Darkest Dungeon is a brilliantly orchestrated video game love letter to all things Lovecraft. Taking into account H.P. Lovecraft's intertwining worlds of psychological horror, and that staple style of storytelling the developer known as Red Hook applies every possible detail in accordance to said source material to make the game's journey into delirium all the more genuine. Every choice you make in relation to your outgoing party's descent into the abysmal estate grounds that they find themselves treading underfoot is so crucial that the experience at hand becomes quite the task from the get go. From the intense battles to the trek through the growing darkness you will witness your hired characters losing their sanity as they fall victim to every physical, and metaphysical threat imaginable. Their only comfort coming from rest, and restoration at a nearby hamlet. A place where the sins of the flesh, and a visit to the sanitarium can cure all of their ills. Of course this all comes with a price, and it is through your increasingly difficult adventures that you will not only stave off the unwelcome denizens of the damned to relieve your family's curse, but also loot the residence for what it's worth. With an eerie atmosphere amplified by blood red visuals, and a dark theme filled with voice-over talent befitting of a 'Triple A' game release this challenging ordeal that awaits you will no doubt intrigue even the most wary of gamers despite any issues they might have with hardcore gaming experiences. That I believe.
When the game begins you will be introduced to the familiar plot setup that most Lovecraft tales harbor. A tale of madness brought on by an inherited curse inflicted from unspeakable otherwordly horrors. In this case an elderly man of exceptional wealth finds that his curiosity in his estate's underground chambers was ill-placed. Upon the excavation of the site his crew of hired hands unearth a portal to a dark realm. It is from this portal that the most vile creatures escape, and that the curse that befell the elderly man was passed onto you as a relative, and inheritor of the stately cliffside manor. This is all shown through slightly animated art panels akin to what you'll witness once you get into the actual gameplay.
The gameplay, which is of course the core focus of the tale at hand is sectioned off in tasks that are governed by a weekly calendar which takes in account the lives and deaths of your four hired party members. These tasks include various preparations at the hamlet such as buying supplies, the hiring of characters, the upgrading of vendors, therapeutic rest, and the outings at the various locations of the estate that offer up different challenges and rewards through an increasing difficulty setting. Initially through the hamlet tutorial, and preparations you'll embark on your first journey in one of the several estate locales including the road leading up to said estate. Your party of four persons will be a randomly chosen lot from the vendor at the hamlet, but will include a caster, a melee character, a healer, and a defender. Character classes in this game include, but are not limited to a knight, a grave robber, a leper, a houndsman, and a handful of other interesting medieval inspired persons for hire. Each character class comes with their own set of skills, accordingly, as well as specific weapons and gear that can be upgraded if they survive long enough to take advantage of the hamlet's Blacksmith vendor or the skills vendor.
In regards to party management you'll find that the order in which you align your party members will effect their damage, and assists when in battle. The front standing character will deal more damage while those further back will deal less damage. That sort of thing. You can switch positions between battle, and before you choose to go on an outing. When it comes to navigating the dark dungeons, and roads you'll find that the game offers up a map with all locations of importance, and their significance when it comes to what each room contains. As a rule of thumb you will be traveling left to right in a side-scrolling manner until you are prompted to press a direction on the Dpad to change rooms, prompted to enter a door/gate, or until you confront enemy creatures. The goals for each outing will vary, but most will either have you braving a certain percentage of the rooms, or killing off a certain number of creatures. There are even instances where you'll have a specific enemy goal or room goal. All objectives are shown on the main estate map under the respective location names which each harbor icons that in turn harbor instructions, and difficulty details. The more you play through a challenge/area the more challenging said area will become in regards to set difficulty.
If you successfully navigate a dungeon, and survive the horrors therein you can return to the hamlet, and make use of the loot you found. Speaking of said loot you will find treasures as enemy drops as well as objects hidden away in the environmental set pieces. These along with the earned gold can be spent on hamlet vendor services or used to upgrade the vendors to do such things as reduce prices, and add features. In the hamlet there are a couple of sanity restoring vendors as well as a sanitarium. The sanity restoration options come in the form of a church-like vendor, and a bar. Each containing various sinful options such as gambling, a brothel, and meditation among other things. The sanity which these establishments clear up comes into play in your outings. As you face the darkness, and the nightmarish creatures there your sanity/stress meter will increase driving you ever more insane. This will result in quirks that can either be positive or negative depending on circumstance. A negative quirk can hinder party efforts while a positive quirk can help. Going to either the bar, the church, or the sanitarium can help lower the stress levels, or even the quirks and diseases that your characters contract. The later being fixed at the sanitarium. The sanitarium in particular can be used to alter or keep quirks, and even cure diseases. Making use of these vendors is very important when it comes to making it further into the game.
Characters who fall during outings will be memorialized with stat records at the hamlet cemetery. Luckily you can hire extra characters at the associated vendor if you lose your party.That being said it is important to keep your characters well so that they level up, and can have their skills and gear upgraded. I should probably also mention that completing outings will sometimes reward you with trinkets. These pricey baubles add perks to certain character classes, but can also be sold. In the hamlet there is also a merchant who sells, and stocks such trinkets. There's that and a fountain where you can replay all cinematics, and narrations as you unlock them in the game. One cool thing about the Darkest Dungeon is that it has a checklist of things to do as you go about testing your mettle against the horrors before you.
Crimson Court ...
The Crimson Court DLC, which comes with the Crimson Edition of Darkest Dungeon is an add-on that doesn't interrupt previous playthroughs, but instead extends upon them with an activation option made available at the start menu. You'll get access to a new character known as the, "Flagellant" which will come in handy within the extended areas of the estate. You'll also get access to new areas, and new enemies. For $9.99 it's not a bad deal. That being the DLC, separate. Supposing you are like me, and have yet to buy or own the core game you can get it bundled with the new DLC for "$29.99 (US)". Even better still is the fact that both the PS4 version, and PS Vita version are cross-buy. Meaning that if you buy one you can download it for free on the other console!
The Verdict ...
I absolutely love this Lovecraft inspired RPG. It stays true to Lovecraft's formula for psychological horror throughout it's entirety. The narration that is constantly going on adds an intensity to the fight for survival, and sanity. The art style also reflects the macabre nature of Lovecraftian horror making it visually impressive. It's a gritty, and grisly battle that does not let up in it's challenge, but that draws you back in no matter how many times you may fail. The replay value is definitely there, and the quality even more so. I can't remember the last time I was impressed this much with an indie experience. Being a fan of horror I was even more impressed. I think it's worth a buy. I think if you don't have it you are missing out on one of the best games of the year. Seriously.