Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court Review – Masochistic Meanderings

In a forgotten courtyard on the unfortunate estate, the rich and powerful once wined and dined with deranged abandon. Barons and other individuals of status enjoyed countless depravities and frivolities here, until one day a countess arrived carrying with her a dark, bloody secret. In the first Darkest Dungeon expansion, you must battle your way through this crumbling court and end her infectious sway over all. 

Darkest Dungeon is already an incredibly challenging game, and the Crimson Court makes things significantly harder. As with the core game, if you can handle the crushing weight of serious challenge, you find lots to enjoy as you tinker and create the perfect team. Yes, that team that will probably die, but that’s all part of the game.

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Crimson Court introduces several new elements that enhance Darkest Dungeon. The new Flagellent class is a great frontline addition to the roster, offering big boosts to builds that specialize in bleeding out opponents, tanking massive damage, and proffering ridiculously powerful heals. Specialized trinkets offer greater customization for your adventurers, allowing you to go all-in with huge damage boosts and big ability numbers, turning your favorite specs like healing Vestal or bleeding Houndmaster into powerhouses. 

The new district system offers additional growth to your ever-growing Hamlet by giving you things to do with resources long after the base is maxed out. Turning in heirlooms for passive bonuses like free food, blood vials, income growth, and character stats is extremely useful and increases the chances of survival. 

The court itself, a handcrafted (not procedurally generated) giant dungeon offers deep, fun exploration and interesting boss encounters. The new enemies are inspired, beautiful aberrations of a decadent upper crust turned into bloodsucking insectoid terrors that convey pure dread.

In many ways, Crimson Court’s strengths echo those of the core game. These extremely challenging adventures ripple with randomness. The hissing despair as a favorite hero gets double-crit into oblivion, or the rising high of emerging virtuous in the face of crippling distress make this experience. Even when things get rough, you can take solace in the fact that your decrepit hamlet is always growing.

Despite all these enjoyable strides forward, Crimson Court goes too far with its curse mechanic, an easy-to-acquire and semi-permanent affliction that threatens to bury your heroes even as they rest in town. Stockpiling vials of blood to keep your crew from wasting away becomes a chore, and having to get invitations by running old dungeons in order to enter the new area each time feels like an unwelcome grind, something just to keep you busy and extend the life of the DLC. 

This setup forces players to head into the Court, because the only way to lift the curse from your stable of adventurers is to beat dungeon bosses. The curse is not a gentle nudge in this direction, however. Over time it becomes an oppressive imperative that grinds away at your sanity. I enjoy difficult, challenging, even masochistic game experiences, but the Crimson Court might be the first where I thought it went too far. I recommend dipping into Crimson Court in a save file on the recently added “Radiant” mode. While it’s as close as Darkest Dungeon flirts with an easy mode, it’s anything but.

All in all, the Crimson Court is a welcome addition to Darkest Dungeon, a neat sidecar to be enjoyed alongside the core experience. The aesthetic of the infiltration and destruction of a hedonistic high-society is handled perfectly, and only the extreme dedication toward ensuring you have a stressful, ride-the-razor experience detracts from the Lovecraftian journey.

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