Feature Article

Darkest Dungeon Captures the Hellish Life of an Adventurer

What lurks below?

There were several moments playing Darkest Dungeon when I was certain all was lost. A few unlucky critical hits and a stressed-out plague doctor were wreaking havoc on my team. In her panicked state, the good doctor refused to follow orders and stay out of harm's way. This landed her six feet under at the hands of a mace-wielding skeleton, but her sacrifice resulted in my team surviving the battle. Such is the cruelty of Darkest Dungeon, a game about managing the stress of being an adventurer for hire. If you're not already caught up on this Lovecraftian dungeon crawler, fear not. I've prepared a quick video, embedded below, covering the basics.

For those looking to dive deeper into the many secrets of Darkest Dungeon, read on. I talked with game designer Tyler Sigman and artist Chris Bourassa from Red Hook Studios about how the team is putting this game together, as well as one of their newest additions: the bounty hunter, a mix of Batman and Boba Fett who exploits one of the most important facets of Darkest Dungeon's combat.

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"The bounty hunter was one of our first 'aha' moments working on this game," said Bourassa. "We had our four core archetype characters--the crusader, vestal, plague doctor, and highwayman--up and running, and we were looking for ways to play out the positional quality of our combat a little further. The bounty hunter came out of the idea of the grappling hook and what that would do from a design perspective in combat."

Here are some of the bounty hunters' many iterations.
Here are some of the bounty hunters' many iterations.

As I mentioned in the video above, where your characters stand in Darkest Dungeon is extremely important. A character in the back of the pack is safer than one in the front, but is also limited to ranged attacks only--assuming he or she has any. These same rules apply to the enemy team as well, and this is where the bounty hunter shines. Using his trusty grappling hook, the bounty hunter can pull an enemy to the front of the pack or push one to the rear. He's a versatile character with a lot of strategic possibilities.

"The bounty hunter is kind of a sniper mixed with a little bit of crowd control," Sigman explained. "Those abilities are more or less useful depending on the dungeon or the types of monsters you're fighting. If there are lots of powerful archers in the enemy's back rows, for example, you can use the bounty hunter to hook and pull them forward so they can't use their ranged attacks anymore. Alternately, for enemies who are up close, he can use this uppercut attack and knock them back, cutting off their melee attacks. The bounty hunter isn't the highest damage-per-second character out there, but he grants a lot of tactical flexibility."

Because of the bounty hunter's versatility, Sigman considers him best suited somewhere in the middle of the party. "I think of him as a rank two or three character, like the highwayman," he said. "With the crusader, you're never going to play him in rank three unless that happened to you, but with the bounty hunter, you could choose to play him from three and still hook enemies, pull them forward, and let the front two ranks do all the damage." Of course, the bounty hunter's capabilities aren't limited to combat. You have to consider how he'll gel with the rest of the team around the campfire.

The bounty hunter uses his grappling hook to reel this weaker enemy to the front of the pack.
The bounty hunter uses his grappling hook to reel this weaker enemy to the front of the pack.

Darkest Dungeon has tactical camping. As the team explained, camping is something that has long been a favorite activity among adventurers in all mediums. In the realm of video games, stopping to camp involves little more than hitting a button to refill your party's health. Red Hook Studios wanted to expand upon this idea, and gave each of its characters two sets of skills: one for combat and one for camping.

"That makes party composition one of the most important decisions you make before going into a dungeon," Sigman said. "Knowing about each character and how he or she performs in the different sections of the game, from camping to combat, is vital. A good player won't just throw everything at pure fighting strength. You might burn through the first few enemy encounters that way, but when you get around the campsite and everyone is sick and poisoned and stressed out, you will be out of options and won't last very long. Alternatively, if you take, say, the jester, who isn't a straight-up DPS character but has really useful abilities around the campsite, you'll have much more survivability in the long run."

While the jester may be better at keeping the party's spirits high, the bounty hunter is much more of a lone wolf. His details are still being finalized, but the idea is to have him specialize in healing himself over the rest of the group. One ability, however, will have some benefit for the team. It's a scouting ability that has the bounty hunter exploring ahead in the dungeon and mapping out upcoming rooms. While this intel could prove invaluable, it also denies the bounty hunter any rest, so he may be in rough shape during the next fight.

You can feast on rations to heal your party and reduce stress, but you'll be in bad shape if you run out of food.
You can feast on rations to heal your party and reduce stress, but you'll be in bad shape if you run out of food.

Visually, the bounty hunter was born out of a mixture of several superhero styles. As Bourassa explained, these styles include the likes of Batman and Space Ghost, as well as one of the most famous bounty hunters in popular fiction, Boba Fett. "I wanted a bit of that retro superhero vibe, so I went with the pointed nose and slanted eye slits," he explained. "I think that was a nice little nod given where I was coming from conceptually. We also wanted him to look like he could move quickly but also take a punch--that's where the leather padding and scale mail came from. The bounty hunter isn't some huge, hulking tank, but he's also not wearing cloth armor. After that, it was just the art and creating an interesting silhouette."

The bounty hunter is also one of the most decorated characters in Darkest Dungeon, armed with a collection of tiny trinkets, bombs, scrolls, and other items he has collected during his travels. But he isn't the only one who's decorated. As you explore the game's many dungeons, you will come across new trinkets that can be applied to the other members of your party. These items carry with them small upgrades, such as additional damage for ranged attacks or a resistance to stress.

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Outside of trinkets, characters in Darkest Dungeon grow stronger through the power of cold, hard cash. As the developers explained, each character can earn better weapons, armor, and skills--all of which are unlocked with gold. Each character will also have around seven skills to unlock, but you will be able to bring only four or five of those per character into a dungeon. Do you go wide to create a more versatile fighter, or focus on leveling up one or two skills exclusively? Darkest Dungeon is filled with questions such as this as you try to manage your stable of hired hands.

The crusader may have avoided this devastating blow, but the poor plague doctor wasn't so lucky.
The crusader may have avoided this devastating blow, but the poor plague doctor wasn't so lucky.

Inevitably, some of those hard-working adventurers will go the way of my panicked plague doctor and never see the light of day again. But you shouldn't let this get you down. As Bourassa explained, "People are going to die. Your roster is going to be a bit fluid, especially early on, before you settle into your play style and pick your favorite characters. It's important to remind people that a certain amount of death in their roster is appropriate, and a signal that they're playing the game well."

Darkest Dungeon recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, and the team at Red Hook Studios hopes to have an early access version of the game available sometime later this year. In the meantime, steel yourself for the many unspeakable horrors that await within the Darkest Dungeon.

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