A Hobbled Stroll Through The Countryside
Zombies come in all shapes and sizes in their mythical existences, most know the slow and dredging style from games like Resident Evil and Dead Rising, or maybe the faster, angrier, and more terrifying zombies from games like Left 4 Dead and…well, Resident Evil. But anyone who’s ever stepped foot in the arena of the living dead would know best to never be caught dead surrounded, let alone in a city infested with them.
For that, be wary all who find themselves in the town of Darksburg. Once a quaint, quiet, and peaceful city has been upended by an everlasting horde of zombies that have filled the town to the brim with very few places left to hide. With the town laid to waste you’ll take the role of one of five heroic survivors, using any and all abilities to burrow through the city and escape the town, and possibly finding the source of the horde to bring you down.
Darksburg is an isometric action RPG that feels like a melting pot of games across a multitude of genres. While the town of Darksburg carries a medieval tone, the characters feel akin to a Grindhouse, B-movie style Dynasty Warriors. Take Abigail, a nun wielding a giant cross ala Nicholas D. Wolfwood from Trigun, or Rufold, a Viking-like chef whose attacks come from a ladle and literal soup. The five characters all are very unique in aesthetics and are a joy to admire.
Combat for each character plays out like any MOBA you’ve come across. Each character has three standard abilities and one ultimate ability. Leveling up takes a page out of the Heroes of the Storm playbook and is shared throughout your team of up to four human or AI players. With each level gained, up to 9 total per run, characters are given the option of three random perks to choose from to better their various attacks. Throughout each run there’s at least one option that will cater to a build you’re trying to accomplish, but I never ran into a perk that I felt was inherently bad. The random selection will naturally allow different builds to be tested out, and allows for some variety in play when you’re set outside the comfort zone of a build you may particularly enjoy: that being a good or bad thing is entirely on the user.
The city of Darksburg is split into five different stages, and Darksburg‘s procedurally generated routes and enemy placement tries it best to mask the lack of variety in scenery. Each stage is absolutely littered with enemies, which range of slower husks to faster Runners, and special enemies that will hurl spears, acid, and big ole fists behind their big ole shield. The comparison to Left 4 Dead is not lost with the deadly Revenants that will speed bump your progression. Executioners play like Smokers but with a rope to pull you in and chop you down, Burning Witches play like Spitters but more varied in their attacks, and Brutes are just less intimidating Tanks.
Baskets and chests are scattered around each stage containing gold, ingots, and usable items. Gold is used to purchase items at the beginning of each stage, while ingots are deposited in a separate chest used to purchase passive buffs called Curios. Each character can hold a select few of each rarity: Common, Fancy, and Extravagant, and the 60 curios to choose from can help in a multitude of ways. Items can be found ranging from totems that grant short boosts to defense or attack, to a variety of throwing items that can blind or just frag the opposition.
Keeping your health up is always a constant issue in a fight for survival, and Darksburg bookmarks another page from Left 4 Dead by utilizing the temporary health as a natural way of life. While healing salves and elixirs are scant, bandages and some character abilities will refresh a character’s health bar for a short time. The ever decreasing ticks of silver health slowly bringing you back to the smaller green bar push the envelope of how willing a team will be to take another side road to grab more loot, or push forward to survive the stage and rest up at camp. The tension doubles as when a character goes down after running out of health, they are able to be revived, but will suffer a permanent 33% reduction to their health bar until properly healed. It’s a welcome move that makes for some interesting on-the-cusp decisions to make or break a run when the team is hobbled in the middle of a horde.
Completing a run through Darksburg usually will take around 45-60 minutes, dependent on familiarity and how loot-oriented your team is. The first run on Normal difficulty will feel like a breeze, but the difficulty ramps up with increasing levels of Ascension, which play like Torment levels ala Diablo III. Ascension difficulties apply modifiers, like increased enemy defense or decreased temporary health gain through items and abilities, while also adding random “affixes”, such as doubled Revenants or characters slowly losing health if they’re not constantly in combat. At first Darksburg felt very easy and I wasn’t sure if the beginning difficulty would keep my attention, but moving up a few slots of Ascension makes Darksburg become much more of a nightmare to escape from.
But with Darksburg being only one area with five stages, the stage variety wears very thin after a few hours of gameplay. Most stages will have the same finale to retreat from, and while paths are changed every playthrough the stages feel very alike regardless. Darksburg‘s final boss is the game’s only boss, and as of Ascension III the moveset for The Baron does not change, so if your party has a decent battle plan the extra damage and increased health is not much of an added challenge. And as of this review the game’s campaign is currently the only mode available. I’ve seen rumblings of a PvP and Horde mode from the game’s wiki, but to not see those in Darksburg‘s 1.0 release is a bit disappointing.
For what it’s worth, Darksburg is a blast with friends and the character building throughout each run certainly counterbalances the dulling repetitiveness of the town itself. While I feel the 1.0 release is rather light on content, and the game’s mileage will certainly vary on that problem, Darksburg‘s gameplay is enjoyable enough to plan a few escapes while the rest of the town is patiently constructed.
Reviewed on Steam.