A wealthy and opulent man grows tired of his privilege as Darkest Dungeon opens. Standing in his castle’s bedroom, a nude woman barely covered in his bed and a sizable fireplace crackling, he decides to unleash the spawns of hell to inject excitement into his life. This goes as well as expected.
That man, after loosing an untold number of ghouls, begs people not to venture to his castle. Of course, they do. Sprawled along the basement on rotting concrete floors lie potential riches. In adventurers go, not only fearful of death but in some cases expecting it, all for a chance to collect gold, the occasional treasure, and moldy books.
The rich man? Bored of his extravagant possessions. The poor? Enthralled by his scraps and risking death for a chance to hold them. The map screen shows the castle (now in disrepair), built on a hill but overlooking a feeble wooden pub and a rotting shack (among others) – trickle down economics visualized, literally. In horror fantasy, there’s no greater statement of capitalism’s grossest parts than Darkest Dungeon.
It’s clever, less a broad theme of heroism and bravery as in most RPGs (a hero wanders into a town to save it), rather desperation with the potential for greed. Stopping evil is a means to extract profit, not silence pure malevolence. The aesthetics fit too, with crushing black shadows and ever dimming light paired with heavy line art. Darkest Dungeon’s world is vicious and uncaring, much like a world of profit above all. And the violence here, that’s accentuated by commanding, sharp angles with a splash of bloodshed, emboldening a static, turn-based system. It’s rich, besting the typical Gothic leanings of its horror fantasy with a depiction of the lower class’ desperation.