If you’re like me, you’ve gotten completely enthralled by the bleak, dismal world of the Darkest Dungeon. If you don’t know what Darkest Dungeon is, check out my review, but if you’re in a hurry: basically it’s a dungeon crawler that challenges you to build a stable of atypical adventurers – everything from the noble templar to the cursed abomination (my personal favorite) – to challenge a series of dungeons that range from the undead-infested ruins to the cursed wilds of the weald to the horrible, titular Darkest Dungeon in order to purge your ancestral home of the Lovecraftian evils that have cursed it. Your heroes will be challenged both physically and mentally by the trials of these dungeons and may rise above the challenges…or break under the strain and become more hindrance than help.
Still on board? Great.
So I’ve been playing Darkest Dungeon since it launched on early access in February and while I don’t claim to be an expert – I’ve killed my share of the game’s unforgiving bosses but I’ve had my share of (stupid) stumbles along the way – I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks here and there to make the game a little less unforgiving. And I’m going to share a few of them with you now.
#1: Always bring a healer
One thing you’ll learn early on is that, while the game gives you a great amount of freedom in who you bring along into your forays, you won’t get far without a healer. Unfortunately, this means you’re pretty much forced to bring either a vestal or an occultist as other classes with healing abilities – the arbalest and templar specifically – can help mitigate damage but won’t be able to do much on their own.
The vestal is a little more reliable and a great addition to every team. I vastly prefer the occultist in general, but his heal is extremely sketchy. Not only does it heal for a wide range – which can cause you to whoop with a huge 24-point crit or cringe with a heal that literally does nothing – but can also inflict the bleed status on your team, making it a literal double-edged sword. I’ve found that the plague doctor makes a fine companion for the occultist with his bleed/blight heal, so keep that in mind if forming a team around this quirky healer.
Either way, never, ever leave Haven without either a vestal or an occultist. There might be a way to survive without them if you’re far more experienced than I am, but if you are, I doubt you’d be reading this, so just…save a spot for a healer, ok?
#2: Never forget your friends
If you find a team that works, write it down. There are tons of combinations of classes and abilities that work extremely well together, but it won’t do you any good to have these if you don’t remember what they are. Until the game implements some kind of party-saving mechanic, it falls on you to write these combinations down.
And don’t be afraid to experiment in the lower difficulties. While Darkest Dungeon can be extremely unforgiving, the level one dungeons – with the exception of the boss missions – are pretty friendly to experimentation. Want to see how a pair of bounty hunters work together (spoiler alert: very well)? Give it a try. Want to try a run without a healer? Go nuts. Once you get to the level three and level six missions, you won’t have much room for error, so find those combinations early.
Finally, while this can’t be proven and I’m pretty sure it’s all in my head, it can’t hurt to remember individual adventurers who have done well in the past. I want to say that the RNG (random number generator) has a bit of a memory to it as the adventurers that have done well for me – either getting a string of crits, lucky dodges, rising to virtue instead of being inflicted by stress conditions, etc – tend to do consistently better while those that tend to have strings of bad luck might be worth giving up on early.
Again, I can’t prove this…but sometimes it’s more fun to pretend with Darkest Dungeon.
#3: Pinch those pennies
Money is extremely hard to come by, particularly in the early game. Just because you have 20,000 gold burning a hole in your pocket now doesn’t mean you won’t have a string of bad luck in the dungeons and be left with barely enough to buy torches for your next foray, putting you in an extremely difficult situation. So be sure to think twice any time you look to spend money…even if it means leaving someone at high stress. Sending them in to whip themselves into a serene state can be pricey.
Basically what I’m saying here is make sure the person you’re thinking of spending money on is worth it in the long run. Maybe you need a hellion for some savage front-line action but the only one to roll into town this week has the “nervous” and “fragile” quirks, making them somewhat undesirable. You could do worse…but you could certainly do better, and it might be worth passing on that hellion (or thinking of them as expendable and sending them to the dungeon to die you heartless monster) to see if you can get someone better rather than spending the frankly exorbitant fees to get those quirks removed on an untested adventurer. In extreme cases, it might even be worth sending someone packing rather than sending them to the tavern for a few brewskis to get them ready for the next adventure.
It’s all about risk and reward; make sure you know what you’re spending your money on and make sure you have enough dosh to make your next foray a success, or it might be your last.
#4: Never leave home without a shovel or two
Proper outfitting is a must in Darkest Dungeon, but while having a few bandages to stem the massive amount of bloodloss you’re undoubtedly going to experience and picking up a few skeleton keys to unlock those pesky trapped chests is nice, one thing I absolutely refuse to leave home without now is at least two shovels.
Every so often in the dungeons, you’ll come across a blockage in the road. These blockages take different shapes in different dungeons – from the rubble in the ruins to the thorny brambles in the weald to the broken down ships in the cove – but they all function the same, impeding your forward progress until you break through them. This means that you either use a shovel (by clicking on the shovel…it took me a few tries to realize that you had to actually click on the shovel, not the check mark. Just another tip for you because I care) to clear the blockage instantly or spend valuable light, health, and, even more dire, stress to clear it. While it may not seem like much at the time, every little bit of stress damage done to your heroes can be potentially disastrous in a game where one or two poorly-timed enemy critical strikes can mean the difference between success and failure. And the stress caused by these blockages is not insubstantial…it’s certainly worth spending a few hundred on two (or even three) shovels every time you leave home.
It’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
#5: Look but don’t touch
Darkest Dungeon is a very atmospheric game. Every dungeon looks and feels different from the sounds and music to the enemies right down to the various items that litter the halls and pathways. These items, called curios, can provide your team with treasure, bonuses, even buffs to help your quest.
But most of the time they won’t.
There are some things you can use with impunity. Go ahead and check those torch stands, there’s literally no chance you won’t either get an unspent torch and maybe even a few coins for your trouble. Crates and discarded sacks/backpacks are always a safe bet too, they’ll either have some amount of treasure and heirlooms or nothing at all. You lose nothing for checking.
Treasure chests are a bit more of a mixed bag. I usually make it a point to bring two or three skeleton keys with me every time I go into the dungeons as they’ll usually net me a few valuable heirlooms and coins, more than paying for themselves. Sometimes, however, the keys won’t work…and it seems like usually the strongboxes, more often than not, will be trapped with poison. But you’re usually pretty safe trying them if you’re not afraid of a little damage.
But a lot of other things – from the random alchemy stations to the piles of discarded tomes to the eldritch altars – are very rarely worth your time or the risk. It seems like more often than not, you’ll be diseased or acquire a negative quirk – which will be annoying at best, devastating at worst and more or less permanent – for very little real risk of reward. A lot of these risky interactions have an item you can use to safely interact with the curio – holy water on a cursed altar will purify it, for example – but if you’re not sure, you’re better off not trying. Like I said before, it’s usually pretty safe to experiment in the lower difficulty missions, but be very, very careful as you get into the level three and level six dungeons. Any mistep in there can be your last.
#6: Don’t get overconfident
At some point, you’ll probably start to think you’re getting pretty good at this game. You’ll work out a few good strategies and teams, get a feel for the mechanics and the pitfalls of the game, you’ll soar through the regular missions and crush bosses ‘neath your mighty tread. Feelsgoodman.jpg. You might even start to think that you’ve become a Darkest Dungeon master.
I’m here to tell you now: do not let yourself think this way. If you’re doing well, that’s great. But treat every single mission like it will be your last. Treat every enemy like it was sent by the cold, unfeeling hand of fate itself to utterly destroy you, even if it’s a pair of maggots and a spider. Because literally every enemy in the game has a chance – albeit small in some cases – to do just that. Those maggots might cause the deathspiral of stress and disease that unravels your entire operation, sending first your best character, then your best team, and, finally, your entire adventure on a one-way trip to Gameoverville.
And at the same time, no matter if you’ve figured out a tough enemy’s tricks, there’s always a chance that everything can go horribly wrong. This is a game that is heavily reliant on RNG. Sometimes you’ll be riding high and your characters will dodge and crit and be awesome badasses…and sometimes they won’t be able to hit the broad side of a barn. And at the end of the day, no matter how many necromancers or horrible fleshbeasts or foul bandits you destroy, there is always something worse lurking in the darkness.
So just do yourself a favor and don’t think you’re anything more than a bug on the windshield to the Darkest Dungeon. Until you’ve beaten the game, there’s a very real chance that it’s going to beat you.
Have fun with it!
While this one isn’t exactly a tip to make the game any easier, you can often make the game less frustrating by making a story out of the things that happen to you. While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ve found that remembering specific instances of heroism (or cowardice or even just weird, randomness) and trying to tell a story with the things that happen in the Darkest Dungeon can go a long way to not only helping me enjoy the game more but also mitigating some of the frustration and truly horrific displays of challenge, whether caused by my lack of skill or the random whims of fate. In the end, it can really help to believe that all the game’s randomness happens for a reason, even if that means making up the reason yourself.
One example of this happened recently when I was fighting one of the bosses, the Wizened Hag, whom I have a…sketchy history with. Losing to her early in my time with the game without being able to do so much as a single point of damage to her caused me to step away from it for several months. But during my battle with her recently, I managed to defeat her…but not without losing Reynauld, one of the two characters you start your game with and a pretty darned good templar. Normally, this would have been a pretty devestating loss – I had, after all, invested a lot of time and money into him – however, imagining him selflessly giving his life so that we could defeat the monstrous witch helped me celebrate the victory without dwelling on the loss.
Even complete failures – like the one I detail in my article here, which I wrote shortly after the game launched on early access – can be made entertaining and engaging with a little bit of imagination, and telling a story with your time with the game can go a long way to brightening up the brutal and unforgiving Darkest Dungeon.