Early access games tend to have a nasty reputation of never delivering on their promises. They get pushed back; they never quite leave a beta stage of development; they sometimes even get canceled. Yet Red Hook Studios’ gothic horror RPG Darkest Dungeon crawled its way out of the early access abyss yesterday, and is now available for play on PlayStation platforms and on Steam. Red Hook delivered on their expected release date as well; back in December last year, the team projected a January 19th release date for Darkest Dungeon.
Red Hook released a trailer for the game right before its official release, which showcases some of the many eldritch menaces that the player’s hapless adventurers will face during their perilous journeys.
Red Hook developer redhookjohn posted a reflection on Darkest Dungeon’s early access development process on Steam yesterday:
Prior to our launch in 2015, we talked about Early Access as an experience – a journey that the game and its players would take through the rise and fall of certain strategies, buffs, nerfs, changes, and improvements. What we didn’t expect is to be part of that journey ourselves. There have been exhilarating highs, and terrifying lows, not just for the hundreds of thousands of heroes, but for us on the dev team as well. We’ve often likened the experience of developing Darkest Dungeon to being inside the game, contending with our own stresses, bad bounces and heroic rallies. This game’s development has even seen the full cycle of humanity amongst our own team: births, deaths, and friendships and relationships tested. It’s never been easy. It has been indeed a Long Champion boss run, but here we are – intact, (relatively) sane, proud of what we’ve made, and profoundly grateful to all of you for your support.
Yesterday’s release isn’t the end of the road for Darkest Dungeon, either. After some much-deserved rest, Red Hook will continue developing their “first (free) expansion featuring Town Events, a new Hero Class, and even more goodies.” This expansion and more content will be added throughout 2016. Official support for the modding community will also be implemented at an unstated date this year.
In addition, redhookjohn listed all of the new features that Darkest Dungeon’s release patch contains. The patch includes localization and subtitles for a variety of regions, 64 achievements, collectable in-game journal pages that detail the game’s lore (which were created by Kickstarter backers), various balance changes, and a brutal New Game + mode. According to redhookjohn’s post, the NG+ entails the following:
Upon successful completion of the game players will be awarded New Game Plus. When creating a new save file, you will be prompted if you wish to start a NG+ file. Players must use the DD Strict gameplay options, tougher monsters, and two extra criteria: Complete the game in 91 Weeks with less than 13 deaths. Failure to do so and players will be greeted with a game over, and a deleted save.
Are you up for the challenge?
In Darkest Dungeon, players inherit a manor and its massive estate. But there’s no time to enjoy its luxuries. In fact, no luxuries exist at all. The estate’s properties are infested with undead horrors, sinister demons, and all manner of twisted beings conjured up by your Ancestor’s experiments in occult magic. It’s up to the player to hire adventurers from the nearby Hamlet – each with their own unique attributes and character classes – to rid the estate of its dark past.
Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based RPG that delves into the psychological stresses of adventuring, whose gameplay is heavily influenced by tabletop gaming and classic dungeon crawlers. It’s also steeped in Dark Fantasy works like H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos, which makes for an unsettling gameplay experience enhanced by its shadowy hand-drawn visuals. Outside of dungeons, players will maintain a retinue of adventurers who can be improved through training, visits to the local blacksmith, and the like. They then embark on quests in parties of four, whose objectives range from purging a nearby forest of its undead creatures, to descending into the estates catacombs to cleanse it of ancient evils from beyond time and space.
What sets Darkest Dungeon apart from its peers is its ailment system. Unlike most RPGs, Darkest Dungeon does not make light of the stresses of adventure and murder. Characters are regulated by a Stress meter that is influenced by a wide array of external factors. Horrifying monsters and curses found by examining objects in dungeons, for example, will stress heroes out. Torchlights, comforting food, and gallows humor told at campfires will relieve some of their stress. Medical facilities and taverns back in town, meanwhile, can help adventurers cope with their ailments… for a hefty price. It is critical for players to pay attention to their characters’ stress levels; when a character becomes too stressed, they may acquire diseases, paranoias, and mental illnesses that cripple their ability to fight. And any weak link in the party’s chain can open it up to being slaughtered by unrelenting foes.
Moreover, Darkest Dungeon aims to excel at incorporating its moody atmosphere directly into its gameplay. The narrator, voiced by Wayne June, will chillingly point out positive or negative events that may foreshadow impending tragedies. The adventurers themselves will also comment on their physical and mental well-beings as they explore a dungeon’s dark corridors. Players would do best to listen to these aesthetic cues to learn more about their current situation, lest their party succumbs to a series of heart attacks and schizophrenic outbursts.
With complex system mechanics and a no-nonsense approach to dungeon crawling, Darkest Dungeon offers new and veteran RPG fans with a punishing game that rewards those who take the time to learn its nuances. You can buy it on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Mac/Windows/Linux Steam for $20 US.