Darkest Dungeon is one of the latest success stories from Kickstarter. It smashed its original goal of seventy-five thousand dollars in less than twenty-four hours and Red Hook studios ended up with over three-hundred thousand dollars towards creating their presented project. A turn-based, side-scrolling, rogue-like RPG based around the psychological stress of adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is set in a dark part of the world, overrun with monsters and all sorts of eldritch horrors. The story states that some years ago, a man spent all of his wealth delving deeper into the depths of his house and the earth beneath it. He eventually went too far, and in a very Lovecraftian turn; ends up opening a portal which releases untold horrors into the world. These horrors lurk in the area around his mansion, where the ‘Darkest Dungeon’ itself lies. This is the final objective, and it has yet to be revealed in game.

Developer: Red Hook Studios

Release Date: Q3-Q4 2015

In its current Early Access build Darkest Dungeon gives the player access to three areas; The Ruins, Warrens, and Weald. Each area has a different concoction of nightmares awaiting your not so typical heroes. Darkest Dungeon can easily be described as hard core. The game takes no prisoners, and even the brief tutorial section pulls no punches. In this title, the player must guide a selection of four heroes through their choice of dungeon with a particular task in mind. Objectives vary a little, but it usually falls to kill everything or explore all available rooms.

There are ten hero types that can be recruited, each of which are similar to the fantasy archetypes but far enough from them to stay fresh. There is the Jester, wielding a knife and sickle; giggling while he cuts down his foes or the Crusader; who arms himself with righteous fury and a longsword. Each character roughly falls into either a fighter or a support role, but their abilities can be customized to change their preferred place in the party and their role. Characters will level up as they survive dungeons and should they fall; they will stay dead. If you’re feeling nostalgic, there is a graveyard you can visit.

This graveyard is located in The Town; the hub for the player to upgrade and manage their heroes. There is a stagecoach to hire new heroes(to replace the dead), a blacksmith to improve weapons and armour, and several other buildings. Each serves the purpose of either upgrading a hero’s equipment/abilities or keeping them sane and their level of stress low. This stress level is one of the main gameplay elements which sets Darkest Dungeon apart. These heroes are just people and they are facing unspeakable horrors; understandably they might get stressed out. It is just as important to keep your heroes healthy as it is sane. There are status effects that slow the character down or lower their attack but there are also psychological afflictions and bonuses. Perhaps you have a zealous Crusader who gains extra attack against unholy enemies, or your chosen Hellion has a fear of the undead and becomes frightened when fighting them.

This game stresses (get it?) the importance of balance. It is important to upgrade your heroes but also to upgrade helpful amenities in the local town, such as the church; which offers relief. These effects sound minor, and to a point they are. But every character has a limit, a breaking point. When pushed too far, they’ll become afflicted or they will push through and gain a brief heroic bonus. An afflicted character is a broken character. A hero might become abusive or paranoid, or ironically you could have a masochistic healer. This afflictions will lead the character to acting autonomously; which can truly mess up the party. The abusive character’s insults will affect the party’s morale just as much as the crazed mutterings of your paranoid Bounty Hunter. These afflictions can be cured at The Town, through a chosen source of relief. But the level of stress for an unbroken character will remain unless relieved or they hit this breaking point as well.

While this game lacks an actual ending at the moment, Darkest Dungeon could easily be released as a full game. Patches and bug-fixes are released daily and more often, several are released in a single day. More heroes are to be added in future updates, as are the two locked dungeons. The gameplay is that of a finished game, with tweaks being constantly added to ensure balance. For those looking for a challenging, rogue-like RPG experience; look no further than Darkest Dungeon.

Full release planned for Q3-Q4 of 2015.