This is going to be a special kind of article. The first of many, as the game industry has a VERY high turnout rate. As the title implies, this is going to be our first look at a video game that has yet to be released. If you are new to gaming, understand that is the norm, as development for video games is very time consuming and costly, even for smaller and simpler indie titles. As such, developments teams and game publishers alike need to make sure that the time spent building the game is time spent guaranteeing return value for their thousands, if not millions of dollars in investment. If you’ve played video games even for a short while, the title “First Look” might not even make sense to you, only because so much of game journalism in general is about covering big title games and their PR campaigns.
A first look does a little more then this; I basically do my homework, look into what this game has to offer and compare it to my experience both making and designing games. In other words, give you a good idea as what to expect rather then just reporting what was officially announced. Given the relative limited information on this game, and the way features and deadlines are always in flux during the development of games, I might have also a second, third, and maybe even a Release Report, where I detail the results of the release. Today we’ll be taking a first look at
Darkest Dungeon-Terror and Madness
Pretty cool trailer, huh? As the name, video, and concept suggests, this game is your basic dungeon crawling turn-based RPG; with a twist. Judging from their trailer, mechanics mentioned on their website, it seemed that the whole idea might have actually come from a pretty profound question asked by someone on the Dev team. That question is;
At least that’s my first impression. The game is made by a small team of very experienced professionals from Vancouver called Red Hook Studios. There are only five of them working on the game and its production, so not surprisingly they addressed themselves much like the adventuring parties within their game. Complete with what looks like a pretty good glimse at how one of the game’s main features would be like; mainly, what they have dubbed the Affliction system. To be blunt, this system seems to be a more detailed and RPG adventure version of the “Sanity” system that has become of many lovecraftian horror games like Amnesia:the Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness. Huh. Come to think of it, a lot of games that have the word “Darkness” in it have a loss to the player character’s sanity. Except for Alone in the Dark; only the player itself was horrified. Not because it was scary, either. Anyway, the affliction system seems to work like a statistical version of Post Trauma, in which the more unpleasantness a party member experiences, the more emotional and psychological problems they develop in the game. This of course ranges from things like “It stinks in here” to more extreme events like “Holy S#!* that thing just ate our cleric!” kind of deal. If it becomes too much, you get problems like alcoholism, nihilistic rants, and phobias of whatever it was that distresses them. So yeah; this isn’t Final Fantasy.
If I had to compare the game to anything, it would be a low budget and turn based version of the game Dark Souls. Another game titled “Dark”. Go figure. I say that because the game looks like it intends to clamor to an adult audience and challenge them by raising the stakes of combat with things like permanent death of party members, increasing complications to combat, and the added threats of things like plague and discord between characters. If the team can do it just right, it will be the kind of game that is difficult but rewarding to master, not unlike Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls as mentioned above. If they screw it up, people will spend more time breaking their keyboards then experiencing its depth
I’m still not sure if this is part of the game yet, but apparently your party members speak out their fears with dialogue bubbles that float over their head along with whatever affliction penalty they receive based on circumstances. This runs the risk of become rather repetitive, as it can seem like more of a gimmicky push notice then a feature you would want. Nobody wants another Navii. But at the same time, this shows the promise of providing character development, as not all dialogues are directed as complaints; they seem to communicate to one another as well. Its way too early to make any assumptions, but if they can make these kinds of dialogues infrequent and dynamic enough, this can actually become the cornerstone of the game. Because its one thing to hear someone shout “The Darkness is overwhelming” 15 times every minute you play the game, but a whole different ball game to hear your party members engage in conversation. The results can be real interesting, so long as they exist in moderation.
Another thing that caught my eye was the fact that they weren’t conforming to the standard fighter/wizard/cleric/rouge formula to party classes. They didn’t post all of their classes yet, but the websites hints and points to classes that include:
The Highwayman, who brandishes a Dagger and Flintlock Pistol
The Plague Doctor; which suggests a class for curing diseases.
The Vestal, which I’m guessing is some kind of nun.
And the Barber-Surgeon, which can stitch up wounds while the party camps.
Which brings me to another feature that is both fascinating and somewhat familiar; the game lets you make tactical decisions while camping. This is a pretty innovative feature, as it promises both clever and non-combat ways to deal with challenges, and makes it possible to experience very engaging non-combat encounters. Especially since they are constantly pointing to choices you can make outside of combat to deal with their “Afflictions”. What really strikes a chord is the idea that some of these quirks bring bonuses as well as drawbacks, which promises profound decision making moments for the player.
The art is basically 2D marionettes, albeit very atmospheric and well drawn ones. I have no idea what the complete interface is going to look like, but from the trailer it seems like it will be split between what the party is doing, where on the map you are, and a meter measuring how much torchlight you got. Apparently making sure your torchlight is lit and burning is just one more issue your party needs to deal with besides murderous horrors and PTSD. Sometimes I’m glad I’m not a video game character.
The music is certainly atmospheric, and the sounds are superb. But unfortunately, I am only basing this analysis off of the trailer they made, so there is no guarantee that any of those sounds, music files, or effects will even carry over. If it does, it will make for both an epic and chilling time.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, again, check out their website and be sure to sign up for their mailing list. Apparently they are getting ready for a big debut on Kickstarter, and the trailer and site is just to get us excited. It must be working, because I’m not the only gaming journalist who is watching their moves.
UPDATE: The Kickstarter has come and gone, but you can still buy the game at their website. Game is scheduled to come out in October, and you can expect a full review when it comes out.