I didn't panic, and neither did my crew
Hot off its huge Kickstarter success, Darkest Dungeon is already in a playable-enough state to have a demo at PAX East 2014. Although the demo was only a short snippet of what's to come, it was easy to get a sense of the themes Red Hook is shooting for with this roguelike RPG.
It looks great, it plays like a strategy-RPG, and its structure was likened to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This game is brilliant.
Darkest Dungeon plays like a positional turn-based RPG. Everything happens on a 2D plane, which forces characters to line up one behind another. The characters for this demo were, in the order from front to back, Crusader, Highwayman, Plague Doctor, and Vestal. The Crusader was akin to a Knight class, the Highwayman used firearms, the Plague Doctor inflicts status ailments, and the Vestal fits the healer role.
Certain moves are only available if a character is in a certain position. The Crusader really thrives in the first position, but if he switches out with the Highwayman, the Highwayman can then use his Point Blank Shot ability to deal some serious damage. There are certain moves that will push your characters around, however, so it’s best not to get too comfortable with a single arrangement.
Characters will also have certain personality traits that affect their stats and behaviors. They begin simple enough, with things like +10 Protection or -20% Critical Chance, but as players traverse the dungeons they will gain more. The traits in the PAX demo were random, and luckily I didn't get a Crusader with minus accuracy or protection or anything just as bad. As I explored, my Highwayman encountered a strange artifact, and after inspecting it, got a new personality trait that made him more prone to inspecting future ones. He just couldn’t resist the temptation...
This is easily one of the coolest aspects of Darkest Dungeon. Characters will gain more and more traits as the player uses them, and this allows them to develop and evolve, even if it is for the worse. When characters enter the titular "darkest dungeon," the game's last dungeon, they gain a trait that prevents them from ever entering that dungeon again. They've just seen too much and refuse to go back.
Other than health, characters also have a Stress bar. If their stress bar maxes out, they will become afflicted with something. Luckily, I avoided this during my playthrough, but the player before me had all of their party members afflicted by the end. Their Crusader, for example, became a Masochist and no longer accepted heals in any form. They aren’t all terrible, but they are unpredictable and not exactly ideal. Critical hits can increase stress if your team is on the receiving end, or reduce it if you’re the one dishing it out.
Darkest Dungeon even has strategic camping mechanics! While exploring an area, the party has the option to camp in an empty room with some firewood. During this time, the party is allocated a certain amount of camping points to use camping spells. These spell can reduce stress and increase health, but the better the skill is the more points it will use up. It adds a lot compared to the typical “rest button” in most other games that just heals everyone up.
While it wasn’t in this demo, I was briefed on the town aspects of the game as well, which will function similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. While at the town, players can recruit more characters, especially if theirs have died since death is permanent. This is also where players will access the various areas, which they may go to at any time. The exception to this is the last dungeon, which is the titular Darkest Dungeon. Spoooooky!
The art is amazing and does a lot to add to the dark and morose tone that the game sets up. Attack animations aren't fluid swipes and movements, but rather a quick frame change with a smash cut that really add impact to attacks and spells. The art is clean, yet grimy. I loved looking at it because of how grimy the characters looked. The atmosphere is absolutely perfect, which adds a lot to Darkest Dungeon.
I came away from Darkest Dungeon with nothing but a lust to play more. I really enjoyed what the team at Red Hook Studios has put together so far and am eagerly awaiting the full game's release. If you're interested in Darkest Dungeon but missed out on the Kickstarter, you can still buy/pre-order the game from their website.