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Darkest Dungeon Adds Option To Turn Off Controversial Features

Illustration for article titled iDarkest Dungeon/i Adds Option To Turn Off Controversial Features
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Darkest Dungeon might be the out-of-nowhere Steam sensation of the year. For the game, that’s been a double-edged sword.

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The punishingly difficult, psychosis-inducing dungeon crawler launched as an Early Access game, but it was already in better shape than a lot of “complete” releases. People flocked to it—significantly more than anybody, least of all the game’s developers, expected. Ever since, there’s been a tension to its life as an Early Access mainstay: developer Red Hook’s grand plans versus players’ wishes. It’s not an uncommon tug-of-war with Early Access games, but it’s multiplied by 666 given how many people already loved Darkest Dungeon just the way it was. Many of them disagree with changes that have given enemies better defense and higher crit chances, implicitly forcing players to stick with certain party formations and, in turn, limiting their freedom.

That brings us to a couple features that came in July’s big update: corpses and heart attacks. These features, contend many players, ruin the game—or at least make it significantly less fun. Corpses pile up in battle, cluttering up space such that it’s usually a good idea to destroy them to get at other enemies. Problem: this isn’t very fun, and it takes time your characters—slowly descending into a sloshing vat of madness—don’t have. Heart attacks, meanwhile, are the culmination of characters’ stress. If they can’t deal, there’s a good chance they’ll drop dead. According to players, it happens a lot, sometimes to every character in a party. Again, people feel like it’s a needless frustration; they don’t think it really improves the game.

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Illustration for article titled iDarkest Dungeon/i Adds Option To Turn Off Controversial Features

After weeks of unease and countless irate forum threads, Red Hook has finally reached an interesting compromise with players. They’re going to keep features like corpses and heart attacks in the game, but—while the game is in Early Access—players can simply turn them off. Thus, Red Hook gets to keep iterating on their design in hopes of making it great, and players still get a fun game.

Red Hook explained in a Steam forum post:

We believe that corpses and heart attacks are important mechanics for the game, not only for the reasons initially discussed in the Corpse & Hound design notes but reinforced by our observations since. However, today we are introducing a set of gameplay options (accessed via the normal Options menu) which allows you to turn them off.

Just as we were willing to experiment by adding these features, we are willing to experiment with ways to allow you to shape the DD experience a bit to your liking. As many of you know, we have been reluctant to add difficulty related options until now because focusing on our intended version of the game has been our number one priority and our experiments and changes during Early Access have all been in support of iterating on that. But it would be foolish for us to not consider the fact that the Darkest Dungeon community is now big enough to include diverse groups, some of which would like to play the game differently than we might have envisioned. Although we’ve always been unapologetic about how important it is that Darkest Dungeon is punishing, unforgiving, and sometimes not even “fair”...at the end of the day we want those of you who own it to have fun and that can’t be forgotten.

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By default, those features will be enabled, because Red Hook feels “they are important in context of the broader experience.” They hope to collect information on their use in order to improve them and hopefully make them, you know, fun.

It’s a cool way to overcome such a contentious impasse, and I wonder if we’ll see other developers start to do this with controversial additions to their Early Access games. It’s tough, after all, to keep a game fun while experimenting with untested ideas and features. Kudos to Red Hook for both keeping true to their vision and listening to their players.

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Of course, some players aren’t fans of this decision either, because you can’t please everyone. So continues Earth’s ceaseless orbit around the sun, a slow trudge toward an oblivion none of us will ever see.

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To contact the author of this post, write to nathan.grayson@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @vahn16.

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DISCUSSION

I can see the complaint with corpses, but where the heart attacks are concerned, I feel like some players may be missing the core mythos that informs the narrative of the game.

Darkest Dungeon is very clearly rooted in Lovecraft’s fiction; it may not specifically mention Cthulhu, or Dagon, or any of the other old ones (or the lesser critters, such as the family that devolved into a troupe of ravening, cannibalistic simian/rodent hybrids), but all of the markers are there. Creeping doubt that becomes insanity, the hopelessness of the situation from a mortal perspective—and let’s not forget that some of the insanity-inflicting spells (with additional physical effects, like Eldritch Push/Pull) specifically use tentacles.

Part of the point of a Lovecraftian narrative is that the protagonist(s) is (are) fucked. You can struggle against the forces of the cosmos, but ultimately, even if you prevail in the short term, creeping madness will lead you to take your life by your own hand—or a cultist left alive will finish what you started.

The heart attack mechanic encapsulates that part of the Lovecraft mythos. Pushed past a certain point, a character succumbs to stress, their heart gives out, and that’s it—kaput.

I can understand and respect the desire to turn that feature off—but doing so elides part of the design that hews so closely to the writer (and therefore the fiction) that informs and inspires the game’s core narrative.

Don’t mistake me; I have howled obscenities at Darkest Dungeon when a favored character has suddenly lost their shit, or when they were killed by a series of crits from enemies that I couldn’t hit to save my soul (pun intended)—but knowing where it comes from, I also appreciate the purity of and dedication to form.