A skeleton warrior scores a critical hit on Dismas, my Highwayman. Dismas can’t take the stress of such a blow and cracks under the pressure. He is now Fearful and moves to the back of the line of his own accord to avoid taking further damage. This stresses out the rest of my group. The stress of Dismas cracking causes my Crusader, Theo, to crack as well. He is now Abusive. It’s finally my turn again, and I try to kill an undead crossbowman at the back of the enemy lines by getting my Grave Robber to throw a dagger at him. She misses. “Is that the best you can do?” Theo shouts at her. This stresses her out. I’m sure you can see a pattern here.
Darkest Dungeon by Red Hook studios is a game all about stress management. It’s been out on PC since January of this year but only recently released on PS4 and Vita. In any other dungeon crawling game, you will most likely find yourself cleaving through wave upon wave of enemies. Not so in this game. Any given encounter could end in the complete destruction of your party, not least because, if you’ve been in a dungeon for a while already, you’re probably not in the best of shape.
At least if push comes to shove you can always retreat from a battle, though be aware that doing so will make your party members lose confidence and get stressed out. And if you just can’t hack it anymore and need to leave a dungeon, thus abandoning your quest before your party dies horribly? That’s a big heaping bowl of stress right there.
Not since Demon’s Souls have I played a game where it felt like the game was actively fighting against me so much, trying to stop me from winning. At the same time, though, I can feel that the game wants me to succeed. It just won’t make it easy for me. After suffering through a harrowing first few encounters, I got ultra-conservative: only attempting the easiest dungeons, making sure to bring a surplus of supplies with me.
For a time, then, I did very well, and improved my favoured party members quite a bit. It was only after many successful dungeon runs that it was revealed to me that once someone gets too strong they will refuse to quest through a lower level dungeon, seeing it as beneath them, and not worth their time. That was quite the crushing blow to me, I can assure you.
It makes sense, though. The main fun of the game is that, even when you’re winning, it’s only just a few unlucky hits and you’ll be a sobbing ball of stress. Allowing you to just grind up your levels on your favourite characters would eliminate all the challenge.
As it stands now I’ve just beaten my first boss (and it only took one try). As such, I am entirely too confident, and will probably suffer a humiliating defeat that causes the death of all my strongest party members, including my main Leper, Gillian. Check this space in the next issue to find out how badly things went for me, and to see my final verdict on the game.