for some time now, and it’s finally here.

Here is my review of Darkest Dungeon!

Story

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Your ancestor writes you a letter, detailing his life and pride to the family estate. Upon rumors of an evil haunting the grounds, he finds an ancient gateway after years of digging. Through said gateway was a world filled with nightmares, monsters, and horrors. Because he was unable to do so, he passes to you the responsibility of restoring the family name by purging the evil place that lies beneath the estate.

Darkest Dungeon is a dark, gothic tale that looks like it was taken out of classic horror mythos. And that story is one of the game’s greatest assets. Every dungeon you go through, every menu and scene you watch, and every battle has a narrator describing the dark tone of everything that is happening in a way that really fits the atmosphere well. Not only that, but it keeps you interested in the story even when there isn’t a major scene in play.

Gameplay

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Darkest Dungeon is a strange game to classify under a single genre. It’s a rogue-like with random elements. It’s a survival game. It’s a turn-based strategy game. It’s a lot of things, really, and let’s just leave it at that.

In Darkest Dungeon, you crawl through dark dungeons. Whenever you go on a mission, you go through a 2D dungeon that is randomly-generated with the end goal of taking loot, taking down enemies and the goal boss in turn-based battles with attacks and skills and, above all else, survive the trip. Imagine it’s progression like The Binding of Isaac but in shorter doses, and with a more RPG-like story progression with not playing the entire game in a single dungeon run.

The story will advance as you clear dungeons, and you’ll be spending a lot of your time either in said dungeons or managing your party members in the hub town you always go to between missions. There are a lot of things to do here, like working on equipment, putting sick heroes in facilities to heal them, recruiting new party members, or just simply embarking on the next dungeon run. Though, very few of these options will be available to you at the beginning of the game.

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If there’s one thing to note about Darkest Dungeon, it’s that you’ll always be in a bad situation. That mostly comes out of the survival elements built into the game’s dungeon-crawling. As you go through dungeons, your characters will get hungry, but also stressed out. The more hungry and stressed those members become, the more susceptible they are to mental strain and sicknesses. You will need to tend to them constantly with items to keep this from happening.

I stress this because unlike hunger in other games, too much stress will make them pretty much useless to you in combat. A Paranoid party member may simply do nothing but stand around and not be able to help at all when fighting enemies. This is a big hindrance, and an even greater one if multiple party members have this happen. You need every resource available to you and the amount of things that can go wrong is really in-depth, so it’s just as much a survival game as a dungeon-crawler.

This is part of what makes this an incredibly difficult experience. This isn’t a typical RPG-like game where you recruit a party and they stick with you until the end of the game. You’re going to lose party members very often and those that you don’t lose will likely end up ill, requiring you do throw them in the hospital and use new party members until they heal up. Tying this with the level of difficulty from enemies, traps, and other later obstacles in dungeons makes this a game that will try your patience and meddle from the very first mission.

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The quick turn-around for party members adds to the depth, though. Every party members has an immense amount of custom skills and stats that no other party member will have. Traits, skills, abilities, and more are all chosen at random, and once you find a great combo, you’re not going to want to lose them, yet you will, and this in-depth search will start anew.

How this all comes together is an experience that starts out decently basic, but keeps getting more in-depth past what you feel is possible for a game. The further you go, the worse things get and the more in-depth you can go with all of the different features of the game. There is an overwhelming amount of things you can do, so if you want a difficult experience with a lot to do, you’ll definitely find that here.

Now let’s get to length, which is difficult to gauge. Missions are randomly generated to be short, medium length, or long. What you get is all up to chance. One mission could take 10 minutes, or it could take 30. You really never can tell. But, over the course of the entire game, expect dozens of hours to be used up. If you stick with it and go all the way to the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if you spent over 40 hours in the game. It’s random, but it’s long either way.

Controls

Controls in the game are a bit controversial. Some people love them, others hate them. I like some parts, but dislike others. Before we get to that, though, Darkest Dungeon is fully compatible with the PlayStation TV! It even has L2/R2 controls that use the touch functions to make the experience easier on the micro-console. Pretty impressive, especially considering the developers weren’t sure the game would even run on the PSTV just a week before the game’s release.

Now, onto the Vita controls. The Left Analog Stick moves your character around, and the D-Pad is used for changing item types in the field. The face buttons are used to interact with objects, confirm and cancel menu options, and using items from said menus. Switching character control is where things get a little touchy. You use the rear touch screen to do this. The controls work fine, but using the rear touch screen makes things feel a little odd. That is what lets me prefer playing on the PSTV.

Presentation

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The dark and gritty visuals that gave Darkest Dungeon its gothic atmosphere transfers to the PS Vita really well. On the little screen or the big, everything looks crisp, clear, and really detailed. I’ve played the PS4 version as well, and it’s hard to tell the two versions apart. PS4 and PSTV versions on the same TV look pretty much the same, outside of load times.

Now, one thing that didn’t translate as well is the on-screen text. When you play on the Vita, you have text that’s pretty hard to read because of how small the print is. When translated on the PSTV, there aren’t any problems here, but anyone without near-perfect eyesight may find the text a little hard to make out on the handheld. It’s not blurry. Just too small.

As far as performance is concerned, I only have one complaint, and that is crashing. My first day in the game had it crash before a mission. I’ve also gotten information from others in the various Vita communities that are also experiencing crashing. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. For me, it’s always when you’re prepping for a mission, but others have had it happen during missions. It’s something that the developers are working on fixing, but something you may want to consider.

Summary

Darkest Dungeon is one of the darkest and difficult rogue-likes in gaming. Although the Vita version does have some technical issues with text and occasional crashing, the game has a lot of in-depth content and enough to keep you busy for dozens of hours, if not longer.

8/10

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