Though I previously reviewed Darkest Dungeon back during Early Access, which you can find here, the game finally released its full build a few days ago. Therefore, it was time to dive back into the grim, dark tale and see if anything new popped up in the game since I first played it. I’ll also insert quotes from my original review in this full build review.
There’s many theories as to what H. P. Lovecraft would do if he were alive today. Some argue that he’d venture into the film business. Some would think he’d be in prison for murdering an entire train of ethnicities. One thing I’d like to believe is that if he were here, he’d be quite impressed with Darkest Dungeons.
First thing that I noticed when starting up Darkest Dungeon was a definite FPS drop. It seems that the game’s running more in the background now, and I did observe a somewhat minor dip in my computer’s ability to run the game, although the game was still definitely playable. Overall, the game’s visuals have been touched up, giving Darkest Dungeon an even more grim, depressing, and fitting look.
Darkest Dungeon’s narrator has the voice of a man that’s seen too much and knows even more, adding his narration to the dreary and depressing atmosphere the game creates.
Two new major mechanics were added, somewhat to my chagrin. The first is probably my more favorable addition: death by stress. The stress meter now goes to 200 instead of 100. While your character still goes through a moment of despair/enlightenment at 100, if they reach a stress level of 200, your character will aptly die of a heart attack. It adds more meaning to hitting that 100 mark. Rather than just shrugging off that character, you now need to make sure that they don’t die. It adds more tension to the stress meter, ironically, and makes managing stress levels all the more important.
Characters look like they were drawn with a heavy calligraphy pen, and the dark and drab colors add a weight to the entire game. Without this sort of art style, the game would fall flatter and quicker than most of my heroes in the game do.
The second mechanic made me want to yell at the nearest cemetery, smash all the tomb stones, and tell them to quit hogging prime real-estate turf. Killing an enemy now leaves a pretty high chance of them dropping a corpse in their spot, causing the people behind the corpse to maintain their position. In a game that is so fixated on how people are positioned and planning out moves turns ahead, I felt that this coin toss of messing up your entire plans was out of place, and it only served to frustrate me.
I felt that now was a good time to look back at the countless hours I spent rummaging around those dingy dungeons, play a few more, and look back at them with a grim disparity, a sweat on my brow, and blood on my hands. Maybe it reminded me of the times I was left on the side of the East River with a rope, a garbage bag full of body parts, and a cinder block.
Both of these new additions come off as Red Hook Studios attempting to just make the game harder in a very “Dark Souls 2” sort of way. Creating difficulty and making something hard are two different things, and I can only feel that the game was roughly transitioned somewhere from Darkest Dungeon to Darkest Soul. And I’m left asking why this turn in gameplay was even necessary. Enemies now also seem to be harder to kill and distribute more debuffs than the sun distributes photons. While Darkest Dungeons wasn’t a cake walk before, it now lies somewhere in between frustratingly difficult and nebulously unpredictable.
The oddest part about this is that there’s the option to turn off the heart attack and corpse mechanic. Like the roller coaster ride operator said to the group of middle schoolers, go big or go home. Darkest Dungeon’s beta game was more stable than some AAA games a week after release. It’s still the solid game that it was a few months ago with some more content added, and you can play it just as it was back in June. But their hesitance to make any large additions to the game created a product that peaked halfway through development and has been crawling to do better, only to fall down just as much by worrying about what it could be adding in tainting the formula they worked so hard to develop.