Darkest Dungeon Escapes Early Access Today

When Darkest Dungeon [official site] first hit Early Access last February, Alec was an instant fan and it landed on our best RPGs list a few months later. Because what’s not fun about a dungeon crawler with your squad falling to pieces as they accrue injuries and fears and illnesses and obsessions? But how has the experience changed Darkest Dungeon? What has it became? We can finally see, as today it emerges from the Early Access dungeon to properly launch.

Said our Adam a few months back in the big list o’ RPGs:

“It’d be an inventive and challenging roguelike even without its two major innovations: ongoing, reactive narration and an extended investigation into the psychological effects of repeatedly chucking adventurers into dungeons full of unspeakable horrors. The more you make them fight, down there in the dark, the more vices and phobias they develop, steadily becoming greater liabilities even as their skills improve. This is presuming you can keep them alive in the first place, of course – Dark Dungeon has a high staff turnover. Where the Bioware model of RPGs has you chat to team members at length to keep them happy, Darkest Dungeon is a thoughtful – and stressful – management game. There are no magic bullets to cure insanity – it’s ongoing and expensive work, and if things get too out of hand you simply need to let your heroes go. “

But Early Access is about changing and growing and enduring, and some of Darkest Dungeon’s changes seemed to go a bit too far. Forcing players to fight through the literal corpses of fallen foes was going too far Alec thought (though they were made optional). I’ve since heard a fair few people grumbling that developers Red Hook Studios were listening too much to players who wanted everything more difficult and miserable. Maybe the dissatisfied have simply lost their bottle.

So what’s it like now? Dunno. I assume Adam or Alec will be diving back in at some point. Look for Darkest Dungeon on Steam, GOG, and Humble for £14.99 later today.


  1. OddJuniper says:

    This is easily the best game I played last year that wasn’t either a Blizzard or Nintendo game.

    • LexW1 says:

      I thought it was really good, but it has a lot of mechanical quirks that render it not quite on-par with really polished/balanced games like Nintendo and Blizzard’s better efforts. The awkward business with corpses alone knocked it off that level for me. The lack of a final dungeon/goal was also a bit tedious.

      Hopefully with an actual goal and so on it’ll feel more purposeful.

      • Xzi says:

        What’s awkward about corpses? You’ve got corpses and classes with corpse-clearing abilities. Seems pretty straightforward to me, yet you’re not alone in making this odd complaint.

        • mechanixis says:

          A lot of people who played before they were implemented got accustomed to sans-corpse tactics and strategies, and when the update came out they blamed the mechanic instead of reevaluating their playstyle. I also think corpses are a fine mechanic that increase the importance of range and positioning (which were a bit underemphasized pre-corpses), and I find them no less odd as a gameplay abstraction than any other mechanic in the game.

          Perils of early access, I guess.

        • jonahcutter says:

          Haven’t played it in a while so maybe it’s changed, but when corpses came out they seemed a really ham-fisted way to deal with balancing issues. It felt stupid to have to again hack through the hitpoints of a “corpse” (which looked something like a pile of much IIRC), after having successfully killed the enemy.

          It was a blunt and very in-elegant approach to dealing with their balancing issues. And just rather dull.

          • Jeremy says:

            That’s the thing though.. there was no need to hack through corpses. You position them around the field, and shift active enemies around to make them powerless. A melee only enemy stacked behind two corpses can either shift forward, or pass the turn. In my mind, it made positioning actually mean something in the game, instead of having everything auto shift to the front lines.

    • Chalky says:

      I liked it, it’s not quite my sort of game but in terms of art style and the quality of the mood they put across in it, it’s extremely good indeed.

      It’s worth playing for the voice and art alone IMO.

    • Stevostin says:

      I am not sure you’re selling it very well.

      I played ~30h and thought it was probably the only “short sessions” game I genuinely enjoyed. Mechanics are interesting, pretty unique and apparently well balanced. As opposite to any Blizzard or Nitendo game, it has (very) tasteful art and an identity of its own.

  2. Ducce says:

    This game goes in my Steam library category: Nosebleed.
    One of few games that can get me so worked up I get a nosebleed.

  3. Moth Bones says:

    Good, good. I played for a while, enjoyed it but set it aside till launch so I didn’t wolf the content. It manages to carve out a distinctive and engaging niche for itself in a fairly crowded genre; balancing the sanity of your party and trying to keep your key adventurers functioning is a slightly different and fun challenge.

  4. anHorse says:

    “I’ve since heard a fair few people grumbling that developers Red Hook Studios were listening too much to players who wanted everything more difficult and miserable. Maybe the dissatisfied have simply lost their bottle.”

    People are talking rubbish, they’re either whining about stuff that got fixed (heart attack no longer instakills) or stuff like corpses which actually make the game easier as you can use them to deny enemies via positioning/use them to still be able to use backline attacks.

    I don’t wish to sound like some elitist but the game isn’t actually that hard, if you account for all the major threats to your party there’s little strategy left to do apart from picking which enemy to kill first and putting out the problem fires when you do get bleed or stress or something.

    It’s still an excellent game though and anyone wanting a dungeon crawler should get at least some enjoyment out of it

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It’s “hard” in the sense that it’s heavily random. It’s not uncommon to get badly fucked through no fault of your own, where a different RNG seed would see you breeze through the same encounter.

    • Jeremy says:

      I agree with all the things you have said. The game is definitely more difficult than standard fare, especially if “success” means that nobody in your roster will die, or that you can make a group that just rolls through every dungeon without issue. Some of the frustrations that I noticed came as a result of playing the game with the wrong expectations, or without understanding the ruleset. Complaining that football is hard, because you can’t use your hands, is missing the point. Similarly, complaining that DD is too hard, because your favorite heroes die, is also missing the point.

    • LexW1 says:

      The big problem with corpses wasn’t that the made the game harder, but rather that they made the game more annoying and contrived-seeming, whilst adding very little (as you say, they arguably make the game easier). I’m still not 100% for them (more like 55%). Heart attacks initially sucked because they were rather RNG-y insta-kills but have been improved, as you say.

    • JakeyKakey says:

      Problem is a lot of it did feel like devs literally skimming through GameFAQs and nerfing whatever the top strategies at the time were which reduced variety of builds you can go for.

      Tanking, stalling, healing and general defensive builds are no longer viable with stress penalties due to prolonged fights so the current optimal way to play is to basically go full DPS with just enough healing to keep you away from death’s door so you can blow through dungeons and keep stress relatively low. Or at least it used to be until they made death’s door give stackable penalties every time you get to that point.

      The game had both active devs and a very active community which made for great feedback, but also affected the balancing. Wouldn’t call it ‘appealing to the hardcore elitists’ since people wouldn’t stop whining about difficulty spikes due to corpses, but a lot of changes leaned towards the community already involved in the game.

      As such, once you know the ins and outs of the game, I’ll admit it’s occasionally challenging but generally overblown in terms of difficulty. However, without purposely lurking around various guides, wikis and DD communities, new players are smacked with a wall of features and information to digest and figure out which isn’t particularly forgiving as such.

      Saying that though, I’ve been following this game for months now and while the core product was pretty flawless from the beginning, they did balance the gameplay back and forth an awful lot and some updates have significantly screwed it up in terms of unforgiving difficulty. Most of those issues have since been fixed and I thought the latest Early Access build was nice and balanced, but one should generally take everything being said about how forgiving or unforgiving this game is with a grain of salt.

      • sonson says:

        That’s a great summary.

        If you take the game at its word it will be a challenge but your comprehension will grow to a point where you can manipulate the mechanics in your favour.

        Essentially, you should be prepared to invest in a learning process and crucially *listen to what the game tells you*. Especially when it comes to the narration, the information it provides, the games’ aesthetic, the experience that unfolds each time you venture forth, what your party tells you, these are all absolutely key. Its true that expeditions can turn to shit on the fall of a dime- *but this should not come as a surprise to you* because EVERYTHING in the game is telling you that at every point. And furthermore- it doesn’t matter either. There’s always more where they came from, if you have the stomach to put them down there.

        Which gets you into the real meat of the game: having to meaningfully dialogue with these things, as opposed to them simply being narrative dressing, is a core element of what makes the game so unique, because as per the fiction, it’s not so much about besting a zone as having a relationship with and trying to best something somehow sentient and oppressive.

        As someone who understands the mechanics and finds it’s challenge naviagable, I find that The real test is one of endurance and commitment, whether you’re willing to commit those under you charge to the attrition and consistent nastiness required to “win”.

        It’s an excellent game in my opinion, but not remotley enjoyable other than in short bursts, which can still teeter over in to devastation and shocking intensity. Which I think, given the themes at play, is entirely the point.

  5. Tiax says:

    Oh boy, I’ve been waiting for this one to leave EA !

    I know what I’ll be doing tonight.


  6. lagiacrux says:

    im really looking forward to the release. after having played a lot 2 months ago, im finally ready to pick it up again to finish the game.

    regarding the whole discussion, i can only say that the corpses and heart attacks dont bother me at all and i really like the feeling of the game currently.

    the only thing that is still not understandable to me, is the reusing of bosses. why cant you just design 2-4 unique bosses for each “wing” and have them get harder and harder? why reuse the boss mechanics and models 3 times, just with a statboost?

    • Coming Second says:

      That. Love the game generally, but 8 bosses at each level of difficulty makes it tediously grind-y for no good reason. Often felt that if they had the 4 primary bosses (Necromancer, Hag etc.) at beginner level, the 4 secondary bosses at intermediate (Prophet and so on) and then all of their final forms at champion, that would be a good compromise.

  7. Drayk says:

    I’ve played the game for 16 hours according to Steam, 31 missions according to my savegame. It has a unique setting and, at first, I liked it a lot.

    My main problem is that, quickly, it starts to get tedious. It lacks variety and the way difficuly is handled doesnt make the game more interesting in the long run.

    • slerbal says:

      Yeah that is pretty much my feeling. I love the atmosphere, but the game quickly got overly repetitive with too much reliance on the RNGods. Still, it is probably the best Warhammer Fantasy game out there (even though it’s not one!) and the soundtrack is great. I use it while GMing Malifaux Through the Breach.

  8. iviv says:

    Also, for those who play Dota2, the devs confirmed on their livestream that they are looking to work with Valve and create a Darkest Dungeon announcer pack.

  9. Henas says:

    It should be noted that the ‘Holiday Cheer’ update added the ability to turn off enemy corpses, delay penalties and Death’s Door debuffs.

    This returned the game to the one I logged 40 hours in across Jan/Feb of 2015, rather than the seemingly arbitrarily difficult one it became through EA.

  10. Alien says:

    Sadly I’m getting strong motion sickness from the rapid zooming, shaking and tilting of the (combat) camera. Other players reported this issue a year ago but the devs didn’t do anything about it.

    Shame on them!

    A simple “disable” option would do it. Teleglitch solved this problem with a disable zoom and camera rotation option.

    • Coming Second says:

      The devs are pretty responsive about that kind of thing. Send them an email about it.

    • Anacone says:

      You can turn off Combat Pivot Camera and Blur Effect. I guess that CPV is making you sick.

      • Alien says:

        Hi, thanks for the replies…

        No, it’s not the “Combat Pivot Camera”, that’s just the 3D perspective effect when switching between heroes and monster turns.

        What makes me (and other people) sick is the extremley fast camera zoom (combined with camera shaking and tilting).

        Here is some discussion about it: link to steamcommunity.com

        • Xzi says:

          I honestly don’t know what to tell you. I guess some people will get sick just by turning their head or body too quickly? Zooming in to 2D images on a 2D background shouldn’t be a big cause of this.

          • Alien says:

            The point is: I have been playing games since the 80s and n e v e r had problems with “motion sickness”: 2d or 3d, I even play fast 2d games like “Super Metroid” for hours without problems.

            Only “Darkest Dungeon” and “Teleglitch” create this effect. After disabling camera rotation OR zoom I can play Teleglitch the whole night in a dark room perfectly. And this is why the devs included the option to disable certain camera movements:

            Rapid zoom, rotation, shaking, parallax scrolling (2D) together can be too much even for people who normally have no problem with “game-induced” motion sickness.

  11. teije says:

    Awesome news. Played it up to my EA limit so looking forward to getting back to the dungeons.

  12. C0llic says:

    I’ve sunk about 27 hours into this during early access. It’s a great game, and the only reason I stopped was I didn’t want to burn out on it before release.

    It also has one of the best narrators I’ve come across. Brilliantly hammy, over wrought delivery complete with oh so dramatic pregnant pauses. If a voice could really drip, after a session playing this you’d have puddles under your speakers.

  13. FeloniousMonk says:

    I’m really excited to see the end game – the infamous Darkest Dungeon itself. Sort of genius to have left it switched off until
    now. Everyone has a reason to go back to it.

  14. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Small correction Alice, with release they seem to have pushed the price up to £18.99 . Although they have a 20% thingy going for release bringing it back down to £15.19. Which is still more than it was before it went onto the special offer for release.

    This sort of nonsense doesn’t tend to fill me with feelings of goodwill toward the developers, incidentally. I get that maybe they want to reward early supporters with a lower price, but messing about with more expensive “special offers” makes you look like a dick.

    • C0llic says:

      I hardly think it’s dickish to charge more for the 1.0 version; that’s fairly standard practice. And if you want to have a higher standard price, you need to set that price, and discount where appropriate.

      In real terms, should a person buy it now, you’re complaining about a whopping price increase of twenty pence. The monsters. How dare they?

    • LacSlyer says:

      You’d have a point if pretty much every indie developer of a game that makes it onto Steam does this. You pay less if you buy it in early access, and upon release it goes to full price. Nothing dickish about it if it’s the norm.

  15. Suits says:

    Sounds like thegame I wanted out of thisno longer exists

  16. tsff22 says:

    Barely 3 hours since it launched, and already the (former) creator of the Deepest Dark mod and his lynch mob are raging and attacking anyone who DARES to be happy about the release and/or genuinely likes and praises it.

    Seriously, the amount of hate and spite this game has gotten lately is ridiculous. Its borderline a smear/slander campaign.

    As for me, I’m definitely enjoying it. My first run in the Ruins was going amazing until the final battle, when a Bone Arbalest got two crits and sent my team’s stress through the roof. Luckily my Highwayman was able to finish him off with a crit of his own, slightly alleviating the stress.

    I think that moment of sudden bad luck, followed by sudden GOOD luck, perfectly captures the tone of this amazing game.

    • LacSlyer says:

      I wasn’t aware of the situation between that modder and the developers, and somehow it still astounds me as to how entitled people are simply by buying a game.

      • tsff22 says:

        It truly is unreal how obsessed he is with slandering the game and Redhook. Its gotten to the point where he’s attempted to turn Jim Fucking Sterling Son, one of the game’s biggest fans, against it, and he has gotten into multi-page rants and arguments with nearly every “major” Steam reviewer who gave it a positive review.

        Not to mention he seems to have his own little following of circlejerking yes men who eat up everything he says and similarly attempt to dogpile those who like the game.

        • Chillicothe says:

          Sadly, that sad little tempest in a tea cup is the only place I’ve seen criticism turn vile about development changes.

          Either that, or the measured concerned and nuanced feedback back from last July has been placated or accepted and the Innernet F***wad Crew is out in full force like always destroying our faith in humanity.

    • Coming Second says:

      Guy seems like a genuine psychopath. DD has its issues but overall it’s a lovingly crafted indie game, and certainly doesn’t deserve the hatchet job he’s decided to dedicate himself to on Steam. Cannot understand how a solid 8/10 experience from a small, first-time studio could engender that kind of hatred.