Darkest Dungeon and the Unnerving Loss of Control
“I have more power than your pitiful mind can conceive”, says the Occultist, a man who is well known of how far the Eldritch horrors are willing to go to destroy someone’s sanity. The abusive attitude he gained in the previous battle will forever remain as a scar in his mind.
A few more rooms later, it’s the Shieldbreaker’s sanity turn to be tested. She becomes selfish, of all things. “Your dance lacks rhythm, step aside”, says as she rushes through the party formation I had carefully selected, delivering probably the biggest blow in the entire expedition. Her teammates can’t praise this moment as an achievement, though, as she’s now a different person than she was before stepping into the dungeon.
No adventurer shows up in Hamlet, Darkest Dungeon’s hub, being already insane. They carry a certain weight on their shoulders, of course, and perhaps is their previous way of life that shaped them to become the person they are now. But the dungeons change them in unique ways. Those treacherous hallways do horrible things to your party. Sadly, there’s nothing you can do to prevent this from happening.
You get to watch them destroy themselves in many ways. Either it is from insulting, missing a chance to attack during battle on purpose due to their own pride or selfishness, or by literally stabbing a party member in the back. Darkest Dungeon hides probably the most hideous horrors someone could ever think of. But it’s the adventurers themselves who turn into monsters. Damaging each other until reaching the point of becoming completely insane. Slowly, gently.
I have been stabbed in the back many times during my life. Friends who stood by my side for years, with whom I went to the same places over and over again, reminiscing past times and having a laugh. And then, all of the sudden, they started to turn into completely different people.
Most of the times, unlike Darkest Dungeon, this change wasn’t visible to me. Going out felt as good as always. I trusted them, and I was constantly reminded by myself that I could count on them for anything. And when it did become tangible, I did the best I could to repair the damage, to try and go back to better times. But, like Hamlet, that reality was long gone.
The game has a lot of similarities with real life situations like this. After losing my trust on them and falling into a never-ending pain, I decided to part ways with them forever. In Hamlet’s reality, facilities can remove negative traits. They can get rid of stress. Thing is, some characters just become a burden, and you start asking yourself it it’s really worth it to keep them around.
Treatments cost a big amount of gold, and while upgrading each place grants an increasing discount, the materials you need to fulfill such task can only be found during expeditions. This means that you’ll eventually make the decision to part ways with characters in the game. After investing time and effort, and growing to care about them, you just kick them out of your life forever.
During expeditions, there’s also the possibility of escaping a battle if things aren’t going well, which leads to a certain morality in preventing your party to do so, only to put their lives around luck and dice roll probabilities in order to try and complete your objective. Someone dies of a heart attack. Another one gets murdered by a monster. Bleeding takes the life of the third one. And the remaining member, while perhaps getting the so desired victory, has to live with the horrors they just saw.
At first, you are the puppeteer, the one who has been tasked with relieving this place from its own horrors once and for all. But having the final say stops being a possibility on the long term. The characters start to refuse being healed. Loot becomes a personal gain. No one cares for your orders anymore. Loyalty and trust become rare, and all of it changes you.
Sometimes I think that I’m the one to blame for not acting properly back then. How many times did they ask me to abandon the mission, only to remain there trapped by my own decision? How many times did relationships in my life endure only to get worse? What I fool I’ve been.
I got to know not only the darkest side of people, but my own sanity was affected in the process as well. Seeing the damage that they were capable of doing to each other left a scar on me. At first, I did everything I could to heal them, try to change their minds. They were supposed to be a team that could overcome any challenge by supporting each other. But, Darkest Dungeon teaches you that, sometimes, you can’t save people from themselves. And your balance is broken. Hope becomes nothing but a memory.
Losing control is something we can’t prevent. After seeing what the mind is truly capable of, you start wondering if it’s still worth it to give a damn anymore. You put effort into thinking what’s the best for your party, for your friends. You give them the possibility of embracing a second chance. Using bandages may stop a bleeding, submitting them into mundane pleasures such as alcohol and gambling might clear their minds. But the wounds are still there and they only get worse over time.
“I remember days when the sun shone, and laughter could be heard from the tavern.”