Darkest Dungeon is a satisfyingly difficult $25 gothic RPG for Xbox and PC

My attention has been held captive for weeks by Darkest Dungeon. It's well worth a look for fans of punishing, tactical games.

Darkest Dungeon is a renowned roguelike RPG with an emphasis on tactical combat, procedural dungeon crawling, and utterly oppressive game mechanics.

Darkest Dungeon hit Xbox One on February 28, 2018, having previously launched on PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. It's maddeningly hard, with truly evil RNG and soul-crushing atmospherics, but I find it hard to put down.

Darkest Dungeon: What makes it awesome

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Genres:Tactical RPG, roguelike
Mode(s):Single Player
Developer:Red Hook Studios
Publisher:Red Hook Studios
Platform(s):PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Release date(s):PC: January 19, 2016, Xbox: February 28, 2018

In an age where Final Fantasy has practically become a slash 'em up, I find myself looking for turn-based RPGs in odd places. I had never heard of Darkest Dungeon, but a quick glance across Steam reviews showed how popular it was — and it's for good reason.

Darkest Dungeon takes place in a gothic world, which draws on classic horror inspirations and unmistakable Lovecraftian influences. You're tasked with the reconstruction of an inherited family manor, dilapidated and ruined with disrepair. Your benefactor spent the entirety of the family fortune seeking ancient relics, but found only horror in madness in the dark tombs he sought to plunder.

Though story isn't the primary focus of the game, you'll find text files and plenty of narration as you raid the game's dungeons, complemented by a suitably spooky musical score.

To build up your Manor, you'll hire mercenaries and adventurers of various types, and equip them with items purchased or found throughout your travels. Each time you embark upon a quest, you'll be given some clues as to what sorts of dangers you'll face. Customizing your mercs is part of the fun of the game, as they can be levelled up and granted new skills as you might expect.

The uniqueness of Darkest Dungeon comes into play when you actually begin to delve into the depths of those eponymous dungeons.

Darkest Dungeon places an emphasis on the psychological well being of your heroes as well as their strengths and powers. Your torches will burn as you proceed through dungeons, increasing the fear and stress experienced by your heroes, in addition to increasing the power of the dark enemies you will face.

Too much stress build-up can lead your heroes to crack, producing an array of both positive, but mostly negative effects. Some heroes thrive under pressure, whereas others might go insane. Managing these dynamic systems keeps Darkest Dungeon interesting, particularly when combined with the way its dungeons are generated with randomized loot, narrative objects, and layouts.

As you grow in power, you'll upgrade your manor with various facilities, helping you rid heroes of their negative traits and fears, while nurturing more useful ones. Darkest Dungeon becomes wonderfully addictive if you're predisposed to upgrade 'em up-style gameplay.

Like any self respecting roguelike, Darkest Dungeon throws tons of other curveballs into the mix, some of which might drive you mad.

Darkest Dungeon: What might drive you mad

Darkest Dungeon (Image credit: Red Hook)

Darkest Dungeon features various mechanics designed to punish the player in twisted ways. During missions, you'll have to manage character status effects, stress levels, and hunger, and provision accordingly. Sometimes, you might end up running out of sorely needed items, or not have enough cash to purchase them at all. Characters permanently die, too, and a nasty crit on your healer is sometimes hard to avoid or compensate for.

Darkest Dungeon features various mechanics designed to punish the player in twisted ways.

Darkest Dungeon warns players in its opening that you're not supposed to survive all missions, and you're not supposed to get attached to your heroes. Even your favorite characters will eventually die; the game is far too perilous to rely on any single hero. Darkest Dungeon passively saves too, so don't expect to save scum your way to victory.

In addition to randomized layouts and loot, dungeons also contained randomized enemies and hazards. A quick exploration of a iron maiden led to one of my most useful characters becoming trapped. He took damage, a huge stress hit and became inflicted with a claustrophobia quirk, permanently increasing his stress level in corridors.

Mitigating the chaos is the name of the game, but it's folly to try and play "perfectly." If you're the type of gamer who hates roguelike-style RNG chaos, Darkest Dungeon might drive you mad.

Additionally, at least on Xbox, the UI too is almost as oppressive as the game's atmosphere. Finding basic controls for moving the map around, igniting torches, and finding other UI features is a huge chore and quite difficult to get used to. Hopefully, the studio will improve it with subsequent patches.

Darkest Dungeon: Final Thoughts

Darkest Dungeon is a tremendous game that offers something quite unique on Xbox One. Few games follow the Lovecraftian tradition so well, with relentlessly ghastly dungeons and terrifying eldritch horrors.

At $25, Darkest Dungeon is a supremely high-value purchase, offering dozens of hours of dynamic gameplay, albeit not for the faint at heart. Proceed with caution, because achieving victory in this game is so, so satisfying.

Buy at Xbox Store

This review was conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by Microsoft.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!