Review: Darkest Dungeon (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PS Vita
  • PC, Mac, Linux

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4, PS Vita
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Darkest Dungeon
Format: PSN (PS4 1.29 GB) (PSV 592 MB)
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Red Hook Studios
Developer: Red Hook Studios
Original MSRP: $24.99
ESRB Rating: T
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
My initial reaction to receiving Darkest Dungeon for review, and reading a bit about it prior, was “Oh here we go again… another roguelike game.” I’m beginning to think that developers are starting to throw that phrase around because they think it will entice people to hop onboard. I’m personally done with the rogue gameplay, preferring actual game design to one-kill “game overs” used as a means to create challenge.

I complain about this because Darkest Dungeon isn’t actually a roguelike game. Yes, death is death, and yes it’s brutal as hell… okay so maybe it is a bit roguelike. But for some reason, perhaps it’s the turn-based combat, it does not actually play like most games in this “milked” genre. You have plenty of time to decide how to approach a situation but decisions during a skirmish will not win a fight alone.

This game is about the “realities” of exploring a dungeon. Like how would real adventurers react to exploring a dark and dank catacomb and engaging in actual combat against horrid manifestations? Too much combat and your characters become stressed. Too much stress and performance suffers. Did you bring enough torches with you? Because if you run out of light, your chances of survival diminish greatly.

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So what happens when one of your favorite characters in your party dies? He or she is gone for good. The reason I don’t liken this to the “rogue” formula is because the Fire Emblem series on Nintendo consoles has been permadeath-ing characters for a long time. This is a reality in Darkest Dungeon.

There is no shortage of new characters to embark on your journey. Just don’t fall in love with them. Or if you do, take great precaution before entering the dungeons. This can be done in so many ways, and yet none guarantee success.

… stress relief is not instantaneous …
The town offers a variety of options for upgrading your characters and “relieving” their stress. A tavern and some gambling might take your rogue’s mind off the previous night of killing and bleeding, while a night in the arms of a lover may help your warrior get some rest.

It is in these moments that you learn to spread your adventure across various characters, in that stress relief is not instantaneous. Sometimes you don’t want to wait an in-game week for your character to calm down, so you must employ new recruits.

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I found discovering new characters to be one of the highlights of the game. Not only does each character come with its own visual style, but they also come with unique abilities. Some heal, some damage, and some alter the state of an enemy.

Provisions are essential to survival, and travelling into a dungeon without the right elements can cost your precious health that you need to survive battles. Fortunately, you can leave a dungeon prematurely if you’d like, but you forfeit discoveries. At the very least, you don’t risk losing your party.

… what type of role playing game this is …
Exploring the dungeon is conducted within a grid map, while visually your characters move left and right across a stylized environment. Within the environment you must be aware of traps and keep an eye out for treasure. Choosing which character approaches a trap is pivotal to avoiding damage. Duh, Dungeons and Dragons 101.

With combat being turn-based, you must choose the order in which your characters stand. This is also essential as to how your battle will play out. Putting your healer in the front might be a recipe for certain death, but at times this is something that cannot be avoided. For example, if you are ambushed your healer might end up in the front. It’s times like these that you have to use your turns to rearrange your characters before they take too much damage.

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I mention these complications not to recite the instruction manual, but to make you aware of what type of role playing game this is. Fans of other turn-based games, like Final Fantasy, might be turned off by the sheer level of attention that must be placed on character maintenance here. However, fans of Dungeons and Dragons and other western-style RPGs may feel right at home here.

It’s worth mentioning that Darkest Dungeon is playable on both the PlayStation 4, and the Vita, with a Cross-Buy and Cross-Save perk. I was able to easily upload my save from the PS4 to the Cloud and continue my adventure on the Vita, and vice versa. I did this about three or four times throughout my review playthrough with nary an issue.

… depth of field and shaky camera …
Visuals:
Lending itself to a dark fantasy theme, the visual style is a unique take on the genre with a color palette that evokes a dismal world of death and decay. Everything is hand-drawn, and the results are stellar.

Even character animations during combat utilize a 3D cinematic perspective that combines depth of field and shaky camera to create tension and intensity during attacks. Additionally, different attacks and abilities yield various visual effects.

The paneled interface allows you access to all essential information with little need to leave the main screen. Cinematics maintain the same visual style and are told in a motion-comic fashion. While there isn’t anything overly dramatic going on story-wise, the cutscenes introduce you to the world you will be exploring.

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Audio:
Role-playing games benefit from a great musical score. Nothing stands out here as epic or grand, but neither is there anything to complain about.

Voice work is only available during story narration and characters make attack commentary during execution. Otherwise, it’s business as usual.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… A challenging turn-based RPG …
Conclusion:
Approach Darkest Dungeon with caution. If you are the type of gamer that enjoys leveling up a party and focusing on an individual character, then this might not be the game for you.

However, there is a great game here that is more about the greater party and about the larger struggles of dungeon hunting. There are ways to succeed and keep your party alive, but it takes some trial and error, as well as an understanding of what is required before each endeavor.

This game makes you work for your victories. A “rogue” game it is not. A challenging turn-based RPG it absolutely is.

Score:
8.0
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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