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

Refined Tower Defense

Greetings, Commander!

The Awakening happened roughly six years ago and introduced a stunning replayability accompanied with an impressive simplicity and challenging gameplay – ultimately setting the scene for a very solid game in an otherwise seemingly stagnated Tower Defense-genre. Today, after more than half a decade, a humble Kickstarter-campaign and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, developer Hidden Path Entertainment is once again ready to unleash the endless and lethal waves of aliens unforgivably. The only thing left to ask is whether or not the sequel manages to deliver the same way the original did.

Welcome, or rather, welcome back to Defense Grid 2.

Simplicity is often the road to success, and Hidden Path Entertainment seems to have found their very own path. Separated defense grid systems on the verge of invasion welcomes the player.

Simplicity is often the road to success, and developer Hidden Path Entertainment has undeniably found their very own path as separated and isolated defense grid systems on the verge of invasion welcomes the player.

By the above statement and screenshot it is likely obvious for returning fans that Defense Grid 2 hasn’t advanced noticeably from The Awakening; nor reinvented the genre by any means. Aliens are indeed still trying to steal your treasured and life-depending energy cores, and you are once again required (and rewarded accordingly) to defend them best possible. However, whilst the core game mechanics and graphics hasn’t changed significantly, Hidden Path Entertainment has managed to refine their product even further through a range of small tweaks and fixes solely focused on creating and improving a smooth, challenging and entertaining gameplay. They have moreover added a humorous and fully voiced (though, and lets face it, very frivolous to the actual campaign) story as well as twelve (!) different game modes to encourage a whole new level of replayability.

It is evident that Defense Grid 2 utilizes a ton of content originally created in The Awakening. However, it is important to stress that re-using and drawing inspiration from previous games when creating a sequel is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact it can be a very appealing and useful approach. By welcoming veteran players with known and well-loved elements of nostalgia, a developer is able to jump-start the community by having the veterans foster it. Defense Grid 2 is a great example of this, and new players will thus be welcomed by a lively Steam Community Hub, thousands of veteran players and an active developer.

The difficulty drastically increases and will prove a challenge to many veteran players as well.

However, despite the strong parallels to the original game and guaranteed nostalgia trips for veterans, Defense Grid 2 depends on attracting new players to whom all the aforementioned changes means nothing as they haven’t played the original. This ultimately means that if you haven’t played The Awakening, you will experience the game as it is. What new players will find is a game which graphically appears slightly outdated, but nonetheless feels very solid.

A natural question would then be what a solid game is? The gameplay in Defense Grid 2 is arguably very straightforward and seemingly quite simple – but do not get fooled! Whilst the player indeed is required to defend best possible by utilizing up to ten different and unique towers from several waves of aliens, the difficulty increases significantly and almost exponentially. The drastic increase in difficulty is both very motivating and infuriating, but nonetheless greatly improves the replayability as just one wrong tower, a mistimed upgrade or a missed special-attack effectively can result in the game being lost. Furthermore, the towers, aliens and map design seem to have accomplished some sort of harmony with the gameplay and controls as it all works really well together.

Five planets with four missions on each in increasing difficulty welcomes the player. Each map may furthermore be played in 12 different game modes - beyond the story mode!

Five planets with four missions on each in increasing difficulty welcomes the player. Each map may furthermore be played in 12 different game modes – beyond the story mode!

Developing and funding Defense Grid 2 proved quite a journey, but it is evident that the passion towards the series through all these years was kept intact. Developer Hidden Path Entertainment manages to take the best bits from the original and refine them even further to both please and welcome old as new fans. Whilst the game graphically doesn’t meet today’s standards, its challenging and simple gameplay compensates and ultimately provides a very solid game unlike any other in the genre. Defense Grid 2 is currently the game to get if you are looking for a Tower Defense game as everything about the game screams tower defense.

Buy Defense Grid 2, and go kill aliens, on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/221540

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