Saturday, June 24, 2017

Game Diary - Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court.

!!! WARNING !!!

This post contains spoilers for the mechanics, enemies and first boss 
of Darkest Dungeon's The Crimson Court expansion. 

The Flagellant took some time to reveal himself to me.  One didn't appear until after four or five dungeon runs.  He has a few abilities that can only be used when his health is less than 50%, so I ignored those in favor of his excellent main attack, Punish - a good, solid hit with one of the heaviest bleeds in the game - and his backline AoE, which hits the last two rows with low damage and a decent, medium bleed.  

He was pretty meh.  He was okay, but he didn't really gel.  Didn't really click.  

Ignoring those low-health-only abilities was my mistake. 

"Aaaaugh you punished yourself so hard it crit me to death!"

At first I thought Exsanguinate - which can only be used at less than 50% HP - healed me as it applied the meanest bleed in the game to me.  I'm dumb.  It doesn't.  It's an attack.  When he's under 50% HP, the Flagellant can clock an enemy with a nasty, high-damage attack (its damage further increased by a buff that appears when he's at low health).  When it lands, it heals him for 33% of his total hit points - one of the best heals in the game - and it applies the single nastiest bleed in the game.  A six-point bleed at levels 1-2, eight points per round at 3-4.  Nothing else in the game - not the Jester, not the Hellion, not the Houndmaster - can compare to the Flagellant's bleeds.  

His normal attack - in which he flays his back with his barbed flail so hard it damages and bleeds his enemies - is strong enough to either one-shot an enemy, or ensure they'll die on their next turn.  He has other heals - a light heal-over-time that he can apply to an ally (the only heal of its type in the game) which applies a pretty nasty bleed to the Flagellant himself - setting himself up for his next Exsanguinate if enemies aren't being kind enough to burn him down.  His other heal gives 30% HP back to himself and a targeted ally - making him potentially a very strong off-healer if need be.  

I experimented a bit - his attack skyrockets when he's at Death's Door, further increased by his normal less-than-50%-health attack buff - but his strong resistance to death blows isn't a guarantee.  Or at least, not enough of a guarantee to make it worth it.  Just enough of a strength to feel pretty confident about the fact that when he gets knocked down, he's likely to get back up in a rather loud way. 

After experimenting with putting him at low health (that lost me a few), I came to realize that - after the initial quest that reveals it - I couldn't send a team into the Courtyard without an invitation.  After that initial quest, the insectoid bloodsuckers of the Courtyard will begin to "infest" other regions of the game, slowly appearing more and more often until - after nine or so in-game weeks - the infestation level becomes "high" and Gatekeepers begin revealing themselves.  

So I had several weeks until I had to worry about going back in to the Courtyard.  I kept fucking around with Flagellants, and on a lark I threw one into the Warrens with a Grave Robber, a Jester and a Vestal.  All level zeroes, not much in the way of supplies - I didn't even buy them the good skills before they left the Hamlet.  We'll just see how it goes.  

These four became known as The Dream Team. 

Hendry the Vestal, Lynom the Jester, Abelin the Grave Robber and Druel, the Flagellant.

They just couldn't fail.  They just couldn't die. 

The quicker two - the Jester and Grave Robber - always had first strike, and would always pour their AoEs into the second and third positions.  After Abelin's daggers and a swipe from Lynom's scythe, those two rows would generally be dead from Lynom's bleeds, or almost dead.  If one of them was a high-health character, Druel could step up with Punish, and it was rare that Round 2 would start without one or two losses already incurred by the enemy.  

He's so effective because he never needs to make the choice between healing himself or dealing damage, and because when an enemy hits him, you don't want your Vestal to heal it - which takes a ton of pressure off her.  Hendry had to heal so rarely (Abelin and Lynom dodge most attacks headed their way) that she was often just tossing out Judgement for a little extra damage.  When it was time to camp, I found myself often choosing the option that granted my team no healing - mostly because The Dream Team never needed the stress heal feasting offers - but mostly because I wanted Druel to be able to open up the next fight with Exsanguinate. 

At just over half-health, I'd have Druel activate dangerous curios without the item that would guarantee a positive outcome, and find myself disappointed when the thing would fail to inflict some grievous injury that would make him much more dangerous.  I wrote a poem about it.  

The Dream Team stuck together for three weeks in a row.  And not like they do a quest, they come home, I put them into stress treatments for a week and then send them out again.  I mean they never needed the stress treatments and they would go straight out to dive into a dungeon again.  

Zero stress.  Druel just under half HP.  Perfect.
After those three weeks, the Brigand Vvulf attacked the Hamlet, and I was obliged to send a crew of level 6s after him, lest he remove some of the upgrades I've applied to the estate.  I took the opportunity to install the Dreams in the Sanitarium, locking in some positive quirks and purging some troublesome ones - but first, I reamed them all.  I kept their first names, and added Dream to it - so I could always party them up again. 

Then, after my Champions had rebuffed the Brigand attack, I got the Dreams right back to work.  By this time, Abelin and Lynom had graduated to level 3 (locking them out of quests that Druel and Hendry could manage), but a town event popped that removed the level restrictions from the next dungeon dive - so they stuck together and ran another two dungeons straight.  Their exceptionalism only ended because, after finishing a quest, I decided to drop a torch on a Shambler's altar.  They won without much trouble, but all suffered pretty high stress.  

They had all hit level 4 - the upper echelon I needed them to be at.  The next Courtyard quest could only be attempted by level 3-4 heroes, and I had to send them in there.  I just had to.  And the infestation levels had become high, so they went into stress management while the rest of my crew searched for a Gatekeeper. 

It didn't take long.  

The Gatekeeper attacks with moves like Enraging Slight - a gesture of courtly sass and disdain that hits you for stress damage - but he's not much of a threat.  The greatest threat is that he may escape the battle (after the second turn) before you have a chance to kill him, and obtain the courtyard invitation he carries. As The Dream Team rested up, I ran some Champions through the Ruins and other dungeons in search of choice loots and Bloodsuckers to kill, and ended up with like eight of the things after a few runs.  

Replete with invitations, the quest to kill the Baron unlocked and - terrified that I might lose one of the Dreams - I sent a motley crew of level-3s in to test the waters.  They did... not fare well.  I feared for my beloved heroes.  There's nothing quite as certain as death, when exploring uncharted ground in this game. 

...and Courtyard boss quests are very different from any other Darkest Dungeon experience. 

In the Ruins, Warrens, Weald and Cove, when you enter a dungeon its layout is procedurally generated - you can see the layout of entire map, but not its contents - you have one shot to take the boss down, and if you fail and try again, the next time it'll be a new procedurally-generated dungeon.

In the titular Darkest Dungeon, the map does not reveal itself when you enter the dungeon.  You can see the room you're in, the hallway ahead and the room at the end of that hall.  Once you reach that room, any hallways connected to it reveal themselves - and so you feel you way through the map, searching for your objective.  Should you fail and have to try again, you're dropped back in and have to start feeling your way all over again.

Crimson Court's different.

Like the titular Darkest Dungeon, the map is revealed only as you explore it.  Unlike the Darkest Dungeon or any of its forebears, the quest to defeat the Baron - its first boss quest - is static.  The Courtyard's layout is bespoke - custom-made, I believe, by Red Hook - and you will not find the Baron.  That team of expendable level 3s I sent in sure didn't.  Two of them died, the rest went mad and fled and I ended up losing that awesome Arbalest trinket I was telling the guys about on the podcast last week.

I loaded up The Dream Team with the trinkets that had seen them through their first four XP levels so effectively - ignoring the light-level-dependent trinkets that would be ineffective in the Courtyard.  (The Courtyard only has Bloodlight - it's unaffected by torches, and basically disables all light-level-related trinkets - but it lets you use torches to apply an +ACC buff to your entire party if you use one before a fight.)

When the Dreams landed in the Courtyard, they began... in the exact same spot the doomed level 3s left it.  The map was there, just as I'd left it, with those hallways already cleared and these hallways still unexplored.

This is a very different Darkest Dungeon experience.   I wouldn't want to lose the procedurally-generated dungeon dives of the four core dungeons, but this feels really cool.

The Crocodillian.

You don't get firewood when you dive in, but you can bring like four stacks of food and torches, if you want.  You can essentially explore forever.  The "win" condition for this quest - killing the Baron - is Not. Possible.

...on your first or second or third or fourth attempt, at least...

And that's what pushes a player to leave their heroes in a dungeon beyond their prime.  You push them just one room, just one hallway further to finish the quest you're on, get the trinket and cash as reward and make it all worth it.   You risk their lives and your precious high-end trinkets.

In the Courtyard, you're not going to make it.  There isn't a light at the end of the tunnel - that light is over the horizon, and you can't even see it.  So you explore until you think your crew is getting a little tired, or - in the case of The Dream Team, who don't get stressed, don't get tired, rarely need heals - you just keep exploring and beating the holy shit out of Bloodsuckers until you run out of torches.

Then you head back to town, lament all the supplies you didn't use, gear the crew up again and fling them back down those dark passages.

I let her start jonesing before giving her a drink.  She's high as a kite on the blood right now. 

As your heroes weather the attacks of the Bloodsuckers, they may become infected with the Crimson Curse - the Vestal caught it first, Druel soon after.  Abelin and Lynom didn't catch it until they had essentially cleared the entire dungeon, but it's rather manageable.  You get some light stat penalties, and your hero will - after five or ten minutes - start craving "the blood."  (The blood drops in vials from Bloodsucker enemies, and is found in Courtyard curios.)  Once they're really jonesing, their stats take a nosedive and they might stress your party out once in a while.

You do not want them to go beyond craving, but if you wait for them to start craving before you feed them blood, they'll gain a status effect called Blood Lust - +25% DMG +4 SPD +15% Stun, Blight, and Bleed resist.  They'll continue to do stressful shit to their loved ones, but they'll also hit like Mack trucks.

A Flagellant suffering from the Crimson Curse, for the record, is... really something.

You'll find hidden rooms with kidnapped heroes.  They'll be waiting back at the Hamlet for you,
but they're never worth keeping. 
Look at that map!  That's like a sixth or an eighth the size of the map you have to explore, hall by hall.  As you explore, you'll come across new curios and such, but something else you've never seen in the entire vanilla game - a locked door.  They're all through the Courtyard, and some of them you don't even need to open!  I found a way around the first one, but in the Courtyard you really need to search every chest you come across - not just because their tooltips can be pretty fun in that Darkest sort of way...

...but because that's where you'll find those precious keys.

And The Dream Team just rocked this place, man.  Four or five runs in a row, they just landed in those eerie passageways and carved through them, never going back to town too stressed to head right back out again - and because they never technically beat the quest, they never earned XP for all the dead Bloodsuckers they left in their wake - so they never leveled up, and could continue tackling this level 3-4 quest.

For the record, I love all the new enemies.  I love their well-mannered, foppish violence,

The Esquire's Rib Cracker.

The Courtesan's Mind Your Manners.

"Beeeees!  Delicious beeeeees!"

The Courtesan's Midnight Minuet shuffles her party's order, and gives all of them a huge attack buff.

I love how simultaneously beautiful and horrific they are, and - given The Dream Team's penchant for bleeds, I love how low their resist to that particular attack is.  The Dreams were just... unbeatable.

The door to the Baron's room was pretty obvious, but I didn't know what I was getting in to when I kicked it down.  Mechanically, he's pretty interesting.

The fight begins with the Baron and some of these red eggs you've found throughout the Courtyard - drop a torch on them in a hallway, and it'll burn off like thirty stress.  Handy!

These red eggs are different.  When they're on the field (rather like the Hateful Virago's mushrooms), they prohibit any of your healing skills from working  - including the Flagellant's Exsanguinate attack - so my Vestal's entire movelist (AoE heal, target heal, Judgement, and Hand of Light for when she gets out of position) couldn't be used unless I want to give up the positioning of the rest of the team.

Any damage will break an egg, and out will pop a bloodsucker enemy (or the Baron himself, if he's hiding in one). They won't break out and attack until you break them, so you can limit the fight to one at a time - until the Baron decides to bring everyone out at once. Once all the eggs are broken, you can use healing skills again.

Problem being, if Hendry The Vestal can't use her skills, she either needs to change her position in the lineup or pass her turn - which causes stress, which meant my Jester had to lay off DPSing to serenade her - all of which could've been avoided if I'd just put like almost any other skill on her before starting the fight.  The more you know.

So it wasn't an easy fight.  Hendry and Druel both got knocked down to Death's Door a few times, but in Druel's case it resulted in an Exsanguinate that was buffed by his low health buff (+20% damage), Blood Lust (+25% damage) and his Death's Door buff (another +20%).

...I didn't get a screenshot of that one, though... 

Despite being essentially dead weight for the entire fight, it was Hendry who finally put the thing down - with a little, whiffy 4-point Judgement.  

Druel and Lynom both hit level 5 off it, leaving Hendry and Abelin behind in the 4s.  The girls will need to group up with some less-familiar faces to rejoin their comrades.

With the Baron finally defeated, the infestation around the estate disappeared, and the vermin are nowhere to be found in the surrounding regions.  All heroes suffering from the Crimson Curse suddenly found it lifted, and a bit of normalcy returned to the Hamlet. 

Thank God, thank God.

Thank God the Baron was only the first.

Nine-or-so weeks isn't very long to wait, now, is it?


  1. I just can't get into heartlessly expending heroes for the sake of grinding. XCOM has made that unthinkable.

    1. Suffer not the lame horse... nor the broken man.