This 2D turn-based dungeon crawler is not a kind game. In the last three weeks, it has turned my Vestal intoasex-maddeviant, my Crusader into a paranoid thief, and my Occultist into a devotee of ravenous deities too vile for mortal minds to Comprehend. And they still haven’t met the first boss.

Lushly gothic, Darkest Dungeon hinges ona fascinating conceit: what happens to people who go exploring Lovecraftian nightmares? Anyone who has played a turn-based RPG will find the basic formula familiar. You begin by selecting a quest from the overworld, then pick out a quartet of steely adventurers and provision them with supplies. After that, it’s off to the depths where perma-death waits.


The ‘dungeons’ must be traversed by walking your party from one door to another before clicking on an adjacent location on the map. It’s slightly cumbersome, but mitigated by a simple control scheme left-click or use the AD keys and the potential for Interesting Things to happen. From iron maidens to enemy encounters and tentacled trees, there’s invariably something to click on in every journey.

But where most games reward curiosity, Darkest Dungeon spikes discovery with danger. An alchemist table can deliver gold or poison, a confession booth reprieve or refresh neuroses. Usually, it’s the latter. There’s an inherent malevolence to this world. Here, even walking backwards can drive your characters irreparably insane.
Characters will occasionally spout excerpts of code instead of existential angst
This is especially problematic when you’re still inthe middle of a dungeon excursion. Party members with maxed-out stress bars will have their Resolves tested and if you’re unlucky (which you usually are), they’ll pick up crippling new traits. It’s aninteresting andsometimes exasperating predicament that adds novelty to the usual ‘choose an action, wait for result, wait for new round’ cycle of turn-based combat. Abusive characters, for example, might refuse orders, reject heals, or berate their companions horrifically.

Damage mitigation is possible. You can reduce the difficulty of fights by keeping your surroundings well-lit. You can remove negative traits by sticking characters in the town’s sanitarium, and diminish stress through self-flagellation. But all of it costs money and none of it is guaranteed to work.

Given that the game is still incomplete, it’s unsurprising that balance can sometimes feel genuinely finicky. Characters will also occasionally spout random excerpts of code instead of expressing existential angst, and they suffer from one-outfit wardrobes. But on the whole, even without its final areas in place and other inadequacies, Darkest Dungeon is darkly lovely, a Sisyphean obstacle course that can only be crossed on the carcasses of your dead.