Some games are nice! Friendly, even. They want to make you happy or offer you a pleasant experience. Others are not. Dark Souls cares so little about whether or not you experience all of its content that breathless thinkpieces have been written about how it’s just too hard. Hilariously, the same crowd that pushes the view that “it’s okay if some games aren’t for you” when we’re talking about walking simulators and games with minimal gameplay tends to get upset when a game isn’t willing to compromise on difficulty.
That’s all relevant to Darkest Dungeon, since it absolutely falls into the latter category; you’ll succeed through understanding the game or you won’t succeed at all, and that trend continues in The Crimson Court DLC.
To refresh your memory when it comes to Darkest Dungeon – and if you were trying to repress said memory after the game destroyed you, I can’t blame you – well, ruin has come to your family. One of your ancestors became obsessed with occult and eldritch powers after a life mired in hubris and made the questionable decision to excavate the ground underneath the family estate. What he found there was unimaginable horror, released from the mind-warping pit known as the Darkest Dungeon. You lead an array of expendable would-be heroes on expeditions to fight off the evil wrought by your ancestor, eventually leading into an assault on the Darkest Dungeon itself.
Imagine that I put very, very strong emphasis on “expendable.” You’re sending these men and women to awful places where they’ll almost certainly meet with death or insanity. The talons of monsters are just as dangerous as the stress they place on your heroes’ minds, and a character who’s been pushed past the breaking point may be just as useless for your needs as a corpse. Darkest Dungeon is a balancing act where you have to weigh your limited resources against the need to get things done by any means necessary; if you’ve played XCOM or you’re familiar with the roguelike genre, you’ve probably got an idea of how this plays out.
The Crimson Court introduces yet another complication on top of your characters’ health and stress. Your ancestor brought ruin to the family in more ways than one; in the original game you might encounter failed experiments in necromancy and demonology run amuck, for instance. Here, we’re looking at the results of the Crimson Curse, a sort of vampirism spread by the transmission of tainted Blood. The Curse’s effects transformed an entire court of nobility into Bloodsuckers, horrific insectoid vampires that infest the Courtyard of the estate. In this DLC you’ll be sent into the Courtyard to try and fight them back.
Gameplay-wise, the DLC has several significant effects. First, the Crimson Curse itself is absolutely present, and it’s almost certain that your heroes are going to contract it sooner or later. Bloodsucker enemies will transmit the Curse when they strike your characters, and once it takes hold, getting rid of it is a practical impossibility for quite some time to come. Cursed heroes take on a vampiric nature, requiring periodic supplies of the Blood, which is obtained in vials dropped throughout the game. A Cursed character who’s fed Blood when the cravings take hold is given powerful combat boosts and can be a powerful ally in combat. On the other hand, Cursed characters who aren’t fed can die from their cravings, assuming they don’t start trying to feed on other heroes. The Curse tends to spread itself throughout your estate as well, since heroes who spend time in buildings with Cursed heroes stand a fair chance of being infected themselves.
Speaking of heroes who are really into blood, The Crimson Court also introduces a new hero in the Flagellant. This is a religious hero who seeks to absolve himself of sin through suffering and inflicting his foes. He’s a powerful character who grows even stronger as he takes damage and becomes more stressed; unlike every other character, stress is in large part a positive for the Flagellant, who enters a zealous rage when he’s at the breaking point. His high damage capabilities, ability to make enemies bleed for damage over time and healing techniques make the Flagellant a solid all-purpose hero that only really fails to deliver against enemies that resist bleeding; if you pair him up with a healer to keep him from overdoing it on the self-inflicted damage, he can be a great addition to your team.
Naturally, there’s the new Courtyard dungeon to explore, Bloodsuckers to fight there who eventually spread tot he rest of the estate, new loot to dig up (including new trinkets that only grant their significant boons to Cursed heroes) and new bosses to deal with on top of all of that. The Crimson Court is a great example of my favorite type of DLC – the kind that enhances the game as a whole rather than merely adding on a new, separate stage or something like that. The effects of the Crimson Curse and the complications associated with it are far-reaching and affect every aspect of the game. Add in the fact that I really love the noble courtier/mosquito monstrosity aesthetic used for the Bloodsuckers and, well, I’m pretty much sold.
It’s hard, of course. In the end, you’re introducing yet another mechanic for killing your characters into Darkest Dungeon; it’s a mechanic that offers some solid benefits if you learn how to manage it, but the bottom line is that The Crimson Court DLC is another way for your heroes to die in a game that already delighted in killing them. You wouldn’t be playing Darkest Dungeon if you weren’t up for a challenge, though. With that in mind, this DLC is a must-have if you already own the base game.