The question I wonder about, then, is what does this sort of relationship with the game caused by this type of gameplay structure imply for the player?
Expectations: It took me two starts and some online reading to get over my desire to level characters up and treat them as irreplaceable heroes. At first that was my mindset, and it led to the death or insanity of a lot of characters and me being very low on cash. I then found myself doing the opposite, running mismatched groups through dungeons as I lost explorer after explorer. It wasn’t until the third run that I started expanding the stagecoach, expanding my roster, and only fixing those I needed to.
In the first two runs, as I said, I was constantly broke. I could barely afford to provision runs, which also cost me in terms of explorer insanity and ineffectiveness. By the third run I had learned a lot about the need to reduce stress, to deal damage or kill characters rather than heal or wound everyone and reduce all mob effectiveness.
The reliance on stress as an explorer damaging metric is fascinating to me. I wonder if I’m so fascinated with it that I can’t think about it critically, i.e., think about how well it works and what it says about the game.
The turn-based strategy was irritating in alot of ways. I couldn’t do my l33t ninja moves, often couldn’t call on the character I wanted to. What the game did was to call attention to the fiction that is something like Diablo, where things are actually turn-based even if they don’t feel like it. Bleed and blight damage becomes much more important than the big combo killer move, and the narrator even tells you that by mumbling as mobs die of bleeding or blight something about ‘the best cut is the one that causes death without a stroke.’ In this sense your explorers are not heroes – they’re folks looking for loot or redemption or a chance to escape boredom.
They don’t look like this guy. At all. And thus our own representation, the ways in which we utilize characters as avatars and representatives or our own idealized selves, takes another step back. This doesn’t mean that the art isn’t gorgeous – it is, even while it’s dark and troubling. The character representations are much more invested in a specific look of normalcy, one that matches with the fact that heroes like the one in the Diablo picture do not feel stress, let alone let it affect their performance as your stand-in.
Finally, The game helps you not at all. It didn’t tell me about which provisions to take, or which remedies can be used on which curios, that I could use some characters to pick locks or disarm traps and others would fail, that trinkets are worth far more as cash than being worn on players. It messes with all these conventions in ways that are infuriating and interesting and show the developer’s concern with more than just creating another medieval fantasy game.
Even the way that the bosses do damage is directed back at the player in weird and sorta wonderful ways. One of the early bosses, the necromancer’s apprentice, creates what are essentially snapshots of members of the player’s party and then uses those snapshots to create both physical and emotional damage. The subsequent homunculi look like your team when they strike, making the damage doubly nasty.Maybe this is too easy an
Maybe this is too easy an assessment, but the game often feels like your team is battling itself, meaning, I guess, that you the player are battling yourself as well.
Darkest Dungeon rewards the careful player, but careful works in a different way in this game. Diablo is a game that it speaks to, in a lot of ways, and the player has to be careful in Diablo, but at no time does your hero die for good, and there is lots of in-game (and out-of-game) help to figure out the best ways to approach it. Hell, Blizzard creates forums that help players relatively cheaply (for Blizz) by having other gamers give you advice. The game is set up for you to win. I’m not so sure that DD gives a rat’s ass about that.