Red Hook Studios opened the doors to hell itself a long time ago. Thousands of players that dared to enter The Darkest Dungeon have watched their favourite heroes fall in battle, and into dispair without hesitation. The game mixes many elements, including dungeon-crawling, turn based combat, city management and RPG elements, and it could have just been just one more in the vast pool of games that could fit to its category. But The Darkest Dungeon introduced the Stress System, an element that affects characters in a negative (and very few times positive) way, which ends up leading to problematic attitudes. Our heroes, for example, can become fearful, affecting their behaviour and passing turns by their own means. Or they can expose themselves more by becoming masochists, which will simultaneously increase the stress of their partners even further.
The Stress System gave The Darkest Dungeon unique gameplay, which matched alongside the grim art style and its unforgiving difficulty perfectly. After spending over a year in Early Access and being ported to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, the game received its first expansion called The Crimson Court. If skeletons, necromancers and angry humanised pigs weren’t enough, now things get bloody with an army of vampires. It not only adds a bunch of new content and changes to the main game, but also expands the lore, taking us back to when this infection began with brand new cutscenes. This campaign, which can be played either with an existing savefile or a fresh one, also explains what happened in the Ancestor’s early days, owner of the land that we are trying to purge from its evil once and for all.
The Crimson Court introduces “The Courtyard” in addition to the other five dungeons available. Players should notice the change as of Week 3 (or after three weeks, if we are continuing our save file) when a swarm of flies start to appear in the estate. The mission is to burn three hives in order to stop them from spreading, but it’s merely a taste from what’s to come. And while there are many new additions, one of the first changes I noticed was the lack of Light. This is present in each of the other dungeons, and it serves as a permanent meter that decreases each time the party moves to a new room. This can be replenished by lighting torches (which have to be bought before starting a mission). Instead, there is a permanent debuff of Bleed resistance, and torches are now only good for temporarily boosting accuracy during battle.
Heroes will get stronger when they drink blood, but the curse will only get worse with time, penalizing the character with numerous debuffs
This curse will affect both our heroes and the Estate in many different ways, with the addition of new Town Events related to The Crimson Court. As for the characters, enemies attempt to infect them during battle, making for an interesting (but punishing) disease that can’t be cured by the usual methods. Instead, those who become infected will crave for blood often, which can only be satisfied with blood vials, the latest item in the game. Heroes get stronger when they drink blood, but the curse only worsens with time, penalising the character with numerous debuffs.
Luckily for the poor townsfolk, our heroes won’t be the only ones who are trying to purge the land from this never stopping evil. The Fanatic start to lurk in the dungeons later on, but unfortunately, the heroes on our command will be a target as well. This new wandering boss won’t be taking down easily, but there is an unique reward if you manage to survive his encounter. Also, The Crimson Court embraces the help from a new character: The Flagellant. Built as a mix of brute force, a thirst for blood and the ability to trigger health regeneration on other party members, The Flagellant makes for a vicious ally and vital addition. Just keep in mind that there are some unique traits to get used to, such as his crave for stress or that big smile on his face whenever he suffers damage.
The enemies in The Crimson Court have some of the most grotesque designs I have ever seen in a game before
For me, that little gesture describes this expansion perfectly. Both the designers and artists behind this project claimed to have poured more than just sweat and tears while developing it. The theme’s presentation is only the first step into the madness that awaits us in this new place. The enemies in The Crimson Court have some of the most grotesque designs I have ever seen in a game before, and they tend to get uglier and more menacing as I progress through the story. Giant mosquitoes awaiting blood, creatures that have become half vampire and half spider (from ways that we are lucky to be left unknown), or crocodiles with hives embedded on their backs are only a few members of the new faction. And don’t think for a second that they will only appear on The Courtyard; the longer we fight, the more they start appearing in other dungeons as well.
The Crimson Court brings a really diverse list of new elements into the game. Plus, there are some which get involved a bit more indirectly, but prove to be really helpful and unique to those who already played the base game for over dozens or hundreds of hours. There are tons of new trinkets that for the first time carry some lore and background information. These prove to be more than helpful for their respective classes. Also, to keep things balanced, Red Hook integrated new rooms in The Courtyard, some hiding valuable treasure on the off chance that you have a key to spare. Whilst others function as checkpoints to save your progress.
But one of the major additions in The Crimson Court are Districts, a new way to invest in the Estate. By obtaining blueprints and giving away gold and materials (four special currencies that are looted in the dungeons and are used for upgrading facilities) players are able to improve stats for a certain group of heroes, create a bank to save a percentage of our earnings every week, prepare blood vials or pay tribute to the devs with an absurdly expensive statue. In my time with The Crimson Court, I didn’t find much use to them, as I feel a bit intimidated by some of their costs, but they are clearly meant for mid and late game during a playthrough.
For those who are not sure whether to start with the expansion right away or maybe try to experience only one of the new key additions that The Crimson Court has to offer, there is the option to activate or deactivate the whole content, The Flagellant or the Districts. But you will not be able to change the settings after making your choice. Lastly, you can expect to hear both new songs and yet more lines from the narrator, masterfully performed by Wayne June, who has helped in giving The Darkest Dungeon its unique personality.
“Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer”
The Crimson Court is yet another challenge from Red Hook Studios. It proves to be hard enough for veterans to feel welcome once more, but it proved to be a little bit more stressful than expected for newcomers. The devs have been working really hard since, and while the launch may not have been the best in terms of reception, the tweaks they quickly provided were just what this new content needed. This is only the first expansion for the game, and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table next.
This copy of The Crimson Court was provided by Red Hook Studios for review purposes. Diego Argüello spent 15 hours fighting against these new horrors and losing his mind in the process.
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