Darkest Dungeon is a Lovecraftian horror-inspired game that pulls no punches in the Nightmare Fuel department. As the Heir witnesses the terrors that lurk in and around the manor, perhaps they can begin to sympathize with their afflicted heroes a lot more easily.
Beware of unmarked spoilers below!
- Watching the Hag throw one of your favourite heroes into her pot, and having to watch them being slowly cooked alive, deals heavy stress damage to the player. Likewise, the Fanatic can pick one of your heroes to be burned at the stake. Unlike the Hag example, however, your character is shoved in a sack, adding a certain claustrophobia element, visibly struggling whilst being engulfed in searing flames, and to top it all off, audibly screaming in agony. Furthermore, the background when fighting this bastard is filled with those who have suffered a similar fate, each clearly occupied sack perfectly still.
- The intensifying background noise as torchlight fades. The squealing of the swines in the Warrens takes the cake, although the roaring of the monsters in the Weald and the Cove or the hissing of the undead in the Ruins are not that much comforting.
- Many of the monsters are quite disgusting.
- The fungal artillery are piles of mushrooms that have grown into human corpses, forcing them to walk around and spewing blight-filled fumes at their enemies. Fungal Scratchers are parasite zombies with irregularly-grown fungi for heads. Swine Wretches are horrendously deformed creatures with human skulls somehow attached to their chests. Ectoplasms, huge chunks of slime with human skeletons inside; just imagine how those poor bastards were melted inside them...
- The Formless Flesh takes this Up to Eleven because its name is rather indicative of what exactly it is and seeing exposed spines, pig faces with jaws like a shark, and multiple eyes and living hearts is probably the most horrifying thing you will find in this game. The stubby little legs atop one of its forms makes it clear that one of its attacks involves firing a fanged tentacle out of what used to be an anus. And it doesn't just stop at its visage: it can, thanks to random chance, transform into two heads and two butts, a composition not only intimidatingly large in size, but also exceptionally heavy-hitting both in straight damage and Damage Over Time.
- And now with the Crimson Court DLC, we have the Bloodsucker enemy type, but they're less inspired by Dracula and more by bloodsucking parasites. Manservants, Courtesans, and Esquires are all humanoid, but blood cakes their mouth, they no longer have lips to cover their teeth, and their eyes are those of Sychophants. If that's not enough, there is a man-sized insectile thing in a tattered waistcoat and disheveled wig, implying this is the ultimate fate of those corrupted by The Blood. Then we have giant, bloated fleas latched onto the heads (revealed to be reduced to skulls during their attack animations) of some unfortunate sod, but special mention must go to the Crocodilian. This creature is a crocodile whose legs have mutated and become those of a bug, it has the same blood-caked face and insect eyes as other Vampire-type enemies, and a horrifically swollen back full of holes, which is revealed to be a hive for mosquitoes. Suffice to say, what is faced in The Courtyard is no less disturbing than anywhere else.
- The Viscount deserves special mention, being a boss battle full of Body Horror. From his already Bloodsucker mutations, his stomach is bloated with his lower body more flea-like, which can unfold to reveal dozens of eyes and victims fused within his own body. To say nothing of his meals, which he keeps hanging from the ceiling, still alive and screaming in terror as you fight him.
- The social dynamics of the Crimson Court are nothing short of awful. The blood suckers standing in the background? They are watching you kill their friends for their own entertainment. The wizened hag? A junky expelled from the aristocrats.
- The swines, because they treat humans the same way we would pigs. Taking a closer look at the leather on the swine drummer's drum: you can see some poor guy's face on it; and the dinner carts clearly have an arm sticking out of them.
- The ancestor's own memoirs are quite a terrifying account into his life. And yet the unimaginably monstrous deeds he casually and calmly accounts to are only half of the horror. The other half being, just what was it that he found that could cause even him to flee and atone? Also the fact that most of the monsters he created used to be people, and how he twisted them beyond repair for his own purposes, without remorse (at the time anyway).
- The Collector (pictured above) is one of the most nightmarish enemies in the game so far. He twitches weirdly, appears out of nowhere and he looks like he came straight out of a fever dream. He may have a human skull as a head but whatever he is, he's not from this dimension and definitely not from this world. He even appears relatively early in the game to show the heroes that fishmen, skeletons, and zombies are the least horrifying things they'll encounter.
- And then there's his "collection". Oh boy.
- He has collected the still living heads of a Vestal, a Highwayman, and a Man at arms.
- The best part is that the heroes can equip those heads as trinkets! They're not too bad either, though heroes who carry them understandably gain stress faster.
- And either he doesn't die when you 'kill' him, or there are multiple collectors going around the estate. To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke: Both possibilities are equally terrifying.
- Theres a third causality possibility: if Dismas is still alive in YOUR reality, that means the head you have is from a Dismas already dead in another reality. This would imply The Collector exists across infinite realities, and exists in all those realities. Killing him in your reality is temporary because he still exists in others, and all of them.
- The intro cinematic is full of these towards the end after the Ancestor and his workers open up whatever monstrosity was behind that door, not to mention the Last Note Nightmare, blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of some kind of monster emerging from the manor. And we've already seen a great many horrifying things... so what, exactly is in the manor itself? Entering the Darkest Dungeon allows us to finally find out, and boy is it not pretty. Writhing masses of tentacles, transforming cultists, and much more lurk around the dungeon which is practically what hell would look like when envisioned by H. P. Lovecraft.
- After completing at least one floor of the Darkest Dungeon itself.
- Things go very downhill in the Hamlet, very quickly. Reality begins to distort heavily, and you begin to see horrifying glimpses of all the people in town undergoing eldritch mutations. Your party members' icons also seem to get covered by warped flesh until you mouse over them, and an encroaching eclipse bathes the Hamlet in blood red light. All of this screams one thing. You have gotten the attention of the evil force within the Dungeon. And it is angry.
- Then there's the dungeon itself. At first, it's a dark red, vaguely Gothic setting. The only clues you get to its true nature are the ascended cultists who briefly turn eldritch when attacking and the eldritch priests who are actually horrifying abominations under their cloaks. Then you go into the second mission and surprise! The whole thing is covered in terrifying fleshy growths full of eyes and mouths while the Ancestor yells on about it being "madness made flesh". The third mission? The dungeon is alive! Literally a horrifying body with undulating organs in the background and antibodies trying to kick you out like you're an infection. The final mission? Nothing. Just empty space with a few glimpses of the Ancestor lamenting about his mistakes before the horrifying Final Boss.
- Heroes on low stress in the Hamlet will proclaim themselves ready for anything. Upon returning from their foray into The Darkest Dungeon, they make it clear just how shattered they are from merely glimpsing the true horrors it holds, even at 0 stress. Repeated encounters with Sea Monsters, fungal Zombies, The Undead, Pig Man societies running on pure Nausea Fuel, and vampires none of it made these hardened heroes crack; but after one foray into The Darkest Dungeon, they are right on the path to cross the Despair Event Horizon and Go Mad from the Revelation."I paint all I see with the horrors burned into these eyes."
"We must seal the gates! Or we are doomed! Doomed I say!"
"A blade can be sharpened. Armor mended. The soul is forever shattered."
"That place still shapes my dreams..."
"The mind reels! My psyche splinters and cracks!"
"No one must discover what I have seen!"
"My body is whole but my mind is shattered."
"Nightmares surround this doomed hamlet."
"I would rest these bones in a cool, dark grave."
"Burn the trees! Salt the fields! We tilt into Hell itself!"
"Feather pillows! Hot baths! Ale and Victuals!"
"I need... help. Please."
- The Swine. Not so much for themselves (they're no worse than any of the other enemies, as cold a comfort as that may be), but for their type, and its implications. They were created by the Ancestor's marginally successful attempts to summon outer things into pig flesh. So in a game with the classifications Human, Beast, Unholy, and Eldritch, what would you expect them to be? How about Beast/Human?
- The final boss has one attack that is utterly nightmarish in every single aspect Come Unto Your Maker. First off: this attack is a literal instant kill. No Death's Door, no defending, no dodging, nothing. When it uses it, the battle freezes, and you are given four targets: your heroes. You have to personally choose who is instantly killed. Your characters are not oblivious to this fact, and react when you consider them (i.e. mouse over them). Some Face Death with Dignity, accepting your decision and making peace with it. Others openly embrace the prospect of their sacrifice. But others are terrified and plead with you not to do it. As a reminder, all of your characters will be level 6 at this point, so you've probably grown quite attached to some, which makes this choice all the more agonizing. And then, the death itself. Tentacles explode up from the ground and cover the character, which is gone in an instant with a distorted, echoing scream. It is not obvious what actually happens to the victim. After that, the combat starts up again as normal, and you continue onwards with the fight, terrified of the prospect of seeing that attack again. You do. Thankfully, you don't see it a third time. The true horror of this whole thing only kicks in on your next time doing this quest knowing that that those two attacks are coming, you find yourself arranging a team with a new aspect in mind. Two people to take you to victory... And two lambs for the slaughter. However, if you're good enough, it's possible to win without anyone dying.
- The horrific implications of the ending. While you were able to put down the Heart of Darkness, it is implied that this is only a temporary defeat, and that when the stars are right, the horror that sleeps underneath the surface will awaken and hatch from the egg that we call the world and bring an end to humanity, and what it will do from there on is not mentioned. All you can do is delay it again and again so that humanity can live a short while longer, leaving no doubt that Darkest Dungeon is a Cosmic Horror Story.
- The Crimson Court DLC delightfully subverts the classical vampire monster by mixing it with Big Creepy-Crawlies in the form of a everpresent insect motif. The Estate is now invaded by giant mosquitoes, you fight people that have their head swallowed by giant ticks inflated because of the blood they've sucked or other insectoid abominations. In addition, the insect motif is mixed with the unnerving Decadent Court aspect of the new enemies, particularly with the Bosses, each indulging in a particular form of excess mixed with typical insect behavior. For instance the Viscount represent gluttony and his boss room is full of living, moving people stuck in flesh sacks for him to feed on!
- The DLC's final boss, the Countess, is no slacker in this department. She usually attacks by implanting mosquito hives in your heroes' bodies with a very long, grotesque tongue. Then, once she decides she really needs to get rough, she transforms into a gigantic mosquito-like beast that's far more monstrous than any other Bloodsucker seen in the Courtyard. The cherry on top is that she also brings Interplay of Sex and Violence to the table: all of her attacks' names are horrific Double Entendres, even as she's mauling you in her mosquito-queen form. One of the worst aspects of the Countess? She is a (literal) Giant Space Flea from Nowhere in terms of Darkest Dungeon lore; the lore of every other area has at least some explanation of where they came from (Usually from the Ancestor doing questionable things). The Countess is the Monster Progenitor of all the Crimson Court creatures, but The Ancestor didn't summon her, or make a deal with her, nor created her in an experiment, she just turned up to a party one night and attacked him.
- The Fanatic is horrifying in his own way.
- His presence is announced via a town event, and you can even see him in town standing in front of the Ancestor's Memoirs. He doesn't really do much at first, but the real terror comes in when you start an expedition... and instead of the usual loading screen of the selected dungeon, it's his ugly, scarred mug giving you a manic grin while the Ancestor describes him. He makes the Flagellant look like a sane person, given that he's out to purge the vampires by burning them at the stake, whether or not they're actually innocent.
- You never know when the Fanatic will decide to go on the hunt for you until the aforementioned visage of his face in the loading screen. And you won't know when he'll strike while you explore... and when he does, it's definitely a Jump Scare. For one, the background changes to his many victims tied to pyres and being burned alive, while the normal battle music is drowned out by the sounds of agonized screaming. Your heroes aren't immune to this fate either, as the Fanatic will happily choose a random one to tie onto the pyre and burn them alive for every action taken. Make no mistake, the Fanatic is a vile psycho who will gleefully incinerate anyone in his path if he thinks there's a chance they're cursed.
- You might think you're free to wail on the pyre to free your friend, much like the Hag and her cauldron, but this comes at a cost: Destroy it, and you end up enraging him and having him use a party-wide stress and health damage attack on every first action he takes. This means you have a choice - rush to free a party member and risk taking mounting damage and stress? Or focus on the Fanatic while letting your friend suffer the fate of countless innocents he's put to the torch?
- The new DLC, Color of Madness, has some disturbing implications. For all we know, The Thing From the Stars is a herald or an infant of something like The Heart that already took over its own planet and decided to spread to others like Lavos. The picture for the DLC is also creepy, it has the heroes standing behind some Green Rocks from the meteor, with the parts seen through the crystals looking corpselike and skeletal.◊
- Color of Madness enemies have been through the wringer even by Darkest Dungeon standards. Farmhands are messes of ossified flesh, full of glowing gaps; the largest is pretty deep into the torso and reveals that they're basically hollow. Foremen are floating monsters with skull-like faces and a left arm that's in multiple pieces hovering in formation. The bosses are slated to be even worse. And all of this because the harvest failed and the Ancestor was asked to help.
- In general, the Color of Madness DLC lessens the Evil Is Visceral depiction in favor of the unsettling effects of things that are inherently unnatural. Most prominent are the Alien Geometry aesthetic of the DLC, with the omnipresent crystals that have invaded the population and in fact pulse as if they were alive, but also the horrifying Timey-Wimey Ball aspect, as your party is effectively stuck in a timeloop because of the Eldritch Location that is the Farmstead. It is primarily an excuse for the endless marathons, but it's also quite unsettling to see the party trying to approach the windmill time and time again, fighting through horde of monsters and fighting bosses only to be sent back at square one, with the damage you've accumulated that way. There is literally no hope for you to defeat The Sleeper.
- Theres a weird uncanny valley element to this area. The background shows a world recognizable enough to know what it was before, but also radically different to where the rules of reality no longer apply as theyre understood. The farm hands also reflect this. All their attacks? Theyre pantomiming their jobs before the corruption. This is most visible with the farmhands with their seed sowing and basic attacks (same actions as digging a trench). It's as if daily life is still happening, though corrupted. This could mean anything between a reflection of The Sleepers interpretation of the world, or worse, all the enemies are incomplete conversions, trying to make sense of things while only half existing.
- The trailer for the sequel sets a terrifying tone right off the bat, showing us a frozen literal mountain of flesh. Whatever awaits us in Darkest Dungeon 2, there's no doubt it's going to be just as bad, or downright worse than the horrors we've already seen.
- On a bit of player-controlled Nightmare Fuel, the Flagellant. An unarmored fellow, wielding naught more than a flail, he thrives off of pain and damage. Beat him, bruise him, watch as he bleeds more than a mortal man should take. He only becomes more powerful, cackling as the abominations wound him, and as close as he gets to death, he never yields, only hitting harder, stronger, this strange man from god-knows-where.
- The Butcher's Circus DLC. The entire point of it is Gladiator Games; for heroes to kill each other. And all of this is being done for the Ringmaster's sick amusement. And in case you get a little too caught up in the fighting, every dead hero leaves behind a mangled corpse to remind you of its brutality. What makes it even more grueling and real is that heroes can also cause Stress damage to opposing heroes with some skills, and the characters on both sides act exactly how they do in the campaign, both in their barks and their erratic behavior when afflicted. And yes, you can kill your opponents by pushing them so hard that they suffer heart attacks.
- The Brigand Pounder, while not as horrifying as the other terrors of the dungeons, is a reminder that unlike other games where bandits are cannon fodder, these are a whole different story. These bandits have enough money, either stolen from the Hamlet or paid by the Ancestor to equip themselves with heavy artillery and a series of macabre trophies, and limitless reinforcements who will gladly throw their lives away to ensure the cannon can kill your party.