EARLY ACCESS: Enter the Darkest Dungeon

The darkness is growing ferociously as you cautiously take yet another step into the unknown and sacred ruins. You have lost track of place and time, and supplies are running low. In fact, the last torch has just burned out, and visibility as well as morale and courage has diminished beneath what you considered sanely possible. Yet you cannot abandon the mission. You have gone through too much. You have sacrificed too much and too many.

Your team was flawed. You are flawed, but yet you and your team managed to leave relentless battles against twisted and unimaginable bizarre foes alive – although mentally vulnerable and heavily affected by the increasing psychological stress and paranoia. You are verging on a mental breakdown, and struggle to stop your natural survival instincts of abandoning your team and your mission, but you manage to find the last bit of courage, the last bit of hope, and take yet another step. The darkness thirstily inhales your fears as you approach the next door…

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Darkest Dungeon features an astonishing hand-drawn atmosphere.

The roguelike-genre has experienced a major renaissance the past few years with hundreds of games released last year alone, and every so often, a game stands out. This is one of them. This is Darkest Dungeon, a challenging roguelike turn-based RPG with innovative and highly intriguing game mechanics by developer Red Hook. It is hard to properly compare the game to others, but in all its essence, Darkest Dungeon remains a visually stunning dungeon-crawler similar to games such as Legends of Grimrock, but with clever and very innovative game mechanics.

The player must lead a team of four flawed heroes through twisted forests, crypts and ruins (the game currently has three completed dungeons, but more dungeons have been announced). Unlike traditional RPG games, all heroes experience psychological pressure as well as their subsequent side effects. The system does not necessarily interfere with the progression nor development however, but when the stress-factor becomes too high it will heavily affect the heroes. Whilst most side-effects are negative and mostly temporary, some effects are positive and will benefit the hero through all future endeavours. Character progression and development thus largely depends on the outcome of the psychological-dice roll.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Players will moreover manage a small village which functions as your party’s headquarters. The various buildings allow the heroes to reduce their stress through either drinking, gambling, medieval treatment, prayer or meditation. Though, every stress-reducing activity is expensive and with the party heavily relying on gear (torches, rations, medicine and bandages) for the next mission it becomes a matter of priorities. Additionally, players need money to fund the heroes’ personal equipment and skills. The many needs for money ultimately encourages the player to take further risks in an attempt to obtain more gold to secure further adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is still – perhaps quite surprising – in early-access despite feeling like a near-complete game. The graphics and atmosphere is stunning and engrossing, the narration and voice acting is well-made and the gameplay feels reasonably balanced. The combat system is turn-based and heavily relies on positioning and picking the right heroes, skills and items. Failing to do so properly results in a brutal death which due to the roguelike-elements means, worst case scenario, permanently lost heroes (though, the player may abandon a mission, but doing so generates no gold to cover the restoration of the remaining heroes’ physical and mental health). With an announced six months of early-access-mode and dedicated developers, the game is bound to receive plenty of updates which only strengthens this recommendation.

Buy Darkest Dungeon (EARLY ACCESS) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

A gorgeous platformer, patented by Tesla

Heavily inspired by the War of Currents in the late 1880’s, platformer Tesla Breaks the World by developer Archetype Global introduces the player to a gorgeous hand-drawn world with an impressive story covering the extreme rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

An interesting story with an even more interesting and impressive visual presentation. Welcomed by hand-drawn artwork – referring simply to graphics is not justified – inspired by classic cartoons, abstract and modern art and the works of Eyvind Earle, the player is instantly engrossed in the colourful world. Our protagonist and enemies are moreover animated very well and accommodate the overall design nicely – some players might even draw parallels to some of Disney’s newer character-designs.

The artwork is absolutely stunning and very well made. Animations moreover suits the environment very well.

What can possibly go wrong…

Tesla Breaks the World is a traditional 2-D-platformer with the standard controls (jump, double-jump, left and right), but a few elements greatly sets this game apart. In particular the map design which, more or less, is randomly generated. This is great for replayability and ensures that no stage is too alike whilst utilizing a very interesting and innovative approach to the otherwise stagnated 2-D platformer-genre. Furthermore, Tesla’s latest invention, the Micro-Portable Magnifying Transmitter Device (a very fancy name for an equally fancy teleportation-gun) allows players to absorb various elements and enemies and place (or throw) them at desired locations allowing for some interesting gameplay options.

In addition to the above, zombies will spawn depending on how fast (or slow) the player solves puzzles and how often they use their Transmitter Device. This encourages players to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles efficiently as not doing so causes more enemies to spawn. Similar, as the player progresses through the stages, more items are being unlocked – for instance an electric-powered hover-platform which allows Tesla to overcome larger jumps and heights. A narrator is furthermore accompanying the player through the stages; constantly having a witty tone which together with the art exudes the passion the game has been developed with.

…definitely not Thomas Edison going mad and stealing your blueprints! The artwork throughout the entire game is very charming and very well made. Animations moreover suit the environment nicely.

Unfortunately Tesla Breaks the World faces some serious issues when it comes to the actual controls. Whilst the initial design is flawless, the game unfortunately executes all commands poorly causing them to feel slow and unresponsive. Tesla almost floats when jumping, and gravity seems to be slightly too low. The main issue overall is the poor framerate – which also appears to be the main reason why the controls feel floaty.

The framerate issues are especially bad when VSync is activated – causing the game to constantly perform under 30 fps despite being capped at 100+. VSync is in general an awesome feature as it synchronizes your frames per second with your monitor’s refresh rate and – if performing correctly – delivers a much smoother experience. Disabling VSync does increase the framerate significantly, but it is still struggles to deliver a smooth gameplay. This is a huge shame, because everything else is really well-made – all from the voiceovers, artwork and story.

Several elements, including weapons and randomly generated maps together with the artwork, makes the game very appealing.

Tesla Breaks the World is the product of both a successful Kickstarter campaign, a successful GreenLit and fourteen months of hard work from the part-time indie developer, Archetype Global. It offers an engrossing story in very appealing and charming visuals utilizing hand-drawn elements and dark silhouettes, but fails at its technical performance. The game is, unfortunately, at current state facing serious issues performing to a bare acceptable level, but this is no doubt something which the developer intends to fix. This review will be updated accordingly to give a very warm recommendation, should a patch arrive.

Buy Tesla Breaks the World on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/314210/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.