Review: ‘Darkest Dungeon: Crimson Court’ adds a whole extra layer to the challenging RPG
If guiding a party of disease-ridden neurotic adventurers on a hopeless quest isn’t enough, imagine managing their vampiric addictions, keeping them from flogging themselves to death and dodging zealous hammer-wielding madmen along the way. Red Hook Studios found a way to make its turn-based dungeon crawling RPG “Darkest Dungeon” even more strenuous with its first major DLC expansion the “Crimson Court.”
“Darkest Dungeon” first made the rounds as an ambitious early access game on Steam before seeing a full release earlier this year. It’s received several minor updates since—adding new content, boss encounters and difficulty modes.
In this grimdark adventure, players must mold a roster of unlikely heroes into a force strong enough to conquer the Darkest Dungeon and to uncover the horrifying Lovecraftian secrets within. Players send adventurers to find and defeat bosses in the surrounding areas and recover family heirlooms along the way. These heirlooms can then be used to upgrade facilities in the main town. Throughout the game, the story is narrated by a distant Ancestor who slowly reveals the dark machinations that lead to the horrific state of the surrounding area.
The game isn’t just about keeping your adventurers alive in battle though. Players must manage the stress levels of individual party members. Or else they will suffer mental breaks, making them ignore orders, harm teammates or even die of a heart attack. After each mission, stressed heroes need to relax in town, whether it’s at the local bar or church. Each hero also has a set of shifting personality traits and quirks that affect their stats and behavior.
“Crimson Court” is the first major expansion to the game and adds new features that increase the depth of gameplay on both a micro and macro level. Individual expeditions can carry more weight, forcing players to rethink how they choose to progress through the overall campaign.
As players start a new game, they’ll soon be harassed by a town event involving swarms of mosquitos attacking the inhabitants and making it hard for adventurers to de-stress. To deal with this problem they’ll have to unseal a new area and burn the pest’s nests, inadvertently releasing a much worse threat. This area is called The Courtyard, and it happens to be filled with vampiric nobles.
Unlike more contemporary depictions of vampires, the “Crimson Court” seems to draw from the game’s Lovecraftian theme. These vampires are insectoid, often resembling mosquitos and other carnivorous insects. The overall aesthetic is a combination of Victorian England and Colonial New Orleans, capturing both elements of high society poshness and an encroaching bayou wilderness.
Engaging these vampires is a dicey proposition. They can infect adventurers with a special disease known as the Crimson Curse. The curse increases an adventurers speed but lowers all other stats until they can consume a special item known as The Blood, which then increases their stats dramatically for a time. The Crimson Curse worsens over time and heroes who are denied The Blood for too long will wither away and die. It can also spread to adventurers using the same facilities in town, making curing or de-stressing them together risky.
The curse also brings with it an entirely different risk with The Fanatic, a powerful rogue monk devoted to destroying the Crimson Curse and all those infected with it. After he arrives through a town event, he can show up during regular missions as a powerful boss to attack any parties with infected members.
“Crimson Court” also introduces a new hero called the Flagellant. Most heroes become stressed when struck by an enemy, but this sado-masochistic healer grows more powerful the closer he is to death. Under certain health thresholds, he can use powerful abilities to heal and deal damage and when struck with a potential killing blow his allies are healed.
While a challenging and immersive experience on its own, “Darkest Dungeon” is thoroughly improved by the addition of “Crimson Court.” The expansion not only adds extra depth to the already deep gameplay and narrative, but it creates a certain sense of urgency and purpose in the main campaign.
You can watch the trailer for “Darkest Dungeon: Crimson Court” below: