Red Hook’s premier title is making its way to the Switch, luring in a fresh flock of first-time players in the process. With about a dozen patches and two DLC factored in over the past year, the Darkest Dungeon experience of 2018 is altogether a different beast than it was at launch. We’ve seen the arrival of an “easy” mode, new hero classes, and an expansion campaign. With so much available from the moment you start, it’s difficult to figure out the “best” way to play through the game.

Fortunately, Darkest Dungeon lets players add in DLC at any time with a simple toggle. Of course, it can’t be removed once it’s enabled. There’s a lot to consider, but I’ve already done the trial-and-error part for you. The result is this fast guide to juggling your options, whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran starting fresh.

A screenshot from Darkest Dungeon showing the Plague Doctor as she powers up with the "Courageous" quirk.

Radiant Mode

The first choice you’ll make when starting a new file is the difficulty level you want to play at. The three modes, Radiant, Darkest, and Stygian, rolled out in February of 2017, correlating with easy, normal, and very hard. However, the game’s “easy mode” isn’t going to be a walk in the park. While starting on Radiant might help you beat the game faster, enemies still hit just as hard, and character death is still permanent.

What Radiant mode won’t do is make the early game any easier on your first playthrough. You’ll still have to learn the ropes, and suffer the consequences of each misstep along the way. It also won’t soften the late game, where even fully-upgraded heroes struggle to survive. What it will do is let you plow through the mid-game a bit more quickly. You won’t miss out on much, though; the middle few hours are easily the weakest section of the game, where challenge comes from grinding out experience, rather than overcoming enemies. I’d definitely recommend starting on Radiant mode for beginners. Even veterans can benefit from the decreased grind times on replay.

A screeenshot from Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court. A party of heroes battles the Fanatic.

The Crimson Court

Debuting last June, The Crimson Court is the first and only full-length DLC Red Hook has released thus far. It’s a fantastic expansion on the story and mechanics of Darkest Dungeon, and well worth the price tag. The new dungeons utilize gimmicks that can force you to completely rethink strategies learned in the base game, and the Flagellant hero class fills out the roster with some extreme tanking capabilities. That said, you might want to hold off on installing The Crimson Court until after you’ve experienced the base game.

Despite its marketing as a parallel campaign to the main story, The Crimson Court demands your full attention. Each week you ignore it, stress-healing effects on your heroes will be less effective. Then, once you’ve entered the courtyard, new enemies begin infesting areas of the base game. Your heroes can also become afflicted with the Crimson Curse, resulting in an array of complications. If you’re a new player who’s just trying to kill that pesky Necromancer, the distractions can go from challenging to debilitating.

Some of the additional content wrapped up in the DLC, like town districts, offers customization options in a less obtrusive fashion. There’s also the aforementioned Flagellant, who I’d recommend enabling right away. You can do so without enabling The Crimson Court in full.

Promotional art for the Darkest Dungeon Shieldbreaker DLC. The Shieldbreaker stands against an orange background and the silhouette of a snake wrapped around a hand.

The Shieldbreaker

We’ve already covered this latest DLC on Cliqist, so I’m not going to get too in-depth. The Shieldbreaker offers a new hero class with some tactically advanced features, as well as new enemy encounters. However, a warning for new players: Don’t take this hero into a boss fight. The Shieldbreaker’s unique enemy encounters are triggered by camping with her in your party on medium or long quests.  Dealing with an extra wave of difficult enemies before a boss can easily turn even a well-built party on its head. Overall, this makes the Shieldbreaker a fun new class with a frustrating limitation on her practical function.

Darkest Dungeon will be available on the Nintendo Switch eShop as of January 18th. That gives players at least a few months to hone their skills for the upcoming DLC, The Color of Madness. Grab your weapon of choice, whether it’s a keyboard or a joy-con, and remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer.

Lucia Taylor

Lucia Taylor

Lucia's an avid RPG gamer with a soft spot for old-school titles, the clunkier the better. They're also a part-time dungeon master and full-time tabletop enthusiast. On the off-chance they're not busy thinking about magic swords, they're probably on a desperate, mindless scrounge to find another cup of tea.
Lucia Taylor