Good friend Scotty – the one who hosts the Game Nights that I write about, on occassion – had mentioned a PlayStation game called “Darkest Dungeon” to me a few weeks back. I later saw him play a few minutes of it, and it piqued my interest. I ultimately bought the game for PC on Thursday.
I have only played it for about 4 hours since then but I’ve really enjoying what I’ve experienced. 

Back Story
You are the heir to a mansion that, due to some “mistakes” by one of your ancestors, is now a haunted mess of land and building. To rid the area of its haunts – bad humans, eerie fish-men, the undead, and all kinds of monsters and evilness that I haven’t had the pleasure of running across yet – you put out the call to all: come to The Hamlet, explore the area, vanquish the evil, become rich and famous!
Starting Out
You normally control 4 characters at a time, from Vestals (“War Priestess”) to Highwaymen (“Robbers/Thieves”) to Plague Doctors (think “Affliction Warlocks” from World of Warcraft), but to start out, you only control 2. Once you make through the Woods – the Tutorial area – you reach the Hamlet, the “safe area”.

Hamlet

In the Hamlet, you can recruit new party members at the Stage Coach, visit the fallen at the Graveyard, or train at the Guild Hall. Your party members can also purchase supplies from the Caretaker, better arms and armor from the Blacksmith, and most importantly, relieve Stress and heal. Stress relief and healing comes in 3 forms:

  1. Treatment: your characters can treat illnesses, diseases, and afflictions at the Sanitorium… but it is costly. For a character at level 0, for example, it would have cost me 5,000 gold to treat 1 affliction. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I’d recommend  waiting to use the Sanitorium until you have a good amount of gold saved up.
  2. Holy-Based: your characters (if their class/afflictions allow) can visit the Abbey. There, they can Pray to a Higher Power for guidance, Meditate to cleanse the mind and soul, or Flagellate yourself as punishment for deeds done on the road. These are MUCH less expensive than the Sanitorium.
  3. Physical-Based: “Flagellate” is not in this category because it takes place in the Abbey. The Tavern is the setting for these Stress relievers. While at the Tavern, you could Gamble away the night – and money, Drink your sorrows away, or visit the Brothel for more… physical relief.

Stress


One of the major components of the game that I equally like and want to pull my hair out over is Stress Level. When adventuring, each character will have a Stress Level; this Stress Level will rise or fall, sometimes dramatically, based on what goes on in the dungeons. Enemy spells, being Critically Hit by enemies, questing in the dark, and seeing a comrade die are just some of the ways that Stress can up, and in a hurry. Stress can go down by killing enemies, getting Critically Healed, resting/relaxing/praying/atonement in the Hamlet, to name a few… although they don’t seem to increase it as fast as the others decrease it. Either way, your job is to keep Stress as low as possible.

If a character hits 100 points of Stress, then there will be consequences. That character’s resolve breaks: they may become verbally abusive, taunting the other party members, raising their stress levels; they (like 2 of my characters) may become masochistic, inflicting pain on themselves (and spewing verbal nonsense about pain), stressing the party, but inflicting more damage on the enemies; they might actually get a positive effect, such as Resolute – they gain a bonus in Stress reduction and to hit. The higher the Stress goes, the more it affects that character. If Stress maxes out – 200 points – then that character suffers a Heart Attack and dies. With character deaths, there are no returns; once dead, they stay dead. Thankfully, there is a steady stream of replacement characters, waiting at the Hamlet for the next foray into evil.

Game Play, pt. 1

Before starting out, you must select 4 characters for your party. 2 of them are the ones you had in your tutorial dungeon. 2 more await in the Hamlet, at the Stagecoach, where new characters are always available for recruitment. After that, at least 2 new characters will await you in the Stagecoach after each quest, although you do not have to choose any of them. To get a larger pool of characters, upgrade the Stagecoach  – more on upgrades in part 2.

You can choose the order in which the characters stand. This is an important choice! Some characters do much better at the front of the formation, others do better in the back.

capture

For example: the circled area in the above picture is the preferred spots for this character, the Bounty Hunter. If you him in the middle of the formation, you’ll get the maximum benefits from him, including attacks.

Once you have your characters and their alignment, you then buy provisions for your party. This includes food, medicines, torches, master keys, and shovels. There’s no set amount to what you can buy; it depends on gold and carrying capacity in your inventory. What’s recommended is to take plenty of food (at least 10 units of food – each character eats 1 unit of food to recover health), a few bandages (to stop bleeding… if you don’t have the characters that do that), at least 1 shovel (to clear debris out of the way), and a few torches. Torches brighten the path, and keep you from being ambushed. Torches also keep stress levels from going up too quickly; if you travel and fight in the dark, your potential rewards will be higher, but your stress levels will increase dramatically. Remember: high stress = NOT GOOD. You can also take medicines and poultices, although I haven’t progressed far enough to really need them yet.

You have your party. Your party has its formation. Your party has provisions. You are now ready to truly enter this frustratingly fun game!

Part 2 will deal with what areas I’ve unlocked, more on the 15 character classes (some of them are wonderful; there are 2 that are utterly useless, to me), items that you might find, and creatures that might find you. Stay tuned!