‘Darkest Dungeon’ Tips: Ten Strategies For Those New To Red Hook Studios’ Dungeon Crawler

Darkest Dungeon - Title Screen
Darkest Dungeon is finally out of Early Access. But Red Hook Studios' dungeon crawler is harder than ever. Here are some tips to help get you started. Photo: Red Hook Studios

Now that Darkest Dungeon has ditched its Early Access label, it seems fair to assume an influx of new and returning players will return to the sadistic dungeon crawler over the next few weeks. But, chances are, the current build of Red Hook Studios’ first game is a noticeably different monster than the one we encountered when Darkest Dungeon first hit Early Access last year. Fortunately, we’ve dumped more than a dozen hours into the latest build of the game and rounded up a few tips for those new to Darkest Dungeon or coming back to the game for the first time in months.

To be clear, most of the tips on this page are intended for those with little/no experience with Darkest Dungeon. Yes, these strategies will get returning players back up to speed quickly if/when starting a new campaign. Some information won’t be exactly be a revelation for longtime fans, though. But enough chatter. Here are some of our favorite tips for new Darkest Dungeon players!

1. Keep Your Roster Full

Darkest Dungeon - Stagecoach Screen
Darkest Dungeon Photo: Photo: International Digital Times

There’s no such thing as “too many party members” in a game like Darkest Dungeon. You may only be able to lead four characters into each dungeon but stress and bodily harm will frequently force your combatants to hang back and nurse their wounds. So you’re going to need a deep bench of heroes, ready to step up as needed. Having a full roster will also give you the padding you need to bench a character(s) too stressed/damaged to helpful during your next excursion. Just make sure you have a nice blend of classes. You never know what Darkest Dungeon will throw at you.

2. Know The Math

Are you the kind of person who insists on clearing every room in the dungeon, just in case there’s a bit of extra loot hidden somewhere?

If so, you’re going to have a rough time with Darkest Dungeon. Each time you visit a new dungeon, take a moment to analyze the map and your current objectives. If you don’t need to visit every room in the dungeon, don’t. Figure out how many chambers you need to explore for your quest to be a success, and then plan a route with the least backtracking possible. Doing so will save you thousands of gold in provision expenses. And you’ll still leave dungeons with more loot than you can carry.

3. Positioning Matters

Darkest Dungeon - Position Screen
Darkest Dungeon Photo: Photo: International Digital Times

This tip also doubles as the biggest understatement in the article. There is arguably nothing in Darkest Dungeon more important than the placement of your heroes/enemies. Position determines which enemies can/can’t be hit (or hit you), which skills are available to your party members and occasionally even impact the outcome of certain non-combat events (like traps). Before embarking on a quest, take a moment to ensure each member of your party is standing in their ideal position -- because Crusaders and Men-at-Arms aren’t going to be very useful in the four spot -- and verify they’ll have access to the spells/abilities you need for this particular run. Do the same after any combat encounter that rearranged your team.

4. Slow And Steady Wins The Race

To finish Darkest Dungeon, players have to realize the game isn’t a sprint. It’s more like an ultra marathon with a relay component. You will train dozens of characters up from level zero, many of whom will die before ever hitting the cap, and swap party members constantly. There is no way around this process. In fact, there are a number of mechanics in place specifically to punish those who try to circumvent the game’s snail-paced grind. So don’t try.

Instead, make sure every trip away from the hamlet results in a small step forward for your family’s estate. Explore each dungeon as efficiently as possible, without putting your heroes at risk, and sell unwanted trinkets for extra gold. Try to make at least one building improvement between each dungeon crawl but leave plenty of cash for better equipment and medical treatment. Most importantly, make sure you have plenty of gold for stress relief at the church and/or tavern.

5. Don’t Get Stressed

Darkest Dungeon - Stress
Darkest Dungeon Photo: Photo: International Digital Times

It’s easy to get too focused on preventing physical/magical damage whenever you find yourself in combat. But Stress damage is the quiet killer in Darkest Dungeon. Sure it might take a while for your heroes’ resolve to be tested. But you’re going to wish you’d kept stress levels a bit lower the first time one of your party members develops masochistic tendencies in the middle of a dungeon. Turns out, it’s pretty hard for your crew to survive multiple combat encounters if they can’t be healed.

6. Know Your Budget

Between paying for stress relief, better equipment and new skills, there’s no shortage of ways to spend your gold in Darkest Dungeon. But it’s vital that players never forget to set aside cash to buy provisions for their next journey. Early on, you generally won’t need more than 2,000 gold per run. Eventually, those costs will begin to climb, as the duration of your excursions increases and you begin to experiment with the various curios spread throughout each locale.

Here are the provisions we tend to buy for early (level 0-1) missions:

Short Quest

  • 8 Food
  • 10 Torches
  • 1 Bandage
  • 1 Antivenom
  • Optional: Shovel (If you're feeling rich)

Try not to use the food unless you're prompted to eat or heading into the last room in the dungeon. Use a torch anytime your current torch level drops below 75. 10 torches should be enough to keep the dungeon well-lit for your entire run.

Medium Quest

  • 12-16 Food
  • 14-16 Torches
  • 2 Bandages
  • 2 Antivenom
  • 1 Shovel

Bringing a bit of extra food on longer quests gives you some wiggle room to use a ration to keep one of your heroes off of Death's Door. Make sure to keep at least 8 rations available for camping.

7. Know Your Priorities

Darkest Dungeon - Cultist Acolytes
Darkest Dungeon Photo: Photo: International Digital Times

One of the biggest keys to survival, once you’ve ventured down into a dungeon, is knowing which enemies you should be prioritizing in combat. Thanks to some recent balance changes, to dissuade those who were elongating encounters to give their party time for extra heals, it’s more important than ever to end each engagement as quickly as possible. Early on, that generally means focusing on Cultist Acolytes and/or Swine Wretches whenever you encounter them. But knowing which target(s) to prioritize only gets trickier as the game progresses. Pay close attention during combat and figure out which enemies are giving you the most/least trouble on a consistent basis and light them up next time you find yourself in the heat of combat.

8. Debuffs Can Stack

Blight and Bleed aren’t just useful because they ignore protection stats. Both debuffs can be stacked, multiple times, to increase the amount of damage dealt on each turn. It’s important to remember this goes both ways, though. Sure, you can make quick work of a Brigand Bloodletter with a few blight/bleed attacks. But you’re going to be cursing yourself for not bringing more medical supplies on your latest trip the first time that a triple-stacked blight effect delivers the deathblow to a party member before he/she can be removed from Death’s Door. 

9. Ignore Most Curios

Darkest Dungeon - Loot
Darkest Dungeon Photo: Photo: International Digital Times

Depending on the luck you’ve had thus far, you might already be averse to investigating the various curios found in each dungeon. Yes, some of the items scattered in each dungeon occasionally prove useful. Unlocked strongboxes frequently yield extra gold and other resources, while maps and other loot can regularly be found in knapsacks. But many curios create serious problems for your party if you aren’t carrying the proper items, all of which cost gold you generally can’t spare at this point. Some are trapped, instantly dealing damage to the character that triggered it, while others transmit a variety of physical ailments. Until you’re more familiar with the various curios, keep walking.

10. Dedicated Heals Are Best Heals

Never challenge a boss without a dedicated healer on your team. Ideally, that healer will be a well-leveled Vestal, with upgraded equipment and healing skills. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a back-up plan, too. I’m a big fan of leaving an Arbalest in the four spot, with a Vestal sitting third, because Battle Medicine makes a great secondary heal at higher levels. But the bottom line is: Don’t challenge bosses without a healer. It won’t end well.

***

Be sure to check back with iDigitalTimes.com and follow Scott on Twitter for additional Darkest Dungeon coverage throughout 2016 and for however long Red Hook Studios continues to support Darkest Dungeon in the months following launch.

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