Do Corpses Make Darkest Dungeon Too Difficult?

Red Hook’s team-based, disaster-packed roguelike Darkest Dungeon [official site] always seemed slightly at war with itself. Was it a tongue-in-cheek romp through Cthulhian dungeons, or was it a painstaking exercise in squad micro-management and not-a-foot-wrong combat strategy? Both, in practice, but increasingly it seems Darkest Dungeon was intended to be the latter. Its own internal cold war between merriment and masochism came to a head last week, as long-term fans griped anout the latest changes to the early access game. Graham summarised these yesterday, but in a nutshell: focal point for the discontent was a new system which sees defeated enemies leave behind corpses, which in many cases block your guys from attacking any still-living foes stood behind the carcass. Other, apparently difficulty-hiking features (such as heart attacks) also came under fire.

In a game which heaps upon your heroes an unrelenting onslaught of misfortunes including bleeding, starvation, blight, phobias, fetishes, curses, traps and addictions (not to mention straight-up murder at the hands of various monsters and malcontents), this latest cruelty seemed one too many. The volume of complaints eventually caused the developers to add an option for players to deactivate corpses and heart attacks. Curious as to whether this was a case of knee-jerk internet pitchforks at dawn or the developers having made a bona fide boo-boo, I descended back into the Darkest Dungeon to sample its latest horrors for myself.

Short answer: calm down, internet. Corpses and heart attacks ain’t no thing in and of themselves.

Long answer: corpses and heart attacks are but a symptom of a game which has clearly struggled to reconcile its dual nature, increasingly coming down on the side of obstacle and aggravation for obstacle and aggravation’s sake, and I’m not at all surprised people are getting fed up.

Even longer answer: the eight or so paragraphs below.

I always liked Darkest Dungeon, but it was never without deep-set irritations. Its so-doomy-it-must-be-at-least-faintly-satirical commentary raises it sky-high, and its focus on how adventuring in frightful places leaves potentially permanent scars on your heroes’ minds made it a refreshing inversion of RPG tropes, as well as an entertainingly unusual exercise in team management. Send ’em to self-flagellate, booze themselves into oblivion or seek the pleasures of paid flesh to heal their minds, rather than simply brute-force your way through hell with perfunctory potion-quaffing. But the central trouble, for me, of its earliest builds was that so many things go wrong so often, and it struggled to convey all this information and its effects efficiently. Trekking through a deep, dark monster lair with a team who whimper and grouse and fail to strike true is one thing, but it’s quite another to be constantly interrupted by canned dialogue denoting heroes’ ailments, or slow, repeated animations to show damage over time effects, gritting one’s teeth miserably during the sometimes endless-feeling wait to make a usually failed attempt to stab a baddie.

The mechanics were clever and engrossing, but the game lacked flow. Initially, this improved significantly and quickly, as the devs responded to feedback, ironing out delays and tightening up the fluidity of its many feedback barks. New heroes, monsters and items came into play, and the adventure as a whole got bigger. Darkest Dungeon seemed well on course to meet its early promise. But lately it’s returned its focus to punishment, looking inwards rather than outwards as part of an apparent attempt to return to unending doom rather than jolly adventure. Going back to Darkest Dungeon for the first time in a few months, in the wake of all this bellyaching about corpses, I was disappointed to find that it’s taken up its old bad habits again.

There’s so much stuff in the way, so many little delays, so many animations or messages to tell you about everything that’s going wrong, so long before you can press one of your attack buttons (or, at least, that’s how it feels). It is, I think, trying to prevent players from simply ploughing through dungeons and treating quirks and ailments as simply flavour, and to encourage them to regularly rotate their roster of heroes rather than rely on a core team. This is fine in theory: it’s the game’s ethos and why it’s appealing. In practice, a simple combat loop is being artificially slowed down, with the very respectable aim of making every step and every action feels fearful and dangerous. There’s no chance you can simply batter your way through all those brutes and beasts who ambush you, and even if you succeed there will be terrible consequences. Great on paper, and at various points in DD’s life great in pixels too, but the mechanical and repetitive, interruption-heavy way this has been achieved – no doubt limited by the existent restrictions of the game and its available resources – unfortunately makes Darkest Dungeon in its current form feel tiresome if played at length.

And so to corpses, which I haven’t found make the game particularly more difficult so long as I wasn’t playing it recklessly, but they do slow it down even more, without ostensibly adding anything to enliven the experience. Here’s how they work: if you kill an enemy, in most circumstances their sprite is replaced by a small mound of flesh and bones, about the size of a cowpat. Where previously any enemies stood behind their fallen ally would all shuffle forwards, so that your heroes’ short-range attacks can reach them, now they remain in place until the corpse is ‘killed’ as well. It’s not difficult to get around this: corpses don’t withstand many attacks, at least some of your four team members should be able to target enemies at the back of a stack, and abilities which auto-clear all corpses on the battlefield are easy to come by. The trouble is, well, just read the last paragraph back.

In both concept and execution, the corpse system is simply daft. What, a slumped, fallen, quite possibly hacked-to-pieces body makes a meat shield for up to three others? The other dudes who are trying to kill you are always going to keep on standing as far back as possible rather than try and get in there? Stabbing and spelling a carcass a few times makes it evaporate entirely? Magic can instantly whisk three bodies out of sight but can’t carry away even one living soul? Not to mention that bodies are presented as being six-inch-high domes that even a baby could climb over. And a corpse with a health bar? It looks dumb on the screen, even though the thinking behind it is not. Worse than that, it’s boring. Essentially, you have to constantly alternate fighting with sweeping the floor. It is possible that it encourages people who try to rely on simply stabbing with their front two team members and healing with their back two to mix up tactics and ensure they can do damage from anywhere, but frankly this is already something you’d learn from a few hours with the game anyway. I didn’t find that corpses made my experience much more difficult, but the already-repetitive fights became more drawn-out, and my desire to run more dungeons wavered.

Like I say, the corpse system is a front-line symptom of what’s apparently going on throughout Darkest Dungeon. It has slowly, surely escalated its cruelties, and corpses suffer for simply being the most visible example of this. To play it now is for your heroes to be bombarded by pop-up maladies, poisons and spurting wounds, by psychoses which see them refuse to fight or otherwise misbehave, and by enemies who hit a little harder and take a greater toll on your warriors’ sanity. It’s not a slow trickle of fear and anxiety, it’s an onslaught of busywork. Now there’s this distinction between temporary and permanent quirks too, the latter meaning it costs more and takes longer to remove madness, phobia or addiction from your heroes than it already did. I.e., more wait, more work.

Heart attacks, another system which has drawn community criticism, aren’t quite as silly as corpses, but it’s one more burden to manage, and another factor which doesn’t feel additive. In short: if your heroes get too stressed during a dungeon run, they’ll suffer fatal cardiac arrest. It’s in keeping with everything Darkest Dungeon is about – the trauma of battling monsters – but extreme stress or misfortune already adds multiple maladies and phobias to your characters, which in turn makes them rubbish at fighting and therefore likely to get killed by their enemies, so yet another way to die seems redundant, and even a little arbitrary.

Darkest Dungeon isn’t actually unfair, in that tactics and planning, not to mention persistence and concious sacrifice, will more or less win the day, but it slams the brakes on during what so very obviously is fast, straightforward combat at heart so often that it feels unfair, which may well be worse.

It is, I think, the mark of a game which seeks to first and foremost be gruelling, and has become worried that it might be too playful. The problem is two-fold. One, many of its Early Access community enjoy the playfulness and so are clashing with what Darkest Dungeon’s creators want from it. Two, again, an over-reliance on slowdown and repetition: in other words, grind. A sad fate for a game which sought to leave roleplaying stereotypes behind.

There’s every chance Darkest Dungeon will throw half this stuff out in favour of other systems, that it’s simply trying things on for size in the Early Access changing rooms – but the trouble is we can all see it. And we can all shout ‘your bum looks big in that’ if we don’t like what we see. The grind-y changes strike me as a consequence of listening to that part of any game’s fanbase which will cry ‘harder, harder, ’til it makes me bleed’ as much as it does the devs not wanting their game to become another jolly, hacky-slashy roguelite, but now they’ve got to face the complaints from those who just want to have a good time. I don’t for one second envy them having to reconcile opposing voices, let alone stay true to what the creators themselves want. Darkest Dungeon has been, in a great many respects still is and may well once again become a wonderful game, but right now it seems to be struggling to execute its vision. I love what DD is trying to do, but I’m worried it’s getting bogged down in adding more and more minutiae that only handicaps it.

Monster corpses? Yeah, turn ’em off: but turn them off because they’re irritating, not because they’re too hard.

86 Comments

  1. GoblinOneEye says:

    I actually really like corpses and heart attacks. The heart attacks I find to be a great narrative element, and while maybe they could use some fine tuning (reduce the speed stress is handed out) I wouldn’t ever turn it off. As for corpses, I like that they keep back row enemies in the back row, and the game does give you tools to deal with corpses (plague doctor + leper can both clear them in one attack). There are heroes who have a lot of moves for shuffling or dragging enemies forward and back through the ranks, and the corpses play into those abilities very nicely.

    Is either system perfect as is? Maybe not, but I still like them.

    • KevinLew says:

      The point of the article isn’t that corpses (for example) were game-breaking and made the game extraordinarily difficult.

      The message is two-fold. First of all, the corpse mechanic doesn’t make a lick of sense. The game is now implying that enemies are taking cover behind a dead body laying on the ground. Like in the middle of battle, you’d be able to use a dead person as a shield. Second, the whole reason this mechanic was introduced wasn’t to improve the game any, but to slow players down in combat. It’s not a game feature, unless you really think the game will list “Enemy Corpses” as a selling point.

      • Munin says:

        Yup.

        If it doesn’t make the game harder, raise the skill ceiling in other words, but adds to the amount of time you need to play the game then all it does is add grind. It is like unskippable attack animations or an overabundance of of confirmation prompts for every action.

      • Jakkar says:

        No, the corpses aren’t used as ‘cover’, as any ranged attack that can target rear-positioned foes can still do so. The corpses prevent characters several metres down the corridor from inexplicably sliding forwards between turns. Further, the corpses – in a narrow corridor – prevent armoured troops from advancing. While stepping over a corpse should not be an insurmountable challenge, would you care to do so in the dark, on stones slick with blood, toward monsters, while trying to hold both a heavy shield and a sword aloft? For example?

      • IAmUnaware says:

        What on earth? In what way do corpses slow the game down? Are you attacking them or something? If you choose to play poorly, you can’t blame the game for the outcome of that decision.

        What corpses do is make the game significantly better balanced. Without corpses, attacks that hit the back two lines of the enemy party are extremely weak and basically never worth taking, because if you’re doing your job in combat (that is, killing the enemies) the fourth row will always be empty by the end of the first turn, and the third shortly after. This both significantly lowers the options for viable skill builds and effectively removes some classes from viable play entirely. For example, the Plague Doctor was completely useless before corpses were implemented, because the thing she’s best at–laying DoT damage and reliable stuns on both of the back two rows at the same time–was never, ever useful. The ranged pistol, throwing dagger, and dart attacks of the Highwayman and Grave Robber were also significantly weaker, since the fact that they can’t hit the front row meant they were always useless during the last parts of the battle, when you’re fighting the one remaining high-prot enemy. The fact that corpses maintain the enemy formation during battle means that you can actually use these skills and classes, instead of having to put all your eggs into the “Only hit the front two rows” basket, which was the thing making only about four of the game’s classes any good.

        The only way corpses slow anything down is if you’re spending turns hitting them for some reason, and if you’re doing that then the solution is to STOP HITTING THE CORPSES. Corpses do not lengthen combat by even a single action unless you have for some reason built a party that is only capable of hitting the first two rows of the enemy formation. The solution is certainly NOT to turn off a large portion of the design that makes many game elements more functional. With corpses on, your options for viable party builds are dramatically increased. Why would you want to go back to the broken version of the game where only one strategy is viable and combat boils down entirely to “Smash front monster with melee attack, smash front monster with same melee attack, smash front monster with same melee attack”?

    • GoblinOneEye says:

      I understood that, and still, I prefer the corpses to no corpses. And saying it makes no sense for enemies to be behind corpses is debatable. The hallways are supposed to be tight corridors that limit movement and mobility, part of the reason combat occurs in the 4 ranks – tripping over bodies and being hindered by obstacles in the environment suits that theme.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      What bugs me about the corpses is that the shuffling was in and of itself an important element. Maybe I’m just not very good at the game–likely, honestly–but it was possible for a character to go from useful to useless (or vice versa) after an enemy was killed because of changes to which enemies he/she could target. I still have yet to beat a single boss, but I got the Necromancer’s Apprentice down to 10 HP or so and couldn’t win because my other three characters were dead and he wasn’t in a position the survivor could hit.

      • Frogman says:

        Shuffling was pretty unimportant before, mostly because it was so janky. It was only ever on weaker attacks and only useful if all the monsters were still alive, so between the chance to miss, the chance it failed despite hitting, and the chance that the move wasn’t useful in that situation anyways…

        At best the benefit was that they’d spend a turn moving back into position. At worst they’d just use a move in their new position, essentially meaning you wasted a turn taking a risk when you could have been doing something useful.

        It just wasn’t great, is what I’m saying.

        Corpses are an inelegant solution, but it beats completely ignoring shuffling moves.

  2. Serenegoose says:

    I’m not at all surprised people are getting fed up, either, but I don’t think that means they have a point. I appreciate you’re saying that corpses don’t make the game harder (from what I’ve seen, they certainly don’t) but isn’t the nature of adding grind a very tricky point? I said in yesterday’s darkest dungeon post that to me, it’s like if dark souls had an early access period, and during that point they added enemies respawning at a bonfire. I imagine that would have caused quite an upset. Every time you lose a boss, all the bad guys come back! What a horrible grind.

    That is /intrinsic/ to the experience, love it or hate it.

    I feel that the problem is that in these sorts of games, inconveniencing the player is necessary. It’s like winding your torch up in metro 2033, or having to look at a map in Far cry 2 instead of just wandering towards the magic orb on your HUD, or even back in warcraft, where flights on the gryphon took time, instead of just giving you a loading screen. Small doses of life’s minor inconveniences are often a vital tool of immersion. The game’s tone is cruel and harrowing and pitiless. Not chummy chats and muffins with cthulhu. As for the corpses, I’m not sure where I stand on them, because I think they’re mechanically important. They make a whole slew of abilities actually worthwhile, instead of crap, and I genuinely think you’ve overegged the idea of spending ‘half the battle cleaning up’. I mean… it’s one move. You have 4 party members. But I won’t dispute that if you don’t enjoy it, fair enough! I just think… people who wanted a game that wasn’t about a miserable trudge into hell should maybe have picked… any other game? On Earth?

    Except Doom, I suppose.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Doom was on Mars :p

      • dethtoll says:

        It was on Phobos. And Deimos. And Earth. And Hell.

        It never actually touches Mars until Doom 3. Though UAC Ultra does a pretty good showing.

    • ninnyjams says:

      I don’t think talking about immersion when the immersion described is three people hiding behind a dead body … a dead body which you can target and MISS WITH A SWORD.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Woah there, Dark Souls’ respawning enemies do not act as a grind, it’s important to understand the difference. They act the same as starting a Mario level over. The area is an area, in the retro style where dying means starting over, improving your skill until you can get past all of it using the minimal resources you have.

      The important thing is that slowing things down for the sake of slowing things down is adding tedium. Slowing things down because there’s a very important reason to do so is not.

      Generally, I think Darkest Dungeon is way too slow considering what you actually get to do. The moment to moment battling isn’t that amazing as I see it. It’s far weaker than the battling of SMT or Etrian Oddysey, but the other elements to the game means raising a party and having them demolished in entertaining ways (entertaining darn it, “He had a heart attack because he got too stressed out” is boring when stress is already a primary mechanic) is. Dungeon delving and managing of resources is also fun.

      I think as an example, having mechanics which interact in awful ways would be a great way to make the game more interesting. For instance, if a character had x-phobia, was stressed, saw the thing they are afraid of and then had a heart attack, that would be amazing.

      More grueling battles isn’t really playing to the game’s strengths, as I see it.

      • Allenomura says:

        I agree. That would be a great way to liven things up. You might want to suggest that to the developers. The reason it would be effective is that it could instill in those playing a taste of the foreboding they are expecting their adventurers to persevere through.
        You also have a weight to every condition, to where you’re almost left playing dice with the RNG deities, to keep your people in the game, if you decide to push on. Because, a player may become aware that they are in an area known to include enemies that can induce maladies prompting fateful chain reactions, and that heightens the tension. Best of all though, is that it’s not an instant encumbrance upon play; for if such a downfall were to occur, the result could have been foreseen, the warning-signs heeded.

  3. Underwhelmed says:

    This article pretty much sums up what my opinion of the game has been since the initial honeymoon period I had with it after release. I don’t mind difficulty, and I don’t mind loss, but Darkest Dungeons doesn’t even let you get attached to anything before pulling it away. The entire game now requires a careful grind, and seems to be based entirely on not letting you progress. They have this great injury/insanity/quirk system that defines how characters get weaker over time, but the actual character ability advancement is limited to small numerical increases in hit chances and damage.

    Some people enjoy this, and indeed there are a lot of vocal members of the game’s community that complain that it is still too easy, but a lot of stuff would need to change before I could see myself bothering with it again. It’s a pity too, because it is a great concept, and one of the best looking games out there.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Yep. The best part of dark fantasy stories is having characters you grow to love despite their often deep flaws. You see them grow and then the veil of possible success is torn away as something too awful rips those you’ve grown to love apart.

      DD is so “dark” the people who join you might as well have already been torn apart, even if they aren’t you have to cycle your parties and there are just too many heroes to feel any attachment at all. So it ends up feeling like a subpar RPG with unique but too-light progression. Considering it’s so grimdark you can’t possibly get attached to the heroes, they might as well have tried for more grim humor or something, which could totally make up for gameplay which doesn’t stand up to “proper” RPGs.

      • Allenomura says:

        I think XCOM:EU did this much better. Through their stories, a history the player both witnessed and held command over, the game produces characters, because it doesn’t make the kind of almost narrative mis-steps that you indicate DD does. Another recent, (and less documented) example of a similar mechanic may be Guild of Dungeoneering.

        But back to Darkest, and the reason I mentioned Guild is because you have lowly characters that progress and advance through experience (at least in the QL I saw)
        Where instead, by most accounts in DD your characters mostly weaken with experience. If it’s established in Darkest Dungeon that your mercenary pool is limited in talent for whatever reason then the fragile, brittle nature of recruits can be easier grasped.

    • amateurviking says:

      So there aren’t positive traits to go with all the cool negative ones?

      • Kitsunin says:

        Yeah, but they’re all boring abilities which are both weak and circumstantial to a degree where actually keeping track of them in order to take advantage is tedious to the point of not being worthwhile. Your character might have six positive traits which each give them +10% in a specific area or against a specific type of enemy (and in that case you need to remember which area that type of enemy shows up in as well).

  4. Jeremy says:

    I haven’t really had the same experience. There are just so many different abilities that can be used to move enemies, remove corpses, or even prevent the issue by using a DoT(leaves no corpse) that it felt like it was creating a wider variety of strategies and groupings rather than being arbitrarily drawn out or difficult.

    • Sian says:

      I don’t know about you, but I was using those abilities on a regular basis before there were corpses. Corpses, to me, added absolutely no tactical depth whatsoever.

  5. Maxheadroom says:

    I played this casually for a week or 2 when it first came out, killed the first boss but don’t recall getting much further than that.

    Reinstalled it a couple of ago to give it another go and after half a dozen attempts couldn’t even make it through the first dungeon.

    Normally I’m against developers changing a game based on fan feedback, they should make the game they want to (dilution of the original vision and all that), but in this case having the option to turn these features off means at least I might go back to it now.

  6. Relani says:

    Really spot on article, Alec. I think this section sums up my thoughts on the game perfectly:

    “To play it now is for your heroes to be bombarded by pop-up maladies, poisons and spurting wounds, by psychoses which see them refuse to fight or otherwise misbehave, and by enemies who hit a little harder and take a greater toll on your warriors’ sanity. It’s not a slow trickle of fear and anxiety, it’s an onslaught of busywork.”

    The game is just SO tedious. All the maladies and psychoses, etc. don’t add difficulty–they just force you to rotate heroes (and thus grind more) while you painstakingly heal them in the town. As you state in the article, the issue with the corpses isn’t that they make the game so much more difficult; they just increase the tedium and add more busywork to the battles.

    This game has squandered so much potential (and a really slick and beautiful presentation). The dev team just doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of where they want to go with the game. I don’t expect them to fix any of the problems with the grind in the remaining early access.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Yeah, my least favourite part of XCOM was when you got injured soldiers that could be out of combat for weeks! Everyone /hated/ that part of the game. You had to have more than one squad of proficient soldiers!

      Wait. Nobody at all had this complaint. Ever.

      • WHS says:

        No, but:

        A. Soldiers frankly felt more distinct in X-com than recruits in DD, which I think is a function of DD characters developing such a cluttered profusion of traits; and

        B. You go through missions in X-com hoping to prevent your soldiers from getting injured and needing recovery time, sometimes successfully so, but stress and injuries in DD just accumulate steadily as long as you’re in the field, so it feels more like a cooldown meter than an unwanted (and often preventable) setback that you’d be rightly penalized for

        • Archonsod says:

          Not to mention C) you could always load the last save.

          An example of the actual argument would be more like the endless swarms of scout / small UFO’s in the mid-late game. Or about 80% of the battles in Terror from the Deep. Having to hunt the lone Sectoid across the map for thirty minutes because not doing so would potentially panic the region was neither interesting nor fun, just busywork plain and simple.

          • Underwhelmed says:

            Aquatoids.

            Also the conclusion of those bug hunts was usually when you spotted the little git in a closet a moment before he shot the mook opening it in the face.

      • Gormongous says:

        Probably because it’s a different complaint, dude. Characters in XCOM tend to get wounded when you mess up, so leveling up a second squad is an optional choice for a risk-adverse player. Characters in Darkest Dungeon will get stressed, no matter how expert your playstyle is, so you’re going to have to have a large stable of characters that get rotated in and out.

        The problem that most people have with corpses and heart attacks is that they force the game to be played a certain way by having nonsensical punishments and roadblocks put in the way of “bad” play. I shouldn’t be allowed to push my luck by sending stressed characters into battle, that’s “bad” play, so the devs decide that characters will just drop dead after a certain amount of stress. I shouldn’t be allowed to send high-level characters back to the starting dungeons if I just need some easy money, that’s “bad” play, so the devs decide that characters will just refuse to go into dungeons below their level. I shouldn’t be allowed to invest too heavily in a tank-and-heal strategy regardless of how suboptimal it is, that’s “bad” play, so the devs decide that enemy corpses take up space on the battlefield even though character corpses don’t.

        The Europa Universalis IV community has a term for this strategy of development: the Magical Fairy Wall of No. The devs don’t want the player to do something, but either lack the vision or the design skill to incentivize different behavior, so they just put a huge roadblock in the way of the player to make anything but their preferred behavior take longer and be more boring. There really isn’t a good game out there that wastes a player’s time in this way, and it makes me feel worried about the future of this game, which I’ve previously liked to play.

        • Serenegoose says:

          But you can do all these things (except send high levels into baby dungeons). You just lose. That’s a running theme in most videogames where you do stupid things. How is running out of stress HP and dying quantifiably different than running out of /actual/ HP and dying? Why does one bother you and one doesn’t?

          • Kitsunin says:

            Because it feels like they got the impression that “Woah, people do this even though it puts them at a disadvantage” and decided that they can’t allow people to do the wrong thing and be at a disadvantage (or an advantage I suppose) which stems from the way the game’s system naturally work. Instead they stick an improvised wall up so people can’t even try to do the wrong thing if they want.

          • Coming Second says:

            The issue that they were attempting to address with heart attacks was that stress wasn’t actually that big of a deal. Once all your heroes were on 100 it stopped being much of an issue, beyond them bleating every once in a while, and you were free to continue your incredibly lucrative dark run.

            I think heart attacks are a slightly clumsy solution, but it was one that was required.

          • Allenomura says:

            @coming second:
            They’ve reached inelegant solutions to undesired play.

            Despite this being at the top of my list of games to pick up, it was seeing things in videos for instance, showing the game permitting “strategies” where one knocks the enemies over like skittles, (I groaned aloud at the presenter suggesting it was a preferred way to tackle the game’s challenges) by cynically manipulating positioning to advance; as well as a concern over amount of the game that was available at that point which gave me pause to hold off.

            So I’m pleased to see that they are trying to preserve the game’s intended reaction and attitude it aims to leave with the player. Using the opportunity from EA that they’ve had to be able to study live feedback and observe responses to what they’ve made to inform on how to go about that.

            All I know is I hoped and believed that weaning off the bad play at this stage was key to the long life of this game (and would certainly go a long way towards me buying it), so, what there is appears to be A solution. But, I’m less than convinced it’s the solution.

        • Jeremy says:

          Stress is integral to the theme of the game, and they have created a mechanic to indicate that. Stress is like reverse HP, but nobody is claiming that a game is creating a Magic Fairy Wall of No by giving someone a health bar. In this case, “bad play” would be sending people into a battle with low health or high stress, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad mechanic, or that it was created because the devs didn’t want people to play it a certain way.

          • Gormongous says:

            It’s an integral mechanic, but it was already fully featured in a way that differentiated it from the health bar. If the health bar emptied, the character would die, and if the stress bar filled, the character would get a malady. Implementing heart attacks, which turns the stress bar into a second, obfuscated health bar, actually dilutes the thematic resonance of stress in the game. Before, it was possible to “ruin” a character with too much stress, while keeping them technically alive. Now, too much stress and a character just dies, cutting the player off from many of the long-term consequences of poor stress management. If the devs wanted stress to hit harder while keeping up a strong motif of decay, why not tweak maladies and add instances where they interact or trigger each other, rather than layering on a new implementation of a standard mechanic (death when the bar gets full) that actually prevents the player from playing out the entirety of their decisions?

            I mean, why isn’t hunger a separate bar from physical health, albeit with similar effects? After all, food is an important mechanic in the game with its own set of events. Why not split light off from stress and kill all the characters when their light goes out, because obviously it’s too dark for them to find their way out. No, those systems are folded into stress and health while retaining separate effects, because it’s more effective to have multiple nested systems with long-term consequences, rather than simply making everything a bar that goes up or down until that character dies.

          • Underwhelmed says:

            Heart attacks are stupid, because dead characters are just boring. It is the most anti-climactic way for a character to go in this game.

            Having characters so broken that you cannot reliably use them anymore is far more interesting. Replace “heart attacks” with a permanent reduction in the character’s maximum possible stress level. That would keep better with the theme of the game.

      • Celerity says:

        XCOM has a sense of time pressure. So when your soldier is critically wounded and out for a few weeks, that means you gotta go forward without them.

        Without that time pressure – and with the bad things happening in a mostly random way independent of your actual performance it’s just grind. Even the endgame is grind, with you needing 2-3 distinct teams because each can only enter the final dungeon once and you can’t do everything there in one shot.

    • Jeremy says:

      I agree that healing every hero that gets an affliction would be tedious, but I’m also of the opinion that the game isn’t intended to be played that way. Start releasing the seriously broken characters and save money and your own sanity. A Rank 1 with 5 negative quirks and 2 diseases isn’t worth the money to fix him/her, so bury them on a treasure run, or cut them loose.

    • Lamb Chop says:

      What Fatkest Dungeon appears to really need is some kind of flow improvement that allows for action stacking, similar to how Hearthstone allows you to queue moves that then get played out while the animations resolve. The tedium and the grind is largely from the fact that it takes so long to play. My party is nigh unkillable, and I never lost a single character above level 2. The real risks are costs to my time rather than a real feeling of danger. If they smooth out the flow somewhat, it would allow them to put in more difficulty, so pauses come from the need for strategy rather than waiting for the game to resolve, as is so often the case.

  7. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Great article which explains the dichotomy in DD’s soul well. When playing it, I alternated between joy at such a fresh and well designed vision and frustration at some of the obvious obstacles to enjoying my playing experience. Hopefully by full release, Red Hook will figure out exactly what they want the game to be.

    • mechanixis says:

      I have the same opinion on corpses and heart attacks that I have about a lot of elements of Darkest Dungeon – they don’t QUITE make sense as narrative abstractions (it’s weird when the bandit you just stabbed effectively becomes a barricade, or when three out of four adventurers on a delve die of unrelated heart attacks), but they work very well as a mechanical systems. Corpses particularly encourage a wider range of skills and tactics, and it’s aggravating to see people complain rather than adapt their strategies as the game evolves.

      The devs clearly know what they want, but their fanbase has become accustomed to an incomplete version of the game and don’t want it to change. I guarantee that if the game wasn’t being iterated through early access, no one would bat an eye at these sorts of design choices. It’s very frustrating to watch.

  8. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    “Was it a tongue-in-cheek romp through Cthulhian dungeons, or was it a painstaking exercise in squad micro-management and not-a-foot-wrong combat strategy?”

    How are these mutually exclusive?

    Played for the first time in months, discovered the corpse mechanic just before the hatestorm, and thought it was a neat idea, if underlining a bit too much just how strange the core conceit is in the first place (why is everyone forming a polite queue? Just how narrow is this dungeon?)

    I feel bad for the devs that Darkest Dungeon has been singled out as a whipping boy. I’ve seen accusations that adding the corpse option is evidence they don’t know what they want from the game, but I think it’s more likely that they’re understandably worried about the financial effect of not bowing to obsessive “consumers’ rights” mobs who we’ve already seen try to make pariahs out of games that don’t run at 60fps, for some reason. I’m certain there are some people involved with real game design insights, but I’m equally certain that many – maybe most – of them are the kinds of people who go to stores and bellow “I’m the customer” to justify all sorts of antisocial behaviour.

    • gwathdring says:

      They’re not supposed to be mutually exclusive–but for the writer the two wordings are evocative of different attitudes toward the game.

  9. WHS says:

    I enjoyed a lot about Darkest Dungeon despite being TERRIBLE at it, but I hated the way the characters seemed to become this homogeneous mass of indistinguishable quirks pretty fast. One or two strange quirks are interesting, but when everyone’s got a half-dozen, I stopped even paying much attention. (Maybe this is why I was terrible.) Plus, most of my characters were recuperating at any given point, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of choice about who to select: a quirk isn’t going to make me choose my on-the-brink-of-meltdown rogue guy over some freshly rested compatriot.

    If I had advice to give the developers, it would be to make the characters feel less fiddly: more impactful (but fewer) quirks, etc., so I can get to know my recruits, develop clear preferences, and genuinely suffer when a favorite dies.

    I didn’t mind heart attacks at all, but I guess that’s because they’d already been implemented after I started. What even happened before?

    • Kitsunin says:

      That’s something I noticed but then forgot about. Even while you are likely to have ten characters under your command at a time, they could feel a lot more unique if they each had a small, memorable handful things which set them apart, rather than a laundry list of vaguely important jargon.

  10. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I think the element that bothers me the most is the arbitrary level limits on heroes. Go past a certain level and heroes can’t go on lower-level quests anymore. This is where the punishing psychological elements should really shine: yeah, your high level Crusader is mopping the floor with enemies, but the psychological toll of sending him on quest after quest is upping the odds that he’ll die an ignoble death. And it’s not like it’s easy to raise a hero, let alone a whole team, high enough that you could even do that, and after awhile the lower rewards are going to push you into appropriately leveled content so you can continue upgrading your roster.

    From Software’s infamously difficult titles understand that players should be allowed some freedom in how they overcome obstacles, including optional grind. That they are also beloved is not coincidental.

    • Premium User Badge

      X_kot says:

      Part of DD’s core ethos is that every adventure is full of risk; having the ability to grind low-level dungeons with veterans seriously negates that risk because they’ll take way less damage and stress. If you really want to grind for loot, would you be amenable to one or several of these options to maintain the risk: (a) all monsters have higher crit % when outleveled by the party [they know they won’t survive, so they go all out on attack]; (b) hero HP is hidden [their confidence blinds them to the danger]; (c) heroes start taking more loot for themselves, similar to the kleptomaniac trait [they’re thankfully for some easy money, too].

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        Some kind of limit would be acceptable; any of those is fine. I wouldn’t reduce stress taken, however. A higher level hero might take less just because of encounters ending quickly, but it would be easy for stress to build up over multiple quests as the player pushes the “invincible” high-level unit farther than he should go.

        And honestly, it’s not about grinding for loot, it’s about taking on bosses reasonably. I spent a lot of time working towards taking on the Necromancer Apprentice, including running away from my first attempt. I lost a bunch of heroes working towards having an adequate understanding of the various classes and what might work. I wiped on my second attempt and then decided to push a little harder and use my level 3 Crusader…only to be told he wasn’t allowed. I didn’t feel at all like I was trying to undermine the game as presented, but the game did.

        The thing about the game right now is that it’s ostensibly about risk versus reward, but does very little to make even minor risk viable(and again, maybe I’m just not very good at the game), so the whole “risk v. reward” aspect is negated.

      • Baines says:

        Going with the whole psychological effect that the game was sold on, I’d consider adding traits that could trigger or be acquired when things go “too well”. And look into ways that these effects can mix with stress-induced maladies. Maybe some will cancel each other out, while others might synergise into more dangerous combinations.

        You send characters on milk runs, and they start to get overconfident. Maybe he starts to think that enemies can’t really hurt him, or that he is more effective than he really is. You could model the effects in game play in various ways. Maybe he simply becomes more susceptible to stress when things go wrong, where he can manage minor stuff but quickly falls apart when something more serious happens.

        You could even expand the system to come into play when the characters simply do “too well” for an extended period in an area appropriate for their level. Maybe they start to think themselves lucky, and start to rely on that luck. Maybe they get overconfident, or otherwise think they are better than they are.

        Design-wise, you’d need to be careful, because you don’t want players to feel that they are being punished for playing too well, or that being lucky is actually unlucky. Having a requirement that the situation needs to be sustained over an extended period (potentially more than one run) would deal with some of that. You’d also need to be careful of players using weird ways to game the system, like intentionally turning their party into punching bags for a room or two of a milk run, just to make sure that the characters don’t get overconfident. (Alternating milk runs with normal runs would be another way to potentially dodge the effect, but that at least seems a natural and realistic method.)

    • Tuco says:

      This commentary is quite spot on.

      After my initial honeymoon with the game I started becoming more and more annoyed with the game at every major changelog.
      I’m also absolutely fed up with that smug part of the player base made out of clueless tryharders who keep assuming that every time you are not enjoying the flow of a particular mechanic “IT HAS TO BE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”, regardless of the fact that you can manage just as well as they do. You are just not enjoying it particularly.

      Anyway, back to the topic, I swear that at times playing this game felt like being a 8 years old and sitting to a table play a boardgame with a bunch of bullies:

      – At first they slap you and tell you you are shit, you are worthless, you don’t know the rules, etc.
      – Then, as you start to learn and even manage to score some victory, they grow increasingly annoyed and start to slap you harder for no reason because “You were not supposed to win”.

      “Uh? What? stress ramps up quickly and it’s quite hard to lower, but you learned how to make the best out of it?

      Guess what, we’ll make stress harder to lower, quicker to ramp up at any chance and the penalties more severe…

      What? You can still manage somehow, despise your characters becoming virtually useless? Take this heart attack! We told you were just not supposed to!”

    • KicktheCAN says:

      Hitting the level limit was the point I stopped playing. The game had done everything to encourage grinding; all the mechanics pointed toward it. Yet when I tried to give myself a little edge in a mission, the game just said “nope”.

      It seems the developers realized that grinding was a problem with their game but rather than change the mechanics to discourage grinding—think ever-increasing difficulty in X-COM, running from the enemy in FTL, no respawns in Desktop Dungeons—they just put an invisible wall where they didn’t want the player to go.

  11. EhexT says:

    Anyone who complains about the Heart Attack mechanic clearly has no idea about game design as it relates to Darkest Dungeon. There was NO punishment for having heroes perpetually freaked out after a certain point, which was completely absurd since the point of the game is that Stress (and the soul grinding terror it represents) is BAD. Having it be harmless in many circumstances was fundamentally awful.

    The Heart attacks are a great solution, since they’re not random and give plenty of leeway, while making sure that any black numbers remain suitably scary at ALL times.

    • mechanixis says:

      Absolutely – it was clearly an incomplete system before now, and people complaining now that it’s complete seems like a refusal to accept the game on its own terms.

      That said, I do wish the penalties for maxing out stress were more creative than simply erasing your hero from your roster. It’d be great if a hero at max stress remained alive but went truly mad – turning on the rest of your heroes in a combat encounter, or disappearing into the dungeon to prey on your future adventuring parties. For all the game’s talk of madness and insanity, I’m disappointed the real threat turns out to just be run-of-the-mill death.

      • Gormongous says:

        I honestly think that “synergies” between negative maladies would have been the best way to go there. For instance, if someone’s a sadist and a flagellant, they become an impossible liability to their teammates, even if they’re not stressed. The choice, then, is to fix them, to ditch them, or just to suffer with them in your party.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      I didn’t really mind the heart attacks–there are abilities that are designed to reduce stress and whole town elements devoted to it–but I think they would work better if it took a little longer to reach the highest level and if it was possible to bring higher-level heroes to low-level missions. Then you’d push for those precious high-level heroes to go on more missions, not giving them time to rest, thinking you can manage them…then bam heart attack!

    • Sian says:

      No punishment? Even one character that doesn’t do what he’s told or doesn’t accept healing half the time, who messes up the formation because he’s afraid or eager to get hurt, who berates his comrades so that they are stressed out and suffer the same effects was punishment enough. When one character broke, I’d maybe stick in there for a little longer to get a bit more loot, but as soon as the second one broke, I usually gave up. No point in continuing with the run.

      And that hasn’t changed. Heart attacks don’t make me play differently because I was pulling out long before they would’ve become an issue even before that. I just don’t get how people could play with a party of afflicted idiots.

  12. trjp says:

    I picked-this-up in the last sale they had – so my experiences are entirely with the ‘corpses’ build.

    I love how it looks, the story, the voice work, the concept and the many unique and interesting ideas it has.

    Problem for me was it’s just a bunch of ideas in a box – there’s no balance, no flow, no bring-in-the-new-player – just random nastiness and a million things which can (and will) go wrong.

    I refunded it for now – I really, really hope they continue to polish it and make a much more approachable game which isn’t a box-of-rocks with an RNG win/loss mechanism.

    My main concern is that this Early Access thing creates a rabid bunch of fanboys who will shout-down changes to the game they don’t agree with/which won’t benefit them as ‘existing players’ – in which case I won’t be buying it again

    We’ll see how it comes along in a few months perhaps – I see it going one of 2 ways

    1 – it gets balanced and becomes a lovely (abeit hard) thing
    2 – they just say “it’s a roguelike – it’s supposed to be unfair and hard”

    In case of 2 – no further interest…

    • Jeremy says:

      But… it IS a roguelike. And they have literally said the words “it’s supposed to be hard and sometimes unfair.” Trying to think of a good example of something similar, and it’s not perfect, but Rogue Legacy comes to mind. It’s a game where progress is made only after you die, and then it becomes a little more bearable for future generations. Expecting to run through the game in “one life ” is a case of false expectations, not poor design.

      • trjp says:

        It can be as hard as it likes, if it remains as random as it is it will remain shit in my opinion.

        I have no problem with a bit of randomness and the odd bit of misfortune – but this really does feel like a box of rocks you shake and ‘random shit happens’.

        I’m not the first person to say it – it’s in the article above as well as earlier articles here – it’s full of great ideas but right now that’s all they are – ideas – they need bringing together properly into a GAME

        Roguealike is a word – not an excuse for not finishing a game properly.

      • trjp says:

        Also – Rogue Legacy was a not-that-brilliant platform combat game with a novel (abeit childish) mechanic which was a bit too easy to paint yourself into a corner with.

        The No1 gripe I’ve seen about it is people getting stuck with no money in a whirlwind of randomness, hoping for a level they can progress/earn/move forward from.

        We have to stop using “roguealike” as a excuse for “game not balanced and tested properly” – we have to stop saying “it’s meant to be hard and unfair” because that’s exactly what a ‘game’ should not be.

        • Jeremy says:

          Was this No. 1 gripe aimed towards Rogue Legacy or DD? I’ve heard a lot of complaints about DD in general, and I think more than anything it just seems confusing. I’m really trying to avoid sounding like “that guy,” because the game IS tough, but it just doesn’t seem as tough or unfair as people are making it out to be. I also hesitate to say people are playing it “wrong” but it truly feels that way to me. The main argument I have seen seems to be, “I never have any money, because my heroes keep getting all these negative quirks/diseases that cost too much to heal, etc.” We have been taught by most games to do everything in our power to save heroes, while this game treats them as a resource. You spend(send to die in dungeons) resources to gain power and other resources. Early on in the game I literally make dozens of death squads that go into dungeons torchless to die and go mad so I can build up enough money and heirlooms. I’m a terrible dick early on, but now I’ve got a full set ranked heroes that rarely die anymore. Again, I’m not trying to say “dis game is too ez, lol” but just that the path to success is filled with a LOT of dead heroes.

          • Laurentius says:

            Ok, so that moment when I started to use strategy that you just mentioned, is also akmost moment that I stoped playing DD, with very little incentive to go back. I wasn’t seeing myself making progress other way so I tried that strategy with “hay, maybe this will work” and it works but with generall slowness that Alec is mentioning it felt so grindy that I lost interest with DD. DD is not and probably never will be what FTL is to me.

          • CaptainPants says:

            I have to agree with Laurentius …

            The seeming dev approved “right” way to play the game is to constantly throw heroes in a meat grinder and then keep an Alpha and Beta team. After playing it that way for a while I’ve been more successful and incredibly bored at the same time.

            Heart attacks and corpses don’t contribute meaningfully to the game when you play it that way. It doesn’t matter if your meat grinder characters expire as that is what the devs have determined must happen with them. On the other hand your Alpha and Beta team don’t have to worry either, as they’re pampered as heck and have stress resistant traits.

            While I haven’t “beaten the game” I have beaten the game as I know the strategy of getting to that desired state. The only thing missing is that I need to play x hours of time to get there, and I have absolutely no desire to spend that time. That problem is due partly to the tedium and partly that there is no real hook to keep me invested to get to that end point. The story is forgettable and there’s no character development.

      • KicktheCAN says:

        I don’t know where this thing about roguelikes being unfair comes from. The best roguelikes are anything but unfair, that is what made people fall in love with the genre. In a good roguelike death feels like it’s your fault, you don’t feel cheated.

        Of course, there is really no such thing as fairness in a mechanistic system like a roguelike; if you understand the system you can always make the correct decision. What really matters is whether if feels fair, and often-times Darkest Dungeons doesn’t.

        • Abndn says:

          Not sure what roguelikes you played. Most of the famous roguelikes can be hilariously unfair, success depending heavily on chance.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I think he means “Roguelikes” (roguelites or whatever) e.g. FTL, Spelunky, Isaac, Invisible Inc. and such. Traditional roguelikes are pretty bad at this but deathcrawlers (or whatever) tend to involve enough skill to makes just about any odds surmountable.

          • Bugamn says:

            I don’t think it’s a matter of classic or modern roguelikes(lites?). Old roguelikes can be unfair, rogue itself being an example, but some of the most famous are actually fair once someone understands it. Even nethack has players that can achieve victory consistently. At the same time some of the new games are fair (Spelunky, for example, according to this article at Gamasutra: link to gamasutra.com) while others can be unfair. I don’t know any real example of the later case, but given the recent flood of titles I feel safe that at least one got the wrong idea, specially since many rely on unlocks.

    • Premium User Badge

      X_kot says:

      I felt the same way about Invisible, Inc. during its Early Access phase: it was a pointless, tedious stealth simulator that was less rewarding than a sudoku puzzle. But lo, it became a wonderful gem that I enjoy playing. I hope that DD follows that path for you.

    • Abndn says:

      You complain about the effect rabid fanboys might have on the game, then immediately go on to explain how you will not make a purchase unless the game developers listen to you and go with #1.

  13. Chirez says:

    I bought DD a while back on the strength of a previous RPS article, and while I want to like it, I doubt I ever will.

    It belongs to that so modern school of games which, rather than being like climbing a mountain – a sometimes challenging struggle with a marvellous view from the top – instead are more like descending into the swamp of sorrow, a slow, miserable wade ending in the merciful embrace of death.

    I expect there are tactical choices to be made, and it’s possible for the game to go less badly as a consequence, but when ALL the choices lead to negative outcomes the only sensible choice is not to choose.

    These changes sound pretty much like more of the same, more things to go wrong, more reasons to not play the game in the first place. Which is a huge shame, because it COULD have been something special, rather than just another misery engine.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Not a tetris fan, then?

    • Abndn says:

      Do you understand how smug and entitled you come across? What you are essentially saying here is that “descents into the swamp of sorrow, a slow, miserable wade ending in the merciful embrace of death” cannot be the formula for a truly special game.

      Essentially a wordier way of saying “I don’t like the direction this video game takes, therefore it is not special”.

  14. Laurentius says:

    My biggest gripe with difficulty in this game I was expecting something lik emore complex FTL. Hard game but one that I can master eventually. But I didn’t feel that way in slightest in the builds I was playing. Someone said you can’t expect play for two hours and be good at it, which is fine. But here are two hard games that I love: Super Hexagon and FTL. Certainly I wasn’t good at them after two hours of playing. I don’t remember how mnay hours I spent till I beat FTL on easy let alone on normal but one thing was completely different then in DD, with each try and with each hour, I really felt that I was getting better and I was! Same with Super Hexagon, these game really rewarded my playing time with me being better at them. In DD hours passed and I didn’t see myself getting better, like at all, it is very disheartening. I agree with Alec that there is so many things that slow the action down that it adds extra layer of difficulty for me, as it really is causing me to do reckless things, because after so much time I am like “omg, let’s do something even if that’s cauing me to take wrong action that is gonna bite me in the back in next fight.

  15. trn says:

    I used the analogy elsewhere and I will use it here again: Father Ted and his raffle car. This is a game that was tweaked until it started to break. Instead of calling it quits and releasing it or removing features that have been widely criticised by players new and old alike, the devs keep tweaking. It’s going to keep getting worse.

    • gingerbill says:

      love the father ted analogy and agree with it.

      The game before was a bit too easy after you had got by the start and had a couple of good parties. I preferred that to how it is now. They went about making it harder the wrong way completely.

      Personally I hate the amount of negative traits you get now , it’s just ridiculous and is simply anti fun and tedious. I agree with the review that there is too much stuff now that feels like a grind and busy work.

      The first 10-15 hours I played when the game first came out were brilliant , I just want that with more content.

  16. Christo4 says:

    What i hate about DD is that you aren’t really attatched to your characters that much. I mean, it’s like a constant cycle of leveling your character – sending him to a higher dungeon – replace if he dies, if not then you send him to an even higher one until he dies. It doesn’t really feel like they are strong or unique at all. And while it is a rogue-like, you need a sense of attatchment to your characters in order for them to work. In FTL you could get attatched to a ship or a crew and having them succeed felt really great. Rogue Legacy kinda similar, it felt rather sad if you died with a hero after completing a lot of the map. But in DD it feels like dying doesn’t matter, just replace them and grind again! It needs a better progression imo.
    Also, the worst offender is actually the random deaths. Sometimes they will just get stressed much more than usual by some enemies and just flat out die either because they refuse to fight or any other stupid thing. Since stress is such a big factor, why even make it such an easy thing to do for enemies?
    Stress should build up 2 or 3 times harder imo, but have much more important consequences, like 25% chance of heart attack, 25% chance of having a positive quirk, 25% chance of a negative quirk and 25% chance of fleeing (really, why don’t they ever run? i mean if i was terrified i’d run completely back) and you’ll have to find them in previous sections unless they got killed by a trap or enemy.
    The grind couple with no atta
    I played it a pretty long time ago and while i think corpses and heart attacks are a good mechanic (like, really, not even joking), it doesn’t change why i stopped playing.

  17. Henas says:

    I played 40 hours of the game on and off after it hit EA on Steam, but had not touched it since around Feb, instead waiting for the offical release before playing more.

    Perhaps the game *was* too easy once you got a core team up and going although the high level runs were always risky particular the bosses (The Hag…). That said, you earned that progress through a graveyard of fallen heroes and failed runs.

    I liked the strategy of ‘Dark runs’ and loading up with ‘Moon’ trinkets, but now that’s all considered the ‘bad’ way to play and you must do it this way.

    It’s become an uninteresting slog, where progress is slow if it comes at all.

    Disappointing as I loved my initial 40 hours, but I feel I got my money’s worth even if it ends up a different beast from the start.

  18. jonahcutter says:

    The corpses just seem silly. They’re immersion-breaking busywork.

    If it’s possible, I think doing something like not having the spots collapse on a death would at least address part of what corpses seem to want to address. So ranks don’t shuffle forward. The spot just stays open, forcing your front fighters to at least spend a turn moving forward into it.

  19. LennyLeonardo says:

    A singular strike!

  20. Coming Second says:

    I think two separate issues are being mixed up here. Corpses and heart attacks are perfectly reasonable mechanics for what they set out to achieve, and I wouldn’t say either slow the flow of the game down. Are they ugly and imperfect? Yes, but then that’s the nature of EA. I would expect both to become more refined in the future. Also, saying “they don’t make sense” is a farcical criticism in context; considering everything that could happen in an average round of combat in Darkest Dungeon, a body slumped on the floor you can’t immediately get around is one of the things that makes the MOST amount of sense.

    However, I absolutely agree that certain elements of this game are too grind-y without offering enough pay-off to justify it. The traits system is a great idea but swiftly becomes tedious: your heroes start off with personality and then just become blurs that you are constantly slinging into the sanitarium to expensively remove whatever annoyance they’ve wound up with this time. Traits shouldn’t rain down at a rate of 1 or 2 after every mission, quickly becoming nothing more than a constantly-changing list; they should be relatively rare events that significantly shape the character, requiring you to lock them away for a couple of weeks if you want to remove them.

    Levelling up the gear necessary to stand a chance in later dungeons requires you to run lower level missions over and over, all the while piling up a useless load of higher levelled heroes that you cannot use. It’s tedious and counter-intuitive. After you’ve gotten past a certain point, why can’t you hire heroes that are level 3 or 4 already? Losing one at higher levels is heartbreaking, not really because you got attached to them – blurs – but because training up a brand new Arbalest is a massive and wearying investment of time.

    These are problems the game has always had though, I reject this article’s accusation that these are problems that have cropped up recently. Indeed many of these criticism have come in the wake of the developers attempting to flesh the game out more – i.e. moving it away from being a “tongue-in-cheek romp” you can play and forget about in a couple of hours. One of the real perils of Early Access is the unfortunate nature of familiarity. When a game as classy-looking as Darkest Dungeon comes out, of course people will be immediately blown away by how it looks and sounds and will praise it to the stars. If it hangs around slowly being updated for another year, though, people get used to its presentation, start poking around under the bonnet and discover it’s not the perfect experience they imagined it to be. It’s the first game made by a tiny studio – of course it isn’t. The intense scrutiny and criticism it’s gotten is a little overbearing.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Good point. I think people take issue with heart attacks and corpses because of how tedious it is to get equipment and high level heroes. People are used to that so they don’t notice it consciously, but when the game becomes more difficult it exacerbates the problem and they know something is wrong.

  21. suibhne says:

    The basic problem, in my assessment, is exactly what undermined Massive Chalice: rather than get attached to any of your characters, you’re incentivized (or forced, really) to treat your parties like they’re simply entries on a spreadsheet. This is an area where traditional roguelikes shine – you really care about your characters. Dwarf Fortress and its ilk get this absolutely right, too. But DD, alas, seems to be turning into a grimdark party management sim. That’s a far cry from what I hoped and expected to get: a game of managing flawed, quirky, memorable party members in difficult dungeon-delving, where I’d occasionally lose a character and have to recruit an equally flawed, memorable replacement (indeed, almost like the original Wizardry in that respect). I didn’t expect to get a game where all of the party members were equally unmemorable and I was expected to churn through entire parties in the course of a single evening.

  22. Celerity says:

    It’s worse than that I’m afraid. See, the developer’s definition of difficulty IS tedium. So you see the points made in the article and you also see the people that are legitimately seeking difficulty are the least happy at all because corpses don’t add difficulty (heart attacks would, if finishing a quest with more than 50 stress wasn’t a sign of serious user error). Both these were only made optional because the comments section of another negative review (Jim Sterling) recommended doing so and not because of anything any number of normal users said – even after the game’s rating dropped 4%, with 6 dozen negative helpful reviews in a row and not all about corpses.

    What is particularly offensive though is their response when given feedback. Not only do they only take feedback at all when there is a massive negative response associated with it, they do the minimum possible that allegedly addresses these concerns and then continue on ignoring the “salt”, as they themselves describe it.

    If you have a habit of criticizing the game at all, expect a large scale negative response from a number of users blatantly breaking forum rules by baiting and insulting you with private profiles and expect that the moderator – who is also a member of the Red Hook team will let them get away with anything and regard reporting their posts as an abuse of the report feature. Keep doing it and expect post deletion, thread locks, ban threats, actual bans…

    Their latest antic is that they apparently can censor reviews – they still exist but no longer appear on the “Most Helpful” section. For example:

    link to steamcommunity.com

    This after they made an apparent fix and then had a sale at the same instant, and this deceptive practice backfired by giving the massive number of negative reviews that existed at the time a huge vote boost. While Phasmaphobic’s review (1,500+ votes) was removed by its maker, a number of others, generally in the 500-1,000 range still exist but have been removed from the helpful page, making the game seem better than it actually is right before PAX/Cove. Additionally if you watch those carefully you will see near 100% negative votes on the negatives and near 100% positive on the positives regardless of their initial reception – and all of this started a mere few hours after people complained another game was doing the same thing in a much more blatant way and hiding walls of negative reviews with 2k+ votes.

  23. Jakkar says:

    The corpses are a fine addition, but the heart-attacks are so… Anticlimactic, and in emergency situations unavoidable, as to make them a very un-fun feature. They have none of the drama of insanity.

    I’d much rather see a dicerolled outcome for reaching 200 damage on the sanity metre; running away and never being seen again (same basic effect as death), committing suicide with an animation (same effect, but with a sanity-relevant, thematically appropriate means), or even being switched to the enemy side of the screen with a bubble of mad laughter. It could even be character-specific – might not an Occultist lose control of his powers and become a tentacled horror? Might not the leper remove his mask before killing himself, and cause extreme sanity damage to other characters? Could the hound-master be killed by his own dog, or commit suicide leaving the dog alone, as a basic attacking AI until the round ends?

    There are many interesting options available, with varying levels of development challenge. As new characters are still being added, the new art and animations should not be an unreasonable request.

    Simply dropping dead when the insanity hits 200 is redundant when you can drop dead due to your health reaching 0.

    It isn’t fun, or interesting, or even tragic. Just… Confusingly pointless.

    Corpses, though? Good way to retain battle formation, make death more interesting, and expand the skillset of characters who can destroy them as a speciality. It also makes characters and foes with attack-move abilities and pull/push abilities much more useful.

  24. Listlurker says:

    This article pretty much sums up why I stopped playing Darkest Dungeon, and why I stopped recommending it automatically, without caveats.

    It’s not that the game is “too hard”, it’s that I found the game got too busy, and too grindy, to be fun.

    My opinion, anyway.

  25. Unas says:

    I bought the game much later than most people, and have been playing with corpses/heart attacks from the get-go. I don’t mind the heart-attack system, as it adds to the element of managing your party effectively. I tested going through a dungeon without corpses and cut 20-40min off how long it takes me to clear a dungeon. Don’t think I’ll be turning it back on, that feature is too much of a timesink.