The jiffy exist. You probably thought that saying “in a jiffy” was just trendy slang, dad. But this is science, are you digging? A “boost” measures the time it takes for the light to travel a centimeter.
It’s infinitesimal, really, to measure something so fast over such a small distance. But sometimes you need a bang, just one, before the lights go out. Especially if you walk through the ruins under a cursed ancestral domain, where the distance between light and dark is measured in life and death.
This is the premise of Darkest dungeon. Released in 2016 from Red Hook Studios, Darkest Dungeon is one of those delicious indie bites: a turn-based, side-scrolling, gothic, roguelite, dungeon-crawler RPG. But those obtuse labels capture one thing that’s true about this game – it‘s good, and it’s complicated.
Darkest Dungeon begins with a simple preamble. Players assume the role of guardian of a once important domain that has fallen victim to dark and evil forces after the discovery of a demonic gateway deep underground. The result is that the grounds are now filled with traps, monsters, bandits, and underworld horrors and it’s up to you to hire adventurers who can defeat evil once and for all.
And you will hire a lot of them, because Darkest Dungeon is not a hero’s journey. The main gameplay involves recruiting an ever-growing roster of fearless adventurers, training them and, more interestingly, helping them recover from their trauma.
In addition to your standard health and experience points, your heroes will increase stress. Too much mental trauma can result in one of dozens of negative effects, such as a debilitating fear of animals that reduces combat effectiveness or an abusive personality that brings down the entire team. Most of your new hires eventually die, and even your valued veterans can fall victim to bad circumstances as the challenges increase.
Then there is the light. Darkest Dungeon takes its name literally, and every foray into creeks, meanders, and wharfs requires a constant supply of torches. The brighter your light, the easier your trip. But you don’t get the right loot for being easy. Let the lights go out completely and you’re ready for the fight of a lifetime, but the loot is ridiculous. And don’t worry if you’re sticking out your head. You can always opt out of an adventure, but it comes with steep stress penalties. Some holidays are worth saving, others are not. The underlying strategy is literally choosing your battles.
The fights themselves are fantastic. The heart of this game is how it delivers the ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ curve of a great turn-based RPG. Parties are a mix of standard classes (support, DPS, tank, etc.) but the devil is in the details when it comes to the environments and challenges ahead. You ultimately unlock the ability to camp on longer trips, unlocking a secondary healing and recovery system that adds another dimension of skill to your heroes.
There are also plenty of other RPG benefits that you would expect. Items and equipment for days, perilous decision points (should you open that spooky chest?).
And did I mention that it gets a massive discount ($ 3.74!) In the Steam store through January 5th? It’s also available on Game Pass and for sale on PlayStation and Switch as well. So if you’re in the mood for something tactical and terrifying, check it out ASAP.