Review: Darkest Dungeon (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): January 18, 2018
- Publisher: Red Hook Studios (Digital), Merge Games (Physical)
- Developer: Red Hook Studios
- Genres: Rougelike, Strategy, RPG
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
The Dankest of Dungeons
Ahhh Darkest Dungeon, that wonderful combination of rougelike dungeon crawling exploration, turn based combat, brutal RNG, and carefully planned strategy, all tied together by a gritty, Lovecraftian styled world and an even grittier narrator voiced by Wayne June. Darkest Dungeon starts out with a letter, written by “the Ancestor”, that gives you the general premise of the game; you inherited a mansion that was seemingly built on a pit to hell. You’re tasked with exploring the surrounding lands and mansion, on a quest to clear the land of evil and face the perils of the deepest, Darkest, dankest Dungeon of them all!
Of course, Darkest Dungeon has a reputation of being brutally difficult, which is well earned, so this is easier said than done. The game starts out with a quick tutorial that introduces you to the general mechanics of the game; dungeons are set up as a collection of procedurally generated rooms, each room being connected by hallways that lead to the next room. Each hallway has randomly generated loot, traps, enemies, and every now and again your old fashion eldritch horror. Fun! Exploration is done in a side-scrolling manner, where the player controls a party of up to 4 characters. Each character you can play is randomly generated as well; they’re given a class from a selection of 15 (or 17, if you have the DLC), battle skills, and various quirks and afflictions that can have both positive or negative effects as you play. When you enter a dungeon, you’re given a basic quest to complete that usually ends up being “explore the dungeon” or “kill the enemies!” or “collect the loot!”, but generally speaking all you’ll want to do in every dungeon is explore as much as you can, if you can.
Combat is turned based, and because of the way each character class works, strongly focuses on strategy and party management and can become quite complex in later dungeons. The party system consists of 4 slots, with each character class having a preferred location where they can perform attacks and skills. The Crusader, for example, has a preferred location of being in the front two slots, as a majority of his battle skills require being in those two slots to be used. The Plague Doctor, on the other hand, prefers being in the 3rd or back slot to use his skills. Keeping this party lineup is crucial during combat and can easily be disrupted by various enemy attacks, which can cause even the best of runs to turn to ruin in minutes as you try to reorder your party just to do some damage. There are various status effects you’ll face during combat, like Blight, Bleed, stat debuffs, getting marked by enemies, and being at “Death’s Door”, which is like a second chance for heroes when their HP hits 0. Overall, combat is pretty brutal, but after a few forays into each dungeon, and facing a few character deaths, you’ll learn from a majority of your mistakes, even though a lot of them come from RNG than anything.
HP and status effects aren’t the only thing you have to keep an eye on in Darkest Dungeon, however. Not only will you take damage to your health during combat, your heroes will also take a type of mental damage as well, indicated by their Stress level. A hero's stress level can be affected in multiple ways, by taking damage, by decreasing torch light while adventuring, by running into traps or by random events scattered throughout hallways. Once a hero’s Stress level hits 100, they face a Resolve Check. If the hero passes the check, they’ll receive a Virtue which gives them some temporary buffs and makes them immune to future stress related events. Nice! When you fail, which is 75% likely, your hero will become “Afflicted”, and that’s pretty bad. Why? Because those heroes will now begin to behave unpredictably and can cause harm to more than just themselves, which is bad news in a game as brutal as Darkest Dungeon. Afflicted heroes will receive and dish out additional stress damage to the party, occasionally disobey an order completely during combat which can have disastrous effects, and they’ll even occasionally steal loot that, in some cases, may be the difference between life and death for other characters in the party (damn Framan stealing that damn food that could have fed my damn Hellion and saved him from dying from hunger >:(). Being Afflicted isn’t the worst that can happen, however. If you let a hero’s Stress level hit max at 200, your character will suffer from a heart attack, have their health set to 0, and be put right on Death’s Door. And if you’re already on Death’s Door? Bam, that character is dead.
Thankfully, all that Stress and all those negative quirks your character might pick up as you play can be taken care of in the Hamlet. The Hamlet is the main hub of Darkest Dungeon, where you’ll be able to upgrade and recruit new characters, heal stress and remove or reinforce quirks, and purchase additional trinkets to give your heroes some nice buffs and stat increases that may be helpful as you explore higher level dungeons. The Hamlet is also where Heirlooms (collected as you explore dungeons) become useful, as they act as the main currency used to upgrade the various facilities to increase their effectiveness and add features, such as expanding the number of characters that arrive in the Stage Coach each week, or allowing more slots to be used in the Abbey or Tavern for reducing stress for more characters at one time. Before entering Dungeons, the Hamlet will also provide you with the option to purchase various provisions like the ever important torches, food, shovels, potions, keys and various other items that may be useful as you explore each dungeon.
+ Pretty Lovecraftian styled world with an interesting backstory tacked on.
+ Great strategy/party management combat style.
+ Gritty narrator voice fits perfectly with the game's setting.
+ Lot of replayability, thanks to the randomly generated characters and dungeons.
- Brutal RNG that, in some cases, is simply unfair for the point of being unfair.
- Text is a bit too small too read in portable mode on the Switch.
out of 10
Darkest Dungeon on the Switch is basically just that, Darkest Dungeon on the Switch. It's not the first portable version (that's the Vita), it's not the first touch screen version (that's iOS), and it has no exclusive features that make it worth more on the Switch than any other console, but it's still Darkest Dungeon. If you've never played the game before, or if you want to play it on the go and don't own an iPad or Vita, then the Switch version is likely your best choice.