Friday, October 2, 2015

The fiends must be driven back.

Team Expendable.

Heroes in Darkest Dungeon come and go - though you can easily fall in love with them.  A Highwayman distinguished himself by being so damned cool-headed while his comrades successfully lost their minds, I renamed him Sam L. Jackson just so I could be sure to put my faith in him again - but often, they are ephemeral livestock to be fed into the great meat grinder of my ancestor's cursed estate, and disposed of afterwards.

To throw a group of level-zeros, fresh off the wagon, into a dungeon with little-to-no supplies, taking the cash they bring home and sending them all packing with a litany of fresh mental disorders, is not an uncommon - or unwise - tactic.  You get money to treat and train the heroes who have cut their teeth, and a new crop will arrive in the caravan next week to fill any gaps - but sometimes, those doomed-to-fail excursions can surprise you.  Take last night's rank 3 crew.

My level-nothing crew and my elite level-sixes were all in the bar or cathedral, drinking and praying and fucking away their troubled minds, which left only my mid-tier heroes - levels three to four - to send into a dungeon.  You have to send a crew into a dungeon for your laid-up mercenaries to reap the positive effects of their libations, prostrations and fornications, because running a crew through a dungeon is the only way to make time pass in Darkest Dungeon.  When you get back from your next quest, everyone you sent to the nuthouse last time will be out, refreshed and ready to go.

There was, once, a bit of a cheat in which you could send a crew into a dungeon and immediately recall them to town, at the expense of some stress, to advance the week, but people abused it to speed up the game's clock to the point that Red Hook nerfed it.  Time will no longer pass unless you actually try to work that dungeon.

This party makeup should not work.  But it does!
So last night, it was the B-Team.  Not even a B-Team, it was a team that had no business working together or working out, in any way, shape or form.  They shouldn't have lasted two solid fights.  It was a crew comprised entirely of cloth-and-leather clad squishies, and the Plague Doctor, in the front there, only had one damn skill that could be used to attack enemies - a single slash of her dagger, with a good chance to inflict bleeding.

And here's the thing... they wrecked that place.  They absolutely wrecked it.  I stacked +speed and +crit trinkets on my Jester, so each round began with him buffing the entire group with stacking speed, accuracy and crit buffs.  The Plague Doctor, often, did nothing more than open a wafting ampule of envigoring vapors to wave under the nose of the Grave Robber, who decimated the enemy ranks with flashing daggers that never missed.  When it got down to the last enemy, that quick jester would dart forward with Solo or his Dirk Stab to deliver the fatal blow, and - occasionally - got to rock out with Finale.

Testing and reaping the rewards of experiments like this is a huge part of the game's longevity - though the fact that it's still in Early Access, is not yet complete and has seen a smattering of meaningful content updates over the past six months to draw one back surely has something to do with it, too.

Last night, I tried a setup that I thought would be absolutely brilliant.  A Vestal in the back healing, a trustworthy Highwayman second, a Man-At-Arms as the second tank and a stalwart Crusader in the first rank.   This time, though, I specced the Crusader as a stress healer and off-healer.  The plan was for the Man-At-Arms to use Riposte, which ups his crit rate and attracts enemy attention, and then on his subsequent turn use Defend to absorb (and thus counter-attack) everything that came at him and the Crusader.

Riposte can be incredibly powerful.  Just don't only Riposte. 

It was an absolute, unmitigated disaster.  The crew was unkillable, absolutely, but they achieved it by putting too much on the Man-At-Arms, and not enough on just killing enemies.  Even with the powerful +protection stat granted by Defend, the Man-At-Arms was eating hits and crits left and right - which cause huge stress gain - and before long he and the Crusader went off the deep end and lost their minds.

They made it home, but they are broken men.

But the powerful synergy between Defend and Riposte is often too much to ignore.  The other day, I took my first crack at The Sodden Crew - one of the new bosses in the Cove, which launched on September 29th.

The Highwayman reaped the benefits of the Man-At-Arms' defense, hopping in and out of the front row with Lunge to move forward and Point Blank Shot to get thrown back again, but the damned sea captain and his faithful band of undead pirates seemed to sense the MaA's encroaching mental break, and and wrapped him in an anchor and chain which served to root him to the spot (no big problem) and deal major stress damage each turn (huge problem).

The Plague Doctor carpet-bombed them with powerful DoTs, the Highwayman cut them to pieces, and the Vestal needed to do so little healing that she actually got in on the damage side - but the Man-At-Arms couldn't handle it.

He went mad and, in that single fight, the Sodden Crew with their binding chain raised his stress another hundred points until he had a heart attack, and died.

Almost immediately after, the Sodden Crew went down, and the three survivors returned to down with 20,000 gold lining their pockets... and the meagre possessions of their dead friend which I had damn well better get back because those are rare trinkets and they were on loan for the expedition.  Give me back that sacred scroll, Vestal, and get thee to the penance hall!

The Cove, it bears mentioning, is an excellent addition to Darkest Dungeon, representing a nice expansion in tactics on the part of your enemies.  The bloated walking corpse you see above appears to be a normal enemy... until he activates his Revenge ability and explodes all over your party, cutting everyone's health bars in half.  The armored fish-thing behind him is a brutally effective tank, who lays down Defend on his comrades in the same way a Man-At-Arms will... but his defense skyrockets to the point that any attack will, at most, win you three hit points off his generous total as he shears into you with a bladed cestus that causes bleeding.

There are little fish-men warriors, packing cutlasses and harpoons, who are troublesome at first and absolute demons when the little fish-man witch-doctor buffs them up with +50% damage.  The fish-man witch-doctor is also the first enemy healer class you'll meet - it's something you've never seen before in Darkest Dungeon, outside of the Formless Flesh boss fight - and a pair of fish-tanks protecting a fish-witch and a fish-warrior can take a very, very long time to kill.

Protip: Kill the Fish-Man Witch-Doctor first.

Unless there's a bloated corpse, then kill it first.

Elsewhere, the Cove feels like it was the dungeon that was made for the Plague Doctor and Grave Robber.  The Hellion and, to a greater extent, the Houndmaster don't do as well in the new dungeon, as almost everything you meet in the Cove is highly resistant to bleed attacks.  They are, however, quite susceptible to Blight, and so your new enemies' reliance on classic RPG formations (tank in front, cloth in the back) mean the Plague Doctor's fabulous Plague Grenade - which reaches the back two rows of enemies, applying a heavy DoT to each - is one of the most powerful and meaningful abilities you can have, and her guaranteed damage over time turns the Fish-Tanks' colossal Protection stat into a non-issue.

Ahhh Darkest Dungeon.  It has been such a pleasure to be there, on the ground floor with this game as it evolves and oozes its way towards its final form.  The folks at Red Hook are so energized and enthusiastic and take so much responsibility for what their product is, it makes one feel... somewhat prouder to be a fan.

Take that run at the Sodden Crew the other night, for example.

After every major update, there are always a few patches to smooth out anything that got borked with the new content.  Well, as I was taking my carefully-chosen and exhaustively decked-out crew through the Cove on the way to the boss, I got a bug.  I could no longer rearrange my formation (which is a huge deal when the spec on your Plague Doctor ensures she can do literally nothing from the front row, and your Crusader can do literally nothing from the back).  Whatever fight I got into next would surely finish me, boss or no.

So I shut the game down.  Waited fourteen hours.  Turned it on the next day.

Red Hook had already fixed the bug.  And off I went to kill that Crew, and lose my Man-At-Arms.

How I love it.

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