So long, Darkest Dungeon
Week 234 has risen over the hills underlooking the Darkest DeezNutz Estate. You remember our venerable house? Named for the gibbering professions of a withered cinematographer for whom a marathon viewing of Soul Plane had filled the day, it is a house without a future.
As of this dawning, the mercenaries of our embattled family will turn their swords and armor over to the crag-faced blacksmith, and the ocular mollusks burbling below will be given freedom to engulf our history.
At last, I must abandon my quest to reach the evil within the Darkest Dungeon. After all this time, the potential reward no longer is worth the time investment. While I am sad that I will not see beyond the Shuffling Horror on my own playthrough, I am willing after all this time to see the eldritch things I’ve missed on wikis or let’s play videos.
It’s rather like saying farewell to a treasured old friend who occasionally leaps out from behind a bush and punts me in the crotch.
It has been a tumultuous friendship. Is the game too difficult? I cannot say. While party composition, trinket selection and strategy are critical, they are critical in the same way strategy is important playing poker: a supplement to good fortune, but no amount of strategy ever will overturn a run of terrible luck.
At the feet of RNGesus I have lain the bodies of dozens of heroes.
I have seen a hero go from zero stress to madness in a single turn.
Not a single fight. A single turn.
I have suffered back-to-back-to-back critical shots by the enemy dealing enormous sums of damage, often reducing a hero to death’s door outright in the late-game. My heroes, on the other hand, tend to strike pitifully compared to the statistical possibilities of their rank and equipment.
I have watched in awe as cosmic horrors took their turns before my heroes, despite their speed rating being 6 points less than my most nimble warrior. This was not an occasional occurrence; I paid attention as the Tempting Goblet-slinging bone noble achieved this feat a dozen times across multiple battles.
And yet, despite all of this grousing, I also have lain waste to every boss in the game outside the dungeon. I have consumed the bacon of the Swine God, I have drowned the Hag in her own burbling pot; I have admired the pelagic boobage of the Siren and stuffed her into California rolls.
I destroyed Brigand Vvulf nearly untouched the first time he crossed my path. I was as a blazing star and he a puff of straw.
And yet, this speaks as much to the power of luck as my many defeats.
In the early game, losing an entire party is without terrible repercussion. Now that the titular dungeon has been implemented, the loss of a full party of level 6 killers means hours of grinding the same unchanging corridors we took to arrive.
I have performed this task enough. To Red Hook’s credit, initiatives such as secret rooms with slightly higher gold bonuses; the addition of the Antiquarian class, an utterly useless waste of a slot whose sole purpose is to passively increase the rate of loot-finds in the dungeon; and the ability to recruit, with skills and equipment according to their level, higher-ranked heroes directly from the stage coach; all have gone a long way toward speeding up the process of returning to form.
Even with these upgrades, the hours needed to train a full level 6 party are beyond what I can invest at this point. This is not a value challenge. This is punishment far outweighing the crime of failing to overcome a loaded system.
As comparisons go:
I have put plenty of hours into The Binding of Isaac, a game that perfectly encapsulates the concept of a roguelike for me. Permadeath is uncool, but rarely costs the player more than half an hour of game time. It relies in small part on luck (treasure rooms) but mostly upon the player’s ability to dodge and counter. Darkest Dungeon by comparison is a grind, an effective visual, audio and thematic slog.
I put six hours into Undertale, and that game changed my life without the insanely delicious artwork of Darkest Dungeon. Not a day goes by when I fail to think fondly of that simple little story. For all the hours I put into the dungeon, I have yet to experience such coloring emotions.
I purchased Darkest Dungeon (PC) not far into its early access days, drawn at first entirely by the godly, calligraphic artwork of the ultra-talented Chris Bourassa. Being one of those superficial creatures drawn to pretty pictures, I had no problem tossing a few shekels to Red Hook studio. Bourassa’s imagery captured the very heart of everything I’ve always adored about Lovecraft: senseless geometry both of architecture and anatomy, protagonists whose existence presents little in the way of meaning to the cosmic drama, and a relatable reality held together only by the thinnest strands of hope.
Look at the faces of each character class: What do you find in common? What do they lack?
Spoiler: Defined eyes. The human characters in this game lack visible eyeballs, hidden always by some mask or shadow. If eyes indeed are the window to the soul, we can see our heroes as soulless chess pieces, manikins perhaps, and ultimately the attachment to said heroes decays accordingly.
What saddens me the most about the experience is that by far the most amazing creature designs exist in that dungeon. Lobstery squid cultist things that encapsulate what I love about The Shadow Over Innsmouth or The Thing on The Doorstep are everywhere in the dungeon, and yet I cannot see them on my own file.
Having beheld these beasts via let’s plays, I took note that a handful of them not only have eyes, but possess multiple and/or enormous ocular organs. I find a beautiful contrast there.
I still love Darkest Dungeon as a concept. I adore the artwork, the albatross of managing the mental health of all these amazingly interesting warrior types and the Antiquarian. I am eminently impressed that there are plentiful female characters, none of whom are dressed in a sexually objective manner.
The aesthetic is poetry and porn for me, metaphorically. And finally, perhaps most importantly, Darkest Dungeon rekindled my interest in the writings of Lovecraft and introduced me to the chocolate-and-coffee voice of Wayne June, whose audiobook narration I have since sought out with delight.
Seriously, listen to this man read The Call of Cthulhu. It is perfection incarnate.
But my days in the dungeon have come to an end and it is time to move on.
So dread Cthulhu, or whoever sleeps beneath that accursed manse, I renounce my faith in RNGesus and offer unto you this tribute. May it rot between your terrible claws for all eternity.