A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Darkest Dungeon is a difficult mature-themed downloadable role-playing/strategy game that casts mercenaries as a group of heroes. The game centers on violent combat, with players having to kill monsters and human characters. People will bleed, acid will be thrown on figures, and heroes will struggle with plague symptoms and madness. The overall presentation is grim, and when heroes die, they stay dead; this heightened level of tension and challenge could frustrate many players not accustomed to the unforgiving strategy. Though there's no sexual content or drug/alcohol use shown, party members can relieve stress by going to brothels or bars. The game has also been expanded with two separate downloadable content (DLC) packs; the Switch "Ancestral Edition" comes with these items already included.
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What's it about?
In DARKEST DUNGEON, the scion of a noble family returns home to find both his family's lands and castle overrun by evil. Gathering together as many mercenaries as he can, he resolves to travel every wooded path and explore every subterranean hallway to drive the evil out. Gameplay alternates between recovery and preparation within a dark, decrepit village and fighting your way through armies of fanatics, rabid dogs, monsters, and giant, poison-spewing bugs. Success depends on creating a diverse party of mercs (Jesters, Plague Doctors, Bounty Hunters, Clerics, and so on) who can help one another survive not only challenging physical trials, but also the mental strain of the horrors they meet. The game has also been expanded for the console and Vita versions with additional trinkets that are initially provided at the start of each game, giving a head start on dungeon exploration, as well as rare items. New environments have been added to the main dungeons, and a stagecoach event provides newer recruits for players. The Switch "Ancestral Edition" includes both DLC packs for players to get into from the start.
Is it any good?
This difficult adventure is simultaneously one of the most fun and most maddening strategy role-playing games in recent memory. It seduces you with its forceful, energetic gameplay and then kicks you to the curb with its unforgiving balance. Beware, ye who enter here: You must be able to accept failure and come back with a "We'll get 'em next time" attitude. If not, you're in for some serious frustration. Exploration and combat are the dual cornerstones of Darkest Dungeon. You may be tasked with exploring 90 percent of a given area thanks to a helpful mini-map that sometimes defines the locations of treasures and enemies. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that darkness is deadly. Horrible things lurk in the dark, and if you don't bring enough torches with you, you're in big trouble: Get ready to fight.
Winning fights depends heavily on recognizing your enemies' strengths and managing your heroes' abilities well. Questing and battle is tough enough as it is, but Darkest Dungeon goes one more step by adding an "Affliction System." Exploration and combat cause your heroes stress, and if that stress gets too high, they basically lose their minds, doing things such as wailing in despair or becoming totally irrational. The only way to avoid this is to get characters to relieve stress between quests, which costs money -- lots of money. Without careful stress management, you can paint yourself into a corner, with the only way out being starting an entirely new game. At least the console and Vita version has cross-play functionality, which allows you to bring your adventurers with you anywhere you go, and the Switch version is completely portable. Unfortunately, the controls do take a bit of getting used to, so you could accidentally hit the wrong button when you're exploring or during a fight, accelerating a restart of your tale. The Switch version cuts down on this somewhat, thanks to its touchscreen controls, which are much better than the Joycon controls that can frustrate players. But on the bright side, the fun of combat and the lure of treasure lessen the pain of starting over repeatedly, while the graphic novel-like art and the halting delivery of the melodramatic narrator (he has something of a William Shatner-like quality) make for a truly engrossing (and challenging) experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in games such as Darkest Dungeon. What are the reasons people watch, read, or play violent content, and how does it make them feel? Is the violence OK because the game content is clearly unrealistic?
Talk about medieval role-playing. What kind of medieval character would you like to be?
Discuss dungeon crawling. Would you like to explore a dungeon? Why, or why not?
Think about stress. How do you relieve stress?
- Platforms: Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Windows
- Price: $19.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Red Hook Studios
- Release date: February 3, 2015
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- ESRB rating: T for Sexual Themes, Violence, Blood, Partial Nudity, Language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.