Darkest Dungeon PC Review: Circle in the Dark

Darkest Dungeon PC Review: Circle in the Dark

Terror may indeed stalk these shadows, but yonder - a glint of gold.

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Venture Forth

Admittedly, there have been times where I've wondered whether its worth it to press on toward the endgame. It really is a grind in the truest sense of the word, the ultimate goal being to get multiple parties maxed out so that they can take on the endgame.

Veteran dungeons - which appear once you start getting characters to level three - are a rude awakening after cruising through the Apprentice-level areas. Your best party won't be nearly ready to tackle Veteran-level dungeons when you first open them up, forcing you to continue hitting Apprentice dungeons until you get enough items to upgrade your Blacksmith and open up higher level weapons and armor. Getting to the point where you can reliably tackle Veteran-level dungeons takes a lot of patience, and I expect a lot of players will quit before they get to that point.

Exacerbating the massive leap in difficulty from Apprentice to Veteran is the fact that you need certain items to upgrade certain buildings, some of which are difficult to find reliably. Deeds - which can only be obtained reliably from The Weald - are an especially notable bottleneck, as they are required to upgrade both the Stagecoach and the Blacksmith. Obtaining enough Deeds to advance is a long road, to say the least.

Once you do hit Veteran level, you will find that Darkest Dungeon relies heavily on recycled content. Having defeated the Apprentice Necromancer, you will have to fight the Necromancer - essentially the same boss with better stats and more sophisticated A.I. It helps, of course, that these bosses are all look fantastically cool to look at and fun to fight - or just plain gross, as in the case of the Inchoate Flesh, which I wound up dubbing "Melty Pig." But it's ultimately a bit of a downer that the Veteran and Champion-level dungeons don't have new bosses of their own.

So what keeps me playing, then? A lot of things, to be honest. I've got the short-term goal of leveling up my Blacksmith and making enough money to outfit a top-quality party. I've got the endgame to look forward to. But what really keeps me coming back is the rich and diverse cast, the huge number of interesting systems - some of which I haven't even managed to cover in this review, like camping - and the sheer excellence of its presentation.

Of course, hardcore RPG fans will tell you that graphics don't matter; and to some extent, I think that's true. But Darkest Dungeon makes the case for a great presentation being able to set a game's tone in a way that makes it stand out from everything else. So much of what makes Darkest Dungeon memorable is bound up in its dark music, its Lovecraftian monsters, and its narrator intoning after a victory, "Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer." Darkest Dungeon's systems are outstanding, but its presentation is what takes it to another level.

So while I've occasionally grown frustrated with Darkest Dungeon's grind, I've always found myself coming back. There's always just one more run to undertake, one more boss to kill, and one more broken and gibbering soul to send into oblivion. I'm in this for the long haul.

Interface
Darkest Dungeon's point-and-click interface is speedy and reasonably easy to understand. Outside of the somewhat confusing Resolve level, which governs how much stress a character accrues in a dungeon, the systems are well-presented and easy to grasp.

Lasting appeal
It's pretty easy to rack up between 50 and 100 hours in Darkest Dungeon, with some going as high as 1500 hours (no, really). It's a grind, but the constant danger that accompanies every run keeps it from being rote and boring.

Sound
The narrator is brilliant and menacing in an over-the-top sort of way, and the music does a great job of setting the mood. This is a game you definitely want to play while wearing headphones.

Visuals
Darkest Dungeon is stylish and brimming with personality. Its monsters are menacing, and its bosses are huge and terrifying. You look at this game and understand why your party is constantly on the verge of madness. In short, it's great.

I can't say enough nice things about Darkest Dungeon. Its presentation is brilliant, its systems are smart and well-constructed, and it does a lot to subvert what we should expect from the average dungeon crawler. For a game built around slowly grinding up multiple parties of adventurers, it's remarkable how fresh it can feel even after more than 50 hours. It's only January, but Darkest Dungeon is already one of my favorite games of the year.

4.5/5

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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