“Ruin has come to our family,” is the first words you hear when starting up Red Hook’s Darkest Dungeon, which is a pretty apt mood setter. Your Ancestor is like any rich guy – somebody that got so bored with their wealth that they pivoted their life mission around an insane hobby, which in his case was studying the occult. Unfortunately, much like real life, the world suffers the results of his bad decisions when he uncovers a horrible evil underneath his estate. And much like real life, it’s up to you, a member of the next generation, to fix the problem.
So, let’s go through Darkest Dungeon together.
For the longest time, I felt that I was in a rut with Indie Hell Zone. I wanted to do something different from the usual reviews, but because of my limited free time, I can’t really do anything “newsy.” I thought, “hey, maybe I should do videos,” but my ability to be verbal really degraded in the past two years for various reasons. But then I thought: why not do a text let’s play like those old ones on Something Awful? So yeah, here we are.
For this experiment, I chose to go with Darkest Dungeon. It’s a game that I only experienced through watching videos a few years ago and I’ve really been wanting to play it for myself, so pointing a metaphorical gun at my head via this blog is the perfect motivator to get playing.
I have Darkest Dungeon with all the DLC, presumably because I got it at a point when it was all cheap enough that I said “why not?” However, for the purposes of our adventure, I decided to turn off the two big expansions and the multiplayer. My justification is that they feel like they’re for people who already played enough of the game themselves and I’ll just be making things unnecessarily harder for myself.
And with that, I chose the normal “Darkest” difficulty and thus began the story of the Iscariot Estate.
We enter the game proper. The unseen Heir player character is getting escorted to the town around the estate by a Crusader named Reynauld and a Highwayman named Dismas. From what I gather, you will always start with these two when you play, and the fandom kinda latched onto them. Just two guys being dudes.
While the game is full of eldritch creatures, there’s a large contingent of normal human bandits looking to ruin your day. Dismas and Reynauld come across a gang of them on the road and the Ancestor in the form of the narrator demands that they kill the bandits to send a message. Well, the Ancestor’s a rich asshole, so I guess it’s par for the course.
The Highwayman has good utility, with ranged attacks and a slash that bleeds people. Reynauld is more melee oriented, but he has a stun, which is always good, and a defense buff that also calls attention to himself. However, I didn’t really need to rely on status effects in the opening quest’s two small battles because the bandits are kinda jobbers in the grand scheme of things.
We finally arrive in town and it kinda looks like shit, but that’s to be expected. First thing’s first, I decided to hit up the Stage Coach, where poor souls show up from distant lands for the sake of getting in on this estate stuff. Couci the Plague Doctor and Boteler the Vestal have joined the party; while I will not rename Dismas and Reynauld because they’re fandom symbols, I’m open to renaming these two.
Anyway, welcome to the team, I’m immediately sending you guys to the skeleton-infested hellhole of the Ruins. So before every quest, you can get some provisions. There’s food that your heroes will periodically need to munch on or they’ll start to lose their shit, and torches to keep things lit up for the sake of (non-risky) bonus effects. I took the game’s suggested amount of torches and food, along with some status ailment healing items because I honestly forget what to expect with this game.
Attack-wise, the Plague Doctor seems to have a greater focus on status ailments, with their own bleeding slash and moves that inflict blight – a damage-over-time that works better on the bloodless skeletons of the Ruins. The Vestal is another holy warrior alongside the likes of the Crusader, who carries a cudgel and attacks enemies with a holy ranged attack. Both her and the Plague Doctor have heals, which is good because this expedition to the Ruins is much more dangerous compared to the basic bandits.
During the expedition, the party came across a pack of goods… which Reynauld immediately robs and keeps the stuff inside for himself. So, now’s the time to mention Darkest Dungeon‘s quirk system. Whenever characters level up, they gain a quirk, which could either be positive or negative. Part of what defines Reynauld and Dismas to the fans is that they actually have pre-defined set quirks, which allows fans to flesh them out as distinct characters. Unfortunately, one of Reynauld’s pre-defined quirks is Kleptomaniac, which gives him a random chance to steal treasure for himself. Gotta love this guy.
Toward the end of the little Ruins expedition, the gang runs into a little snag. The little snag happened to be a mountain of rubble and corpses and I did not buy a shovel to dig through. This resulted in everyone’s stress running high and the torchlight getting extinguished, which just stressed everyone out further. Then they got to the last fight in the Ruins, where a funny skeleton man spilled crazy juice on Boteler, which wound up being the last straw for her.
Stress is essentially a second life bar in this game, which gradually fills during travel (especially if the light is low) and when you’re taking particularly bad hits. When a hero’s stress bar gets filled up all the way, they become some form of the Joker by getting an Affliction, which leads to them taking erratic actions in battle. Here, Boteler became Masochistic, which led to the unfortunate scenario of her refusing to heal herself. While there are more positive forms of being the Joker, there’s also a super form of Joker when the Stress bar gets filled up all the way a second time, which is Dying of a Heart Attack.
Thankfully, that did not happen. Despite entering the battle in bad circumstances, everyone got out of it okay. Well, not really. Much like real life, stress and trauma will still follow you wherever you go, and most of the gang is stressed out – especially Boteler. Well, Reynauld was fine actually, which makes me wonder why he got the quirk of Ruins Phobe (gains more stress when doing a quest in the Ruins) when he came out the most normal out of everyone.
So, after missions, you’re encouraged to send everyone to relax on the facilities around your estate to get their stress down for the next mission, which you can upgrade with the various items you find while on expeditions. Or you can just fire them and get fresh bodies off the stage coach so you don’t have to waste money. It’s a valid tactic and the Ancestor would probably be doing that all the time if he was still around.
I don’t wanna be that kinda boss though. I went to the Tavern to set Dismas up to go drinking, Couci to go gamble (since they unfortunately got a gambling addiction) and Boteler to cool down with some sex workers. Must be a fun time as a Masochist.
ANYWAY, since Reynauld is normal, I decided that he has to go back to work. While everyone else is cooling off, he has to lead a new team: Fougeres the Jester, Tiniel the Hellion and Malleville the Houndmaster. D’aw, I already love the Houndmaster. Look at him and his funny dog.
We haven’t unlocked anywhere new yet, so the new squad heads back to the Ruins, this time on on a quest long enough that they get firewood to set up camp.
The Jester comes with a range of bleed skills… which is unfortunately not as useful as it could be when most of the enemies you fight in the Ruins don’t have blood. At the very least, he can play a ditty to lower someone’s stress. From the back position, the Houndmaster suffers a similar problem where he can only send out his dog to do attacks, where he can’t get any bleed benefits. He could use his full moveset from the second position behind Reynauld, but unfortunately, the Hellion needs to be in the second position because all of the useful attacks she came with is only effective if she’s in the first two slots. So hey, this party that Reynauld got stuck with kinda highlights why you have to pay attention to party building. It’s not as if he had a choice, but still.
But oh man, when those human acolytes show up, Fougeres and Malleville can really bleed the shit out of them.
Eventually, the gang settles down in an empty room to camp. They enjoy a nice meal and show off their camping skills, a secondary skillset dedicated to lowering stress and enacting other benefits. Reynauld was finally starting to lose it a bit, especially since nobody can kill the funny drink spilling skeletons effectively, so everyone dedicated their time to making sure he stayed normal.
The rest of the expedition was uneventful. Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, Reynauld got close to Jokerdom, but thankfully, he’s the only one that really got stressed out. Everyone headed home to news that a new party member, Beringar the Shieldbreaker, arrived for free. Cool.
While Reynauld went to the church to pray away his stress, I checked out the Blacksmith and the Guild, which finally decided to reopen since things are safer now. The former can improve stats for people while the other can train up new skills, which I really need to do to give the new batch of party members some more versatility.
Then I looked at all the choices I had in front of me and my mind blanked out and I remembered, “ah, I remember why I don’t get into party-building games that much.”
I decided to get Dismas Duelist’s Advance and Point-Blank Shot, which are two moves that allow him to change position. During the outing in the Ruins, some characters got forcibly moved around by enemy attacks, so I think it’s good to have a way to respond to that. I improved Couci’s skills because I found them to be generally useful, I improved Malleville’s dogs ability to bite stuff and I have Fougeres Finale. From what I remember, Finale is a powerful finisher type move that’s improved by using a bunch of the Jester’s skills beforehand, and you know, I think it’d be cool to try to pull that off.
Then I saw that a new place finally opened up: the Weald, the grimy town outskirts. For this outing, Dismas and Beringar are to head up the front; because Beringar’s default attacks allows her to move around, I thought it’d synergize well with the new stuff I got Dismas. I didn’t think skeletons would show up, so I brought Fougeres and Malleville back so that they can finally put all that bleeding to good use.
When it came to killing things, the team was actually pretty nice. I liked the flow I had going with Dismas and Beringar, and it’s real satisfying to just kill things through unrelenting DOT. But then I ran into two problems: one, I forgot to get shovels, and the game kept throwing in things I needed shovels for. In fact, I’m pretty sure that almost all of the stress I got from the quest was everyone being pissed off at having to dig with their bare hands all the time.
The second problem: I did not bring any healers.
When a character is out of health, they’re on Death’s Door. Any hit they take while on Death’s Door has a random chance of outright killing them. Any hit. And unfortunately, that includes the normally weak blanket fire that the basic gun-toting bandits have.
So we have our good days and we have our bad days, and it was a very bad day for Beringar, who had the misfortune of dying on her very first quest. It wasn’t even to the weird mushroom creatures either, it was to a normal guy with a gun. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing way to go out in the world of Darkest Dungeon. Because I didn’t want to bring further shame to the rest of the crew, I decided to pull them out, even though they were close to the final room – which was a guaranteed fight that could have taken one more life.
Also, Malleville became Catholic, I guess. I set him out to go pray among other things, but I realized that the retreat had a bad secondary effect – because the crew did not get the payday they would have gotten from a successful quest, the Iscariot Estate is actually really low on funds now. Welp. Thankfully, I didn’t need to spend much on stress relief because Fougeres is an alcoholic but the bar’s getting taken up by the heir’s dang assistant. Thanks man.
Now we had to do a job, solely so that I could afford to actually do things. As it happened, the Sanitarium opened up, and if you put someone there, you can get rid of negative quirks and diseases. And man, some of these guys have really bad negative quirks.
Fresh new recruits were pulled off the Stage Coach so that I could get a handle on more characters. Pontchardon the Man-At-Arms, Peis the Bounty Hunter and Mantel the Occultist have joined my merry band for the sake of making more money. Now, the Occultists actually do come with a heal, but it’s a rather risky one in that it has a high variance and a chance to bleed. However, better safe than sorry, so Boteler came along to provide additional healing backup.
The very first battle they got into was against a pack of wild dogs, who immediately gave Boteler and Peis rabies, which means that while they hit harder, they are less accurate. Which is unfortunate for Peis, because I think he already had low accuracy to begin with. It’s a shame, because when he hits hard, he hits hard – he especially synergized well with Mantel, since the Occultist’s Vulnerability Mark makes the Bounty Hunter’s Collect Bounty stronger.
On top of having rabies, Peis became the Joker, getting inflicted with Irrational. He spent the whole time being a dick to Boteler, refusing to let her move back in the party formation during battle (pictured here) and refusing a heal from her. For some reason he wasn’t really a dick to anyone else, so I’m guessing that his Irrationality and rabies combined to give him misogyny poisoning.
The good news is that Boteler didn’t have to worry about that for long. The bad news was because the squad ran into a gang of spiders, who immediately marked her and combo’d her with bleed and blight that brought her to Death’s Door. And when I said that any hit could kill someone on Death’s Door, I mean it, because she immediately died from the DOT hits the moment her turn started.
This led to a failure cascade where Pontchardon (who also got rabies in an earlier fight) became Hopeless, though thankfully the effects of that affliction didn’t make itself known, since this happened on the last battle. The spiders nearly pulled the same shit off of Pontchardon, but Mantel managed to heal him before he suffered the same fate as Boteler. This gang succeeded where the previous one failed – but at what cost?
With a veteran down, the squad went back to town, full of stress and rabies. Well, Mantel didn’t lose it and didn’t get rabies. Really, he was the MVP of the whole thing. Peis went to the brothel because he has a partner there and Pontchardon went to get flagellated as his form of stress relief since he’s all about that – and speaking of which, the town event gave me a free Flagellant named Guideville. Can’t wait for him to die because of my mismanagement.
Anyway, I learned my lesson, and it’s to stop going to the Weald, at least for now. Because hey, now I got two guys with rabies, which kinda balances out the money I got from doing this quest. I’m not sure how to make a Man-at-Arms click for me, but I need to get that Bounty Hunter back to business.
Let’s end this session by remembering the fallen. Beringar, you probably would have lived if I actually brought a healer, I’m sorry for committing a basic RPG sin, my bad. Boteler, there was literally nothing I could do, sorry. If I was a Youtuber recording her death in video form, you’d see my own stress hit 100 at that moment.
Anyway, I’m both glad and incredibly angry that I’m finally playing Darkest Dungeon. This session took up a decent 4 hours, which I think will be the minimum for sessions going forward. I aim to make this a weekly thing alongside my other writings, because I think this would be fun to do regularly and it’s nice to put some structure into my life.
Got name suggestions for characters? Got any hot non-spoiler tips? Leave me a comment or yell at me on Twitter. Thanks for reading, and hopefully the next set of expeditions will go much better.