Developing games in public is a strange thing. Darkest Dungeon [official site] seemed to be advancing smoothly through early access, earning plaudits from its very first version, but in the past month its Steam reviews have started to take a turn for the worse. The culprit is a set of newly introduced features that make the game harder, including corpses and heart attacks. In response to the angst, developers Red Hook Studios have just released a patch that allows you to turn those two features off.
Step below and I’ll explain what corpses are.
The main problem is with a new system whereby defeated enemies, instead of vanishing, turn into motionless corpses that then act as a shield for the enemies still behind them. This is designed so that enemy hordes hold their formation for longer, to stop players simply targeting the lead enemy over and over such that the entire enemy party eventually slides into range of your melee tank up front. One of the consequences of the system however is that it makes the game harder, extending the length of fights. One of the problems, meanwhile, is that the system doesn’t wholly make sense – corpses, though stationary, can be missed by your attacks, and your own defeated adventurers do not become corpses – which increases the feeling that the game is unfair.
Corpses eventually degrade on their own, but when combined with other features including heart attacks for over-stressed adventurers, and increased armour and chance to crit for enemies, a portion of the community felt that a game they liked and were experienced in had significantly changed for the worse.
There are design notes from the developers on why corpses were added in the first place, but in the Steam post responding to the complaints, Red Hook’s Tyler Sigman explained why they’d now decided to give you the option to turn them off:
Just as we were willing to experiment by adding these features, we are willing to experiment with ways to allow you to shape the DD experience a bit to your liking. As many of you know, we have been reluctant to add difficulty related options until now because focusing on our intended version of the game has been our number one priority and our experiments and changes during Early Access have all been in support of iterating on that. But it would be foolish for us to not consider the fact that the Darkest Dungeon community is now big enough to include diverse groups, some of which would like to play the game differently than we might have envisioned. Although we’ve always been unapologetic about how important it is that Darkest Dungeon is punishing, unforgiving, and sometimes not even “fair”…at the end of the day we want those of you who own it to have fun and that can’t be forgotten.
Sigman underlines that they still consider these features being on as their “official vision” for the game.
I find this kind of negotiation between designer and community fascinating. Players are great at telling you whether they enjoy something, though not always why or why not; while designers often have a strong and interesting idea of what they want a game to be, but that doesn’t always correspond to what the player’s desire. I wonder, in the case of Darkest Dungeon’s corpses and heart attacks, whether making them optional is a fair solution or simply a bandage that leaves both methods of playing the game as lesser than they might be if underlying design issues were addressed.
We’ll send someone into Darkest Dungeon to gather some thoughts soon. In the meantime, isn’t the game’s art lovely?