Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court

Darkest Dungeon’s first expansion, The Crimson Court has been out for a while. Red Hook, the developers of the game, describe the expansion as a parallel campaign that’s to be experienced alongside the main Darkest Dungeon content. One that provides new challenges and interesting twists at every difficulty level.

For those who don’t know, Darkest Dungeon is a challenging 2D turn-based dungeon crawler. It’s one that revolves around your steadily growing (and often diminishing) band of roguish misfits exploring the malefic dungeons situated below your newly-inherited Gothic Estate.

What makes Darkest Dungeon stand out from all the other early access 2D roguelike games on Steam, is not just its unique gothic hand-drawn aesthetic, but it's Affliction system; which has you battling to keep your heroes sane among the never ending hordes of monsters and bloodshed. The stress meter of your heroes steadily increases as you explore the dark depths of each dungeon, facing combat and, at high stress levels, your heroes deal with paranoia, irrationality and a host of other quirks which make your stressed-out heroes entirely unpredictable. Along with the stress mechanic, you have blight, bleed, stun, hunger and other various debuffs to deal with. It’s a challenging game - one that can turn the tables at anytime - but also one that feels extremely rewarding when you eventually triumph over the horrors below.

Your newly-inherited Estate features a tavern and an abbey, both of which console your traumatised heroes, providing some much needed relief. The Estate also features a blacksmith and a guild you can use to better equip your heroes against the overwhelming forces in the various dungeons.

 Temporary cures for permanent ailments. 

Temporary cures for permanent ailments. 

The Crimson Court, features a heft of new content including the Courtyard - the immense new dungeon - a new hero, five vicious new bosses and a cabal of new and thirsty foes.

Within the vampire-infested swamps of the Courtyard there are swaths of insectoid bloodsuckers looking to satisfy their bloodthirst and spread the Crimson Curse, which is Darkest Dungeon’s breed of the vampire strain. When afflicted by the Crimson Curse, your heroes are debuffed, but if you satisfy their bloodthirst they are buffed, become more unpredictable and even lash out randomly against their own party. It’s a fun mechanic that integrates itself well with the rest of the afflictions and buffs.

The vicious new enemies also provide a unique challenge since their moves expand as they drink from your heroes; after feasting, they’ll look bloated and bulbous, and feature dangerous new abilities. For example, when the ever-pesky mosquito feeds, it can do a bombing run on all of your heroes, whereas before it could only attack one at a time.

To counter these hideous beasts, it’s recommended you utilize the new ever-penitent Flagellant. Since he’s wholly based on this mechanic, the Flagellant deals insane bleed damage to all enemies, but to properly utilise him, you should use his other abilities, one of which transfers any of your other heroes’ status effects to him, thus making him a martyr of sorts. When the Flagellant is below 38% health he gains a +25% increase to damage and a +3% to his crits. It’s a bit of risk versus reward if you keep his health below that mark, but it often makes the fights that much more interesting.

In the base game’s dungeons, if you abandon a mission mid-way through, you lose your progress. The Courtyard itself differs from these dungeons, because it saves your progress even if you leave the dungeon, meaning you can re-enter the dungeon and pick right up from where you left off. It provides an interesting structural change to the missions, one that you can take a break from at any time.

The Estate will rarely look this appealing. 

To enter and reenter the Courtyard, you must find invitations dropped by specific enemies that spawn in the base game’s dungeons. Before these enemies spawn, you actually need to get the Estate’s infection level up to high by randomly grinding through these dungeons. Yes, that means grinding followed by more grinding. It’s stated on the Steam page that The Crimson Court is a ‘parallel campaign’, as in it’s designed to be played alongside the main game, which is fair. This becomes a problem when, like me, you’re basically at the end of the game and don’t exactly want to start a new game just to make the DLC feel a bit less grindy.

So I was essentially stuck grinding old dungeons over and over again to get the infection level up, then grinded more to get a few invitations so I could play in the Courtyard. And due to the Courtyard’s massive size, you’re going to need quite a few invitations before you even come close to the final boss of each mission. Oh, and the infection meter resets when you beat each mission, restarting the grind session. The invitations themselves are also exclusive to each mission. It all adds up, putting a massive black mark on an otherwise great DLC. It’s extremely tedious grinding mission after mission just to play the DLC. This may have felt like a non-issue if I had the Crimson Court activated on a new playthrough, but since I was exclusively trying to play through the DLC, it was exceedingly irksome. An easy workaround would be the ability to exclusively play the expansion, like CD Projekt Red did with both Witcher 3 expansions, allowing you to experience the new content without needing an earlier save, or having to replay the whole game again.

The Crimson Court adds everything you could want from a DLC; it expands on everything featured in the base game, and adds a few of its own twists to keep long time players interested. It’s too bad the Red Hook decided to lock the new content behind a mind-bogglingly annoying invitation system that actively hinders everything the DLC had going for it at every turn.

Aaron Mullan