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“The Front Line of This War Isn’t in the Dungeon, But Inside the Mind” – [Darkest Dungeon Early Access Review]

*This Early Access Review is based upon the game as of 2/22/2015*
darkest dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is a roller coaster of chance induced emotion.  This indie, rogue-lite, dungeon-crawling, RPG will subject your heroes, and you, to all manner of sanity testing dice rolls and mental ailments.  Opening that chest might reveal gold and treasure, or it might give your hero tetanus.

As the player you arrive on the scene at your now decrepit family estate, and must attempt to see it restored to former glories by recruiting various adventurers and delving into various dungeons in search of gold and glory.  Every excursion into the deep consists of beautifully simple, and painfully lethal walks down corridors where various loot, traps, and enemies await around every corner.  You manage provision resources such as food, torches and tools to navigate the map and attempt to see your party to quests completion.   In between dungeon runs you can upgrade your heroes and tend to their many maladies at your estate.

This simple formula is beautifully executed in Darkest Dungeon.  The game sports grim-dark hand-drawn artwork, chilling music, bone crunching sound effects, and a infamous narrator who brings an Edgar Allen Poe-like atmosphere to each harrowing dungeon attempt.

I say attempt because complete and utter failure is quite common in this game.  Fights are brutal and often unexpected, and a few unlucky sword swings or booby traps can send your heroes to the afterlife.  To make matters worse (or better), each hero has a “stress” meter that is affected by everything from torchlight to how the battle is going at any given moment.  Gain too much stress and your hero will either succumb to madness of various degrees, or perhaps gather the courage to stand resilient.  And when they die.  They die.  There is no reviving them, there is no save-and-loading.  They are gone, with all their experience, upgrades and skills.  Forever.

But more heroes are always available to recruit and try again.  And it is this tension, this fear of the unexpected, this ever gnawing possibility of losing a hero you’ve grown attached to -that makes Darkest Dungeon a phenomenal experience.

The phrase “Early Access” often makes me cringe as remember so many games that became scams, or failed to deliver, or got canceled.  But Darkest Dungeon, though technically considered “Early”, is already full of hours of addictive game play, with a higher level of quality, play-ability, and style than most ‘finished’ titles.  Do not be afraid to pick this one up, be only afraid of what horrors await you in the Dungeon.