Topic: A Comprehensive Darkest Dungeon Analysis, Guide, and Balance Writeup, Abridged.

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    chaoschampion
    chaoschampion
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    A Comprehensive Darkest Dungeon Analysis, Guide, and Balance Writeup, Abridged.
    By Chaoschampion

    Warning, this post is long. If you don’t want to read it…don’t.

    To start off, let me say that I already love this game. I was hyped for a very long time to get to play it, and have played it for over 50 hours since the steam early access release. I’m currently on week 116 and have 160k gold and about 500k gold worth in trinkets (yes I can be a digital hoarder.) All bosses were beaten by about week 50, and all classes leveled to 6 around week 110. I’ve done 50+ full-light runs, 50+ no-torch runs, and some in between. 7 heroes have given their lives for the cause – 2 when I didn’t know what I was doing in the first few weeks, and 5 since I switched over to doing no-torch runs. The atmosphere, art style, narration, and general game direction are all really, really awesome, and I’ve already recommended the game to my friends just based on the early access build.

    Mechanically, the game plays very well, the 4 vs up to 4 enemy battles are alternatively fun and exciting, and/or tense and desperate. That being said, mechanics and balance are definitely the areas that could use the most polish, and having now played the game extensively using many many different early, middle, and late-game party compositions, I wanted to offer my feedback.

    This post is in two parts – the first is a strategy guide style writeup of how the different hero classes currently perform in combat, where they’re strong/weak, and where they could use more work. Some of the power imbalances may well be intentional, and obviously opinions will differ from mine about the value of each hero, but nonetheless these are my takes on the classes after extensive play-testing and party variation.

    The second part is a close look at a number of overall mechanical balance issues and quality of life improvements designed to keep the game fun and hard, but make the player feel like the different classes all have merit, and that getting brutalized in the game is a function of their decisions more than just random number generation and bad luck.

    Class specific Balance and Strategy Guide as of the Current Build:

    Darkest Dungeon has some heroes that would be at home in many classic RPGs, as well as those that are remarkably unique and distinct to its own Lovecraft-inspired medieval action-horror universe. As such I want to love and utilize the complexity of the character classes and abilities at this game’s disposal, playing my favorite classes lore/concept wise, but the mechanics of the game currently favor raw brute power over nuance in almost every combat situation. This is partly a function of increased monster resists in higher level dungeons (bleed/blight/stun/debuff usually apply in lvl 1 dungeons, and usually fail in lvl 5+ dungeons), and I suspect this is why classes that might seem balanced at level 0-1 perform so differently in the endgame.

    Ultimately every class is currently playable, no imbalance is so severe that a character can’t bring something to the table. I’ve gotten every class to level 6 without overmuch carnage or gnashing of teeth (though after my 2nd lvl 4-5 hellion was slain within a few hours of the 1st I threw away those accursed hell’s hairpins so I wouldn’t be tempted.) The point here isn’t that classes are unplayable, so much as some are clearly more viable than others when facing very difficult quests. Thus I’m evaluating not whether they’re fun or cool (they’re all cool, I cannot stress enough how much I love this game’s style), but how competitive they are for taking up the limited 4 slots in your party.

    Bounty Hunter:

    The bounty hunter is currently extremely survivable with his twin 15 evasion agile talons, and when striking a marked target (generally best when paired with an occultist who can mark targets for him) he does strong sustained single target damage. Unfortunately, he often beats the occultist speed-wise, meaning he has to waste a turn to mark his own targets or else waste a turn hitting for half damage. Also, his base damage is nothing amazing, and its unclear what he’s really bringing to the table other than single target sustained damage against quest bosses and tier 3 ‘large’ enemies like swineotaurs and ghouls. Against everything else, its often faster to just attack them than waste a turn setting up the mark. Unlike almost every other ‘mid-slot’ hero, he lacks any real area of effect damage skill, and is thus much, much less useful against most 3-4 enemy fights (most fights) than a hellion, highwayman, leper, crusader, etc would be with their respective multi-target attacks. His best use right now seems to be to leverage his high evasion and maintain single-target damage sitting in the front rows. There he can soak enemy damage (though causing them to usually miss) while putting out meager hits of his own until a sufficient target worthy of marking appears.

    The bounty hunter really needs to have a good area of effect skill to be competitive with other mid-slot damage dealers, or else some way to provide essential support skills, as much of his current kit isn’t worth using. By lvl 5+ quests, his pull hardly ever works so don’t even waste your turn on it, just kill the front rows to shift the back-line forward. The flashbang stun is a decent starter if waiting for an occultist mark, but is usually resisted and the shuffle either resisted or provides minimal benefit. His hook and slice, for instance, does almost no damage and is just a straight up worse version of ‘finish him’, most of the time. Also, finish him is really weird – the bounty hunter usually acts before whichever allied heroes get reliable stuns off (vestal, crusader), which means he hits the enemy for regular damage, then the ally stuns a foe, then the foe acts and gets stunned but loses the ‘stun’ icon, and then finally the bounty hunter gets his turn again, but the enemy has no ‘stun’ technically so he never gets his bonus damage. All in all, a very janky and difficult to use mechanic, and character in general, unless you have a team very-much dedicated to setting him up.

    Rating: Low-Medium priority. Good for quest bosses, but not useful in most quests standard fights.
    Placement: 1st-3rd slot, depending on spec.

    Crusader:

    The crusader is a powerful and versatile hero, able to put out reliable single and two-target damage, stun-lock many targets, use weak healing to get heroes off death’s door, and charge back to the front-lines after being pushed with his lance charge. He has no real weaknesses and some of the best trinkets, such as the knight’s crest, whose extra health and damage shaving properties make him a great tank. Alternatively, twin paralyzing crests make him a stun-machine, and set up your party for heals and sustain against very hard enemies. His only weakness are his heals, which are extremely weak to the point of being a waste of a turn unless you need to get someone off of death’s door. As a front-line fighter, it’s weird, disadvantageous, and boring to spam a 1-4 health heal on someone as your entire turn. Maybe giving him a ‘rallying strike’ kind of ability, that does less damage than smite but if successful heals the most injured party member for 1-4 would be both thematically appropriate and power-wise actually useful. His lance lets him charge back into the fray after getting surprised or pushed, which single-handedly makes him much more mobile and resistant to rngesus than the leper, and is thus awesome and mandatory if using him. His protection self-buff is, like most self-buffs, questionable unless you need to tank the swine god or something, but with so many great skills you don’t even need to take it.

    Rating: High priority. Really can’t go wrong with him. Useful everywhere, mandatory in the ruins given his anti-unholy damage.
    Placement: 1st/2nd slot.

    Grave Robber:

    The grave robber has good out of combat utility (100% trap disarming at max level, some nice camping skills/buff options), but is one of the weakest, if not the weakest in-combat character. Her poison dart is just a straight-up worse version of the plague doctor’s blight skills, and hardly ever even lands the blight unless you spec her for blight trinkets, which makes no sense since the rest of her kit does no blight damage…Her lunge does good damage, but then sticks a frail character in melee for a turn before she can back-pedal stun her way out of there, and disrupts the flow of your entire party lineup. Her self-evasion buffs are very strong, since they combine a strong evasion buff (evasion is arguably the best stat) with secondary utility (bleed/blight removal, stuns, moving around), but she lacks the health to tank even one bad crit, and the damage to justify a spot in the party. Her pick, dagger, and twin dagger moves all do pitiful damage for a damage character (as opposed to tanking, healing, or crowd control character), and even her lunge is worse than a hellion just swinging away with her basic single-target attacks, which the hellion can do every turn with more health and less own-party disruption. Her high crit chance and accuracy don’t make up for very low base weapon damage and health. Ultimately, being really dodgy while not contributing enough to killing enemies just adds dead weight to the team, and forces the other heroes to make up for her inadequacy. That’s bad. The frogurt is also cursed.

    Rating: Low priority. Usefulness out of combat not worth very questionable damage and survivability in combat. Spec for stun and spam it constantly if you must use her in combat.
    1st 2nd or 3rd slot – but really she’ll go where she pleases and disrupt your whole team anyway.

    Hellion:

    Ahh the hellion. For a few glorious days after steam release she slaughtered everything in sight with her ridiculously strong strikethrough and stacking percentage damage buffs. I dreamed that dream but now it is gone from me. Post strike-through nerf, the hellion is a decent single-target damage dealer than can spec for damage and/or protection over evasion and still breakthrough/yawp swing for the hills, but in so doing gimps her sustained damage badly. Alternatively, building dodge on her and using only her very strong base damage in conjunction with make them bleed, iron swan, or her basic hack makes her a strong and any-enemy-slot single-target killer who doesn’t require the elaborate setup of the bounty hunter, nor does she have the frailty of the highwayman. The incredibly strong self-debuffs on three of her skills are so punitive that she is honestly better off avoiding them unless they literally win the fight for her that round, as the hit to damage alone makes two regular hits more appealing in most cases.

    If the premise of the hellions self-debuff skills is risk vs reward, I don’t know that the current -damage% debuff makes sense. Why not keep the -dodge% and add a % chance to have her refuse healing (say 30% per stack for 3 rounds each, like many negative mental states already do) as her frenzied rage embodies death and carnage and resists nurturing and living magics. Having her damage powers debuff her damage makes them just bad mathematical choices for dps, not a risk-reward, while refusing healing is a very serious risk as those who get ‘paranoid, hopeless, and similar effects’ well know. One simple fix would be to make adrenaline rush cure any ongoing debuffs she has inflicted on herself, so that she can actually live up to the ‘take a turn to catch her breath, then back to murdering’ philosophy.

    Rating: Medium priority. A good single-target killer and off-tank, but can easily get herself killed or become worthless if you succumb to the temptation of using her self-debuffing skills.
    Slot: 1st-3rd slot.

    Highwayman:

    The highwayman is great. With some of the most well balanced and designed mechanics of any of the heroes, a high evasion rating, and a low health pool, he’s the classic high-risk high reward glass cannon that we’ve come to know and love. His grapeshot blast is the area of effect skill par excellence, now indisputably better than the nerfed hellion strike-through, even more so if he has a chance to clean his guns at camp. His mixture of ranged and melee attacks allow him to spec for medium or close combat, though the power of his point blank shot suggests his best tactic is to start with grapeshots, duelist’s advance into the most powerful foe once the riff-raff is slain (or to finish off the riff-raff in the process), then point blank shot him for massive damage. The forward and backwards mobility is so high on this hero that he almost can’t be out of place. His damage is excellent for both single and multiple targets, at any range, and his high evasion allows him to soak damage by causing many misses. Other than his incredibly weak self-buff that you can just ignore and replace, the only problem the highwayman faces is his pitiful health pool, made still worse by the seemingly mandatory ‘highwayman’s sheath’ trinkets which give him tons of dodge but hurt his health total. To play it safe, use two camouflage cloaks instead, sacrificing accuracy and speed for health, if you want to keep your highwaymen from getting pasted. Highwaymen will carry your party to many victories – until a lucky enemy crit puts them into the ground permanently. The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

    Rating : High priority. Probably the best character right now, both in terms of raw value they bring to a team and how well they are designed. Everything works almost exactly as it should and you would expect. Be aware they could die at any time though and make sure to train up spares.
    Slot: Rotates between 2nd and 1st slot, though you can use 3rd if you don’t mind losing your point blank shot damage. (Hint: Point blank shot is crazy good. Put them in 2nd slot and duelists advance to use it when needed.)

    Jester:

    The Jester is…like 3 different characters thrown into one. He wants to sing and dance and buff and stress relieve and slice enemies and get himself killed but he isn’t really good at any of it. His most powerful ability could nominally be considered ‘solo’, whose entire enemy team accuracy debuff in conjunction with high-dodge characters should make your team immortal (it can also do serious full-team damage with some % damage buffs). However, enemies resist the debuff with such staggering frequency that using it in lvl5+ dungeons is laughable. Similarly, unless specced for bleed trinkets, his two bleeds won’t do much either. However like most low-health characters, if you don’t stack dodge trinkets on him, he’s a corpse waiting to happen.

    His ability to leap forward and then massively debuff himself to try for a kill with heroic demise while lacking a ‘leap backward’ mechanic to get out of Dodge is possibly the only time a class makes the grave robber seem comparatively good in combat. I don’t know if dirk stab into heroic end is supposed to be a humorously bad pair of skills and he’s really supposed to just be killing himself with this combo as the text suggests, but the damage on heroic end just isn’t worth the increased likelihood of him getting horribly murdered right afterward, and it generally just tanks his dps. His morale heal and party song are functional…when they work, but so minor a benefit compared to having a meaningful healer or damage dealer in that 4th slot that he feels like dead weight.

    Also, what is the point of putting a dedicated morale healer in the game? Isn’t half the fun when your heroes get a few too many wine splashes and pig feces on them and start quoting existentialist philosophy? I recommend splitting some of his abilities off into a separate character or scrapping them entirely, and focusing on giving him other skills with a more focused role. As it stands, he isn’t really good anywhere in the party, and struggles to find something relevant to do.

    Rating: Low priority. Probably the least intuitive and useful character right now, at least in lvl5+ quests, though he can evasion tank very well with the right trinkets.
    Slot: Who knows? It is a mystery.

    How I Would Rework the Jester – A Brief Digression:

    Below is a significant Jester rework idea that keeps the current flavor and mechanical intent but makes him good at what he does: Give him a song progression mechanic that pays out with an epic finale based on mechanical progression. Two starter songs, two intermediate songs, and two finale songs, with one left over skill for mobility. Can play a beginner song at any time. Can play an intermediate song whenever an ongoing buff/bleed from a starter song is active. Can play a finale only immediately following an intermediate tune. All abilities other than kicking somersault require 3rd or 4th slot (rear).

    “Jaunty tune:” beginner song. Buff. + 6/7/8/9/10 dodge + 1/2/3/4/5 speed for entire party for 3 rounds.
    “Discordant tune:” beginner song. Ranged. 90-110 accuracy, 0% damage, 0-4% crit, targets entire enemy team for 1/1/2/2/3 bleed damage for 3 rounds.
    “Hope through the darkness.” Heal/Morale heal. Intermediate song. Heals 2/3/4/5/6 party morale and 0-1 (rank 1) to 0-3 (rank 5) health.
    “The turn of the tide.” Intermediate song. Ranged. 90-110 accuracy, 85% damage, 10-14% crit, 120% base stun chance, targets one of the front two spots.
    “Stunning performance:” Finale. Ranged. 90-110% accuracy, 0% damage, 0-4% crit 140% chance to stun entire enemy team, as well as himself. Forward 3. Leaves jester in the front row slot.
    “Epic conclusion.” Finale. Melee. 80-100% accuracy, 200% damage, 16-20% crit, targets any one enemy. Forward 3. Leaves jester in the front row slot with -30 dodge and -30% damage for 3 rounds like current dirk stab + heroic end debuff.
    “Kicking Somersault” Melee. 80-100% accuracy, 33% damage, 0-4% crit, front two slots use only, 120% base knockback one of the front two enemy slots by two, jester moves back two spaces.

    With this setup he could spec for party support, offensive stuns/debuffs, damage, or something in between. He provides a good deal of large battle support, buffing all allies and targeting all enemies with many attacks, and allows players to switch out his role between fights by swapping songs at each tier. As far as weaknesses, he would be very vulnerable to stuns, pulls, and anything else that takes him out of the back row before he can get his finale off, and his single target damage and stuns are limited to getting off his higher tier skills.

    Leper:

    I love the leper. His lore and appearance alone evoke Baldwin of Jerusalem in a really awesome way, and his grim festering determination helps set the tone for this game spectacularly. It helps that he is mechanically very strong as well. His low base accuracy is offset by proper preparation – always bring a vestal and buff his accuracy with ‘bless’ at camp, while self-buffing accuracy from his reflection. That taken care of, his single and two-target damage is excellent, his vengeance self-buff is one of the only actually turn-worthy buffs in the game, and to top it off, he has the single largest reliable heal in the game…while also being the highest health character in the game. That said, the leper has a few serious weaknesses. His low dodge means he’s less of a tank than a damage sponge, eventually he’ll need to be wrung dry by a serious pile of heals, which fortunately he can contribute to himself. His high health means he scales well with food, so buy more of it to feed him than any other character as a viable healing mechanism. His most serious problem is his low disease/bleed resists, which means he is vulnerable both to enemy dots/disease, as well as the occultist’s heal/bleed, which would otherwise be an awesome pairing with him – his high max health a good receptacle for high random healing. Finally, he has absolutely no mobility/repositioning skills at all. Unlike the similar crusader who can just charge back into combat while smiting a back-row foe, the leper needs to resist/dodge eldritch push/pull at all costs, and you should try very hard to avoid getting ‘surprised’ while relying on him in the party. Berserk masks are great and should be used with him when available.

    Rating: High priority. Very powerful kit, just make sure you set him up properly with the right camp buffs and allies so that he can do his noble work.
    Slot: 1st or 2nd slot. Don’t let him get pushed around or he’s useless.

    Occultist:

    The occultist is a strange fellow. He says healing isn’t his specialty, yet wyrd reconstruction is the skill you’re likely to spam 3/4s of the time. Like most buff/debuff characters, he has a very hard time making a meaningful contribution with his curses/hexes compared to outright stuns/heals/kills, and his damage abilities are laughably weak compared to other characters. Nothing feels quite as shameful as getting a ‘crit’ curse for like 5-6 damage (while having the actual debuff resisted most of the time) on a 70+ health foe and having Wayne June offer an unintentionally ironic ‘a powerful blow’ or some such as you slink into the corner wishing you were a hellion. The one exception to how weak his curses are is when setting up the bounty hunter for a marked target, which is definitely a productive use of your turn with 1 or even 2 allied bounty hunters. Occultist, 2 bounty hunters, and a leper for front-line/crowds is a very strong boss-hunting team comp.

    His pull and stun aren’t much better, the pull failing the vast majority of the time at higher levels, and the stun requiring him to be in the 1st two rows and forgo healing. (Hint, don’t put your occultist in the first two rows and forgo healing.) As one of only two serious healers in the game, the occultist is almost mandatory if you don’t go vestal, and so long as you can avoid bleeding your friends, his heal is actually great. Unfortunately, it scales very strangely. The bleed component of the heal continues to gain in potency with level, even though it hurts your own team! Going from lvl 4 0-18 heal and 2over3 bleed to lvl 5 0-20 heal and 3over3 bleed is a very clear loss for the skill. 1 average healing gained versus 3 average bleed damage gained is nowhere near worth it, not to mention the money for the upgrade. A mandatory trinket for him is Cleansing Crystal, which not only buffs all of his resistances, but it lowers his bleed chance – perfect for not bleeding your friends! Take two if trying to heal the poor leper.

    Rating: Medium-High priority. Good healer with the right trinkets, the rest of his kit is of limited situational value. Combos with bounty hunter.
    Slot: 3rd or 4th if you want to live.

    Plague Doctor:

    The plague doctor is cooler than she is effective in most scenarios. Throwing blight on some cocky undead freak and watching the abomination melt while cackling eldritch nothings has a certain allure. That being said, damage over time just isn’t that great in a game where focusing down dangerous targets immediately is the primary way to avoid a horrible death, and the plague doctor ONLY does damage over time. Technically she has a few other buff and support skills, though they are of questionable utility. Why would I buff another character’s damage by 25% when I could put a better character in her slot and do 100% damage with them? Why would I remove blight/bleed with her single action rather than with bandages/potions? Or just heal right through it with a real dedicated healer? Her ‘stun the back two’ power is good, but then it’s damage is trivial and she doesn’t have much for stun-chance trinkets to support it.

    The plague doctor is thus almost good, she has some good ideas, but practically her numbers just aren’t high enough in most cases to be worth using over alternatives. Like the bounty hunter, her high damage over time makes her good against bosses, but even then she can have a hard time applying blight, and her lack of crit synergy means she falls off in the late game or in no-torch runs vs raw power heroes. Ultimately, fixing DoTs as mentioned in the mechanical fix section would completely turn around this character and make it more desirable.

    Rating: Low-Medium priority. She can do okay and isn’t a waste of a slot, but you can also do better. She is best utilized with stun-focused teams that let her slowly shred multiple enemies while keeping as many targets locked down as possible.
    Slot: 2nd 3rd or 4th. She is actually pretty slot-versatile, though 3rd and 4th and the most promising given her low survivability and broadest range of abilities.

    Vestal:

    A darkest dungeon adventuring party. Fragile. Like a robin’s egg. Where would we be without the vestal? She is the primary healer in the game, and clearly the most designed around it mechanically. Her 7-8 point final rank single target heal is the most reliable any-target heal in the game, while her final rank 3 health heal party heal is a god-send when death is knocking at multiple heroes’ doors. I would say that the vestal is so important that pretty much every party needs one, unless they want to press an occultist awkwardly into service as a primary healer. She also has some very interesting offensive abilities. Judgment lets her combine long-ranged blasts with self-heals, and gives her some nice combat options while still retaining the role of healer. Dazzling light lets her stun targets who could potentially do more in a single hit than she could heal, effectively mitigating damage yet another way.

    She has 3 other skills more designed for front row fighting and debuffing, which are cool on paper, but the problem is that she cannot fill her primary function while up there, since her single-target heal and self-heal attack are both greyed out up front. If we are supposed to be using her as a front-line healer/warrior hybrid, then give her mediocre front-line skills more meat. How about making mace bash offer a stun or substantial accuracy debuff? Maybe let judgment and divine grace be used from any slot? Some sort of melee power that also heals the vestal or others would also be put to good use. You can run two vestals, one dedicated healer and one debuffer/melee up front, but you’ll find quickly that melee vestal is no crusader or leper, two very strong and well-balanced classes that already exist and fill that role with more finesse and power, respectively. The front-line vestal would be made vastly more viable by making some of the buff/debuff changes mentioned in the mechanical section, as well as significantly upping the damage of her front-line abilities to make them at least competitive with a leper/crusader.

    Rating: High priority. The best healer and basically mandatory for safer and more effective runs. Not recommended as front-line unless her kit is beefed up to make those parts more desirable.
    Slot: 3rd or 4th.

    Difficulty, Balance, and Quality of Life:

    I think an overall game philosophy of keeping game hard and punishing with meaningful risk reward tradeoffs is the way to go. However this difficulty should come from evil creatures and creeping madness, not from mechanics that feel cheap, lack player agency, encourage mistakes due to lack of information accessibility for the player, counter-intuitive and unrealistic mechanics, or otherwise generally lower the players ‘quality of life’ when playing the game. The game is and can be made hard enough without needing to rely on any of these things to create artificial difficulty.

    Major Balance Concerns:

    Buffs/Debuffs:

    Most player buffs are currently very weak, while debuffs are even weaker. Very rare is the fight that lasts long enough for self-buffs to outweigh immediately dispatching dangerous enemies. Skills like the highwayman’s take aim, for instance, are incredibly weak compared to clearing masses with grapeshot, or brutalizing tough foes with point blank shot, or setting up either of those options with mobility attacks like duelist’s advance. Take aim wouldn’t even be worth the time at 100% the current stats it gives, unless it somehow rushed the highwayman’s next turn to at least ensure he gets another turn to use it. Between his very low base health and the numerous enemies he didn’t kill during the turn he needed to activate it, he remains in a perilous place. From a pure sustained-damage perspective, final-tier leper vengeance is actually worth using, especially in conjunction with hew, but for most characters their self-buffs remain very weak. Solution: Make most characters buffs significantly stronger numerically, and as a general rule have them give the character a brief buff to speed to increase the chance they can act again before the enemy, and not suffer so much of a feeling of ‘wasted turn’. Maybe even give some buffs a chance not to consume an action on use, but then if that triggers, grey out the power so that they can’t spam it.

    Debuffs are unfortunately even weaker. Most enemies have incredibly high debuff resistance in the level 5+ quests, and there are precious few trinkets that increase debuff application chance. Even with two +10% debuff chance trinkets (the most an occultist can currently equip), or two +15% debuff chance trinkets (the most a vestal can currently equip), the primary debuffing classes cannot currently land debuffs more than 50% of the time on most targets. Whats more, such a setup neglects accuracy, which means that often the attack will miss outright, giving more of a 30-40% chance to actually land and apply the debuff to most targets. This is even besides the point that other than final bosses, few enemies are singularly dangerous enough to be worth debuffing rather than just murdering. The ‘large’ enemy types are dangerous, but it’s far more important to stun or outright kill them than to simply reduce their accuracy, damage or evasion – they can one-hit your party members even through a curse, as a 42 damage critical skull-tossing ghoul informed my dead legendary highwayman. Alas poor Dismas, I knew him well.

    Solution: Don’t make debuffs roll accuracy, have them just roll vs. resist. Double saves (hit vs accuracy) and (chance to apply vs resist) are excessively punitive. For balance purposes, don’t have the skill do any damage on a resist. The damage and curse both would be linked to debuff resist, instead of a double-save mechanic. If this is too complicated, then just give debuffs a massive accuracy bonus so they rarely miss. Additionally, either tweak down the average debuff resist of enemies in higher level dungeons, or increase the %chance to debuff gained from base skills and trinkets to make them more viable. Additionally/alternatively, increase the raw effect of curses to make them more appealing vs stun as a crowd control mechanic. Since stuns just outright shut an enemy down, the curses have to do something awfully good to be an equally valuable use of a turn. One option is to make curses multi-target. I don’t think the occultist’s damage/accuracy reducing curse, for instance, would be too strong if it affected two targets instead of just one. Increasing debuff efficacy would also have the side-effect of making the front-line vestal, currently quite weak, far more viable.

    Damage Over Time (DoT) Effects:

    DoT effects are currently brutal when used against players because of their repeated triggering of Deathblow chance and the high long term damage. By contrast, the player’s own DoT effects (bleed, blight) are quite weak, not contributing enough, often enough, fast enough, to justify a party slot in most cases. The first problem can be solved by altering the interaction between deathblow and dots. Having dots continue to keep life at zero, but not trigger deathblow themselves would be a fair limiter. Alternatively, have them trigger deathblow, but only on the first tick, not for the ongoing ticks, like any other source of damage. Alternatively, as others have suggested, have them push the player into a ‘negative health’ state which needs to be healed through to get out of deathblow status, keeping them in a vulnerable state, but not repeatedly triggering deathblow directly.

    The second problem, of the weakness of player’s own DoTs, is more complicated, and has multiple components:

    1. Bleed and Blight effects suffer from a double save chance. While most attacks only have to land (accuracy vs dodge) to do their damage, bleed/blight effects have to land and then overcome a second save (bleed/blight chance vs bleed/blight resistance) to apply. In order to do the damage as listed by the power, these effects need to overcome two different obstacles to landing instead of just one, putting them at a distinct disadvantage. Whats more, many enemies have incredibly high bleed/blight resist, making character specializing in those things useless in some fights, lacking the trinkets/skills to rotate that give them a meaningful alternate role.

    Solution: make attacks that apply bleed/blight only rely on a single save, (bleed/blight chance vs bleed/blight resistance), and skip an accuracy roll altogether. Much like classic rpgs with different saves (fortitude, reflex, and will), for instance, Darkest Dungeon could have damage attacks use accuracy, while status effect/dot attacks effect the appropriate resistance.

    2. Bleed and Blight effects don’t scale well with gear, trinkets, and critical hits, all things essential to endgame efficacy. What few trinkets improve bleed/blight are restricted to how likely they are to overcome enemy bleed/blight resistance (and even then not usually enough to be sure of landing them, and often at great expense in terms of other stats in tradeoff), rather than increasing damage or duration or playing with the mechanics in other creative ways. The damage gained from gear is also largely wasted on bleed/blight skills, since their reduced (often dramatically) percentile damage does the opposite of taking advantage of bonus raw power. This point is driven home by critical hits. Crits are incredibly powerful in Darkest Dungeon, doing twice MAX damage, and thus are devastating on characters/skills that do high base damage. Not only do most bleed/blight skills do low base damage, and thus their crits are underwhelming, but more importantly, bleed/blight effects don’t get increased when critting. Logically, shouldn’t a critical hit dot cause twice as much bleed/blight?

    Solution: Double the quantity of bleed/blight that applies on a critical hit (normal 2 bleed over 3 rounds becomes 4 bleed over 3 rounds, for example.) Add some trinkets that interact with bleed/blight effects power/duration/other effects. Examples – “Sanguine Pendant – +10% chance to bleed, bleed effects do 1 more damage per tick, -20% hero bleed resist.” “Bloodrush Stone – “Bleed effects do 100% more base damage per tick, but last one fewer round, for hero and enemy targets both. “Plaguebringer’s Mask – Whenever successfully blighting a target, any adjacent targets also acquire/suffer 1 blight damage over 3 rounds.”

    3. Bleed and blight require 3 rounds to apply their damage, in a game/metagame where burning down targets as fast as humanly possible is the most important part of combat. Unless you’re fighting a tier 3 boss, Necromancer/Swine God/Hag, you just don’t need that many rounds to do comparable or better damage with other characters, nor do you have the survivability to wait that many rounds. It is almost never valuable to bleed/blight a target unless you plan to leave it for last, in which case it would still be better to spend your turn focusing down a more vital target.

    Solution: This could be addressed a few ways. One minor thing would be letting the character whose bleed/blight effect kills a target to get the morale/hope boost from killing them. Another one would be with trinkets like those mentioned above, that would hurry the bleed/blight effect at the cost of duration. Another would be to give bleed/blight oriented characters finisher abilities that have effects based on the leftover bleed/blight damage that is going to waste. For instance, an occultist, hellion, or highwayman skill might be “exsanguinate – 100% accuracy, 85% base weapon damage, 1-5% crit, increases to 21-25% if target is bleeding. If this attack kills the target, the hero gains health equal to the bleeding damage still remaining on the target.” A plague doctor skill could be – “Corpse burst. 100% accuracy 33% base weapon damage, 6-10% crit. When this attack lands, remove all ongoing blight damage and do that much damage to the target (subject would get save based on their blight resistance against this effect). If this kills the target, any adjacent foes gain 2/3/4/5 blight damage per round for 3 rounds.

    Dodge vs Other Stats:

    Dodge is currently very, very important in Darkest Dungeon, and trinkets that provide it are invaluable. Why would I stack something like movement protection, bleed resist, blight resist, stress resist, and so forth, when I could stack dodge and avoid all of these status effects and the accompanying damage and risk of being crit entirely? Stacking health, while a good defense against getting crit-oneshotted, isn’t actually a long-term survival strategy as it doesn’t mitigate damage at all but simply delays it, something dodge is largely left to do. Other than wanting to stack +% damage on my area of effect characters and a few other situation items, dodge is pretty much my go-to for all characters trinkets.

    With this being said, it seems as though the accuracy bonus that enemies have in the dark is very strong. My 75 dodge jester was getting hit about 35-40% of the time in no-torch runs, suggesting an enemy accuracy of around 110-115%! I also know that some enemies have less than 100% base accuracy, since I’ve had them miss 0-dodge characters. This suggests a very large darkness accuracy advantage for them. As far as planning runs, it would be very useful for the player to get more information on specifically how strong this accuracy difference is, and whether, as a consequence, running no-torch is viable for their current setup.

    Also, as much as I love evasion tanking, protection tanking is currently not represented on armor in a way that is honestly confusing. Shouldn’t a crusader’s full plate or leper’s massive chest-piece provide damage reduction, not dodge? Isn’t there some distinction between heroes who leap nimbly out of danger, vs those whose armor defeats enemy blows? While I understand that max-health is meant to represent some of this, in the long run, as mentioned, max-health doesn’t actually mitigate damage, it just marginally delays inevitable death and over-taxes the game’s limited healers, meaning that crusaders and lepers become less reliable long-term tanks than evasion stacking highwaymen, jesters, and bounty hunters.

    Solution: Giving front-line fighters armor protection and health instead of or as an alternative to dodge and health on their armor in the blacksmith would make more sense, and give players more agency when designing their party and it’s defenses. Also, any trinket that gives a secondary resistance like ‘move resist’ needs to be much stronger than dodge as a raw number to rival the utility that dodge provides, from a trinket balance standpoint.

    Protection:

    On a related note, it isn’t clear how protection even works. It claims to be a percentile damage reduction mechanic in the UI, but then it seems to be a flat damage reduction based on repeated experimental observation. Most hits that would do 4-9 damage against other party members, for instance, only do 1 damage to my 10% protected crusader. Then when enemies do huge damage from crits, the reduction appears to shave about the same raw value, in that example 10, instead of reducing the damage to 1. Does it work where protection reduces damage from incoming hits by that number to a minimum of 1? If so, this should be made clearer to the player in the UI, as that is massively more useful in most cases than percentile reduction.

    Solution: Make how this mechanic works clearer and more obvious to the player via the user interface and help-tips.

    Camping and Party Skills:

    Camping is currently best done at the START of a run, rather than in the middle. This is because stress relief is expensive in town and takes time, while doing it from camping/skills is relatively cheap at 8 food. Also, having your buffs up immediately is stronger than waiting until you’ve taken a pounding. This doesn’t really make much sense to me. Why would you camp immediately after leaving town? This breaks immersion in favor of efficacy.

    Solution: have the player start with 12 points worth of buffs at the start of every quest regardless of camping, and have the stress relief scale as a function of current stress – for instance – feast when resting removes say 35% of current stress, making it much better for when you’re deep into the quest than just starting out. This also gives the players an efficiency vs risk tradeoff to play with, waiting until the last moment to restore their sanity, but if they wait too long, heroes snap and go nuts. Allowing players to start with 12 rounds of buffs also allows them to make better use of the ‘stress resist’ options, which otherwise are generally weak compared to direct stress removal. The UI for this could be the chosen party member sitting around the classic rpg tavern table planning their quest, giving modified speech versions of the buffs for town, or even eating/stress relieving at a cost by paying the tavern-keeper the equivalent amount in food rations, before setting off on their journey.

    Short/Medium/Long Quest Balance:

    As it stands now, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to each kind of quest, though medium is currently king, with short being decent and long being highly undesirable. Why?

    1. You have a limited number of backpack slots, and thus there are only so many supplies and loot that can be carried. A long quest almost always forces you to start throwing away loot, while a shorter quest lets you keep almost everything you get, while also saving money by bringing fewer supplies.

    2. Due to supplies getting wasted at the end of each quest, bringing too many spares hurts your gold total. A short quest just doesn’t give you enough rooms to reliably use all your supplies, while a long quest doesn’t give you the inventory space to keep your supplies on hand for the latter dungeon rooms. Medium definitely hits the sweet spot here for reliable use of those skeleton keys, holy waters, and such vs having to throw them away to grab more loot.

    3. Short quests don’t let you camp, which is really the main reason they are worse than medium quests. Camping offers such a strong start of quest buff that to not have it can actually gimp certain play-styles and party compositions. Having buffs like the occultist’s 20% damage on an area of effect powerhouse like the highwayman (or old hellion), or the vestal’s bonus 10/10 accuracy/dodge on an evasion tank can literally make or break a run. Having a second bundle of wood to camp is unfortunately almost useless right now, since you’re usually forced to burn it long before you really need it just to save inventory space. Thus long usually offers nothing more than medium on that front.

    4. The longer you spend in a dungeon, the greater chance rng or stress murders your whole party. Also, the sooner you get out of a dungeon, the sooner your quest reward and found loot can be added to your treasury, the sooner you can get your time/weeks to pass and stress-heal/coach/caravan reset to keep getting more options for your team. This is the main reason that short quests are still viable compared to medium quests, even without party buffs, and why long quests are so agonizing.

    Solution: Give a much higher chance for ‘good’ loot like sapphires/rubies and the better trinkets to drop in longer quests. The risk/reward is currently skewed because all the extra risk of a long quest means nothing when a medium quest still fills your backpack with loot just as well. This addresses that concern without messing with backpack space by increasing the quality of loot, rather than the quantity. Letting all quests start with 12 points of camp buffs equalizes that disparity. Maybe let firewood not take up inventory space and have a small indicator for how many you have off to the side? I don’t know, I just hate that my best play is to throw away my 2nd firewood 2 out of 3 runs, especially on full-darkness runs where I’m avoiding getting another 100 light + risk of ambush.

    Critical Hits:

    Critical hits are crazy strong right now. For players and monsters both. I’ve had multiple legendary characters one-shotted from full health due to a powerful enemy crit in conjunction with a bleed/blight tick or other enemy hit prior to getting a chance to act. Zero-light swine god can and repeatedly does hit for 70+ crits, one-hitting all but health-trinket stacked crusaders and lepers. As such, tremendously valuable and desirable would be trinkets, armor variants, and abilities that lower the player’s chance of being critically hit, or else cause them to take less damage from critical hits.

    Solution: Create anti-crit trinkets and/or tone down the power of crits through balancing mob damage. A really useful rng-mitigating trinket would be “Shroud of silver linings – hero with this equipped cannot take more than 30 damage from any one attack, -15% stress resist.” Since critical hits seem to do double max damage, one solution to reduce the brutality that is enemy critical hits is to raise average enemy minimum damage and lower their maximum damage by the same amount. This would keep their average damage the same, but make it more consistent instead of feeling super random, and would also reduce their critical hit damage.

    Super Fast Affliction Spread Speed vs Low Baseline Stress Gains:

    Somewhat tone down rate at which one crazed/despairing/abusive/etc afflicted party member causes stress for the rest, since cascade effects are currently very high and brutal. I understand that dungeons are stressful, and being around stressed out people is even more stressful, but the rate of one person turning everyone else crazy is very, very high right now, to the point that one person snapping is party-breaking within a few rooms.

    By the same token, there should be more risk when things are otherwise totally fine – a rare event/interaction that can trigger an instant mental crisis at any stress, for instance. The game currently tends to rain when it pours, sitting at too easy for a while, before a sudden sequence of crits and other bad luck messes things up badly in a way that feels cheap or unavoidable.

    Food/Starvation Clock:

    Food consumption doesn’t seem to follow a logical progression. As it stands now, food and eating is extremely unpredictable, to the point that you can starve a few seconds after camping. Maybe a more fixed cycle represented by a hunger meter? Maybe have camping reset timer on it?

    Gear Specialization:

    Variant arms/armor lines in shop that emphasize protection instead of dodge, or status effects over damage, among other effects would greatly improve the feel that you can customize your heroes and invest in them beyond the obvious. This is very important for non-standard attackers if they want to remain competitive in the endgame compared to raw power heroes. Bleed/Blight characters could really use gear that favors increased bleed/blight chance or damage over raw item power. Healers could use gear that scales healing over damage.

    Minor/Quality of Life Changes:

    Early Game Brutality vs. Game gets easier with time:

    You could add some sort of low ‘baseline income’ to keep the early game from being so brutally hard.
    Maybe this would taper off with week number? Maybe it tapers off as you do building upgrades? Maybe can be upgraded to remain relevant/assist in mid game?

    Adjust trinkets to be less punitive on average – most are completely useless or even harmful to characters. While late-game trinkets are vital to success, most trinkets are really really weak and just take up space or confuse new players. Allowing sale of trinkets for cash/heirlooms would also be an obvious and awesome addition for those looking to clear up trinket space.

    Counter-Intuitive Mechanics:

    Keep or at least chance to keep torches/food/other gear for next run. Why are they being thrown away? Food I guess I can understand from spoilage, but the others don’t make a lot of sense. If you aren’t going to let provisions carry over between missions, please put a gigantic sign up in the provisions UI informing the player of such, because this is possibly the number one complaint of new players who (logically) assume that provisions can be carried over through runs.

    Allow higher level characters to run lower level dungeons with the caveat that they can’t gain resolve XP, maybe have capped stats/gear at max level of lower level quest. This would let 4-man teams that get out of sync level-wise to stay together until they’re the same again, and allows for gold-grinding in otherwise hopeless games. In fact, why not simply have the enemies stats/tier (1-3) mirror the average of the party members and avoid the whole awkward 3-tiered division entirely?

    While I respect the design decision to limit how much loot you can carry based on your backpack, I don’t see any problem with allowing the player some way to upgrade your backpack. Either to purchase more slots or an upgrade that allows more stuff in each slot or both. In order to make long quests worth the risk, on solid option is increased backpack size based on cash/heirloom expenditure. Another would be ‘renting’ a mule or servant which doesn’t fight but carries more loot for you, purchased at a cost from the provisions store. This would reward players who want to do full long-dungeon clears and carry most of the loot back, but risk being pointless buys if the run goes badly. You could also have a beneficial quirk that increases stuff per slot when in party like ‘efficient/veteran traveler.’

    More Risk vs. Reward Options:

    There should be some incentive to save torches. Currently, unless roaming at pitch black, or about to camp, there is no reason to save them, just constantly use them at 75 or less light to keep at radiant light. You could, for instance, make torches burn down slower at lower light levels, balancing torch efficiency vs stress gain. As it stands, there is little tactical consideration for ‘when to torch’, which is I think a shame.

    Some sort of dedicated healing item other than food. Food’s heal is very small and is generally important to save for camp or random events. An item which is more slot and/or gold efficient than food at character healing but cannot be used as food would be cool. Also, characters with low health get disproportionately little health from eating, a minimum of 2 or 3 health recovered per food item would be nice, especially if you aren’t going to add a more specialized healing item.

    Trapped/locked chests should still have loot sometimes after triggering them negatively. After all, sometimes people trap chests to protect their contents, and once its sprung anyway, why not loot it? Having a chest both injure you and then provide a reward fits the whole blood for money game philosophy.

    UI frustration:

    Create some sort of UI that allows for the sorting and organization of trinkets. I currently have over 300 trinkets, and sorting/finding them is a tremendous pain. Deleting duplicates isn’t desirable either as a solution, since you can always lose trinkets in a bad run, or need spares for other characters.

    Potential Additions/Game Features:

    After defeating Necromancer lord, upgrade option to use necromancy to revive dead heroes from cemetery at great cost and with non-removable quirks that stress out non-undead allies.
    They could also have undead perks like bleed immunity by default. Going for undead heroes/parties could lead to ‘evil ending’ as opposed to ‘good ending’ for game.

    Passive Skills – having each class have one unique passive skill that can be upgraded at the guildhall and helps the party in some combat/exploration capacity would be cool.

    Some method of gaining or attempting to gain specific positive traits. Once you have lots of cash and a dedicated party customization would be really fun. Maybe 3rd sanitarium option where you pay a bunch of money to try to learn a positive quirk? Cost based on value of quirk? Chance to fail?

    Vestal or Occultist ability that damages one enemy and heals one ally of choice if it hits, balancing risk of missing the heal with reward of damage stacking on target.

    Option to remove more than one quirk at a time after upgrade and for greater cost.
    Option to ‘rush’ stress relievers or quirk removal after upgrade and for greater cost.

    Thanks!:

    Thanks for reading and getting to the end, I know this was super long, but I hope to see this game be as awesome as possible and that I can contribute in some small part to seeing that happen.

    -Chaoschampion

    #11996
    chaoschampion
    chaoschampion
    Participant

    Reserved for replying to comments.

    Response to Robofish:

    I agree that ‘for the rest of the fight’ buff/debuff/bleed/blight would certainly make them more viable, and a good option in a fight you anticipate taking a long time.

    On the subject of healing, you are overrating the Vestal and underrating the Jester. To be specific:
    *While the Vestal may seem indispensable, every turn she spends healing is a turn she didn’t spend helping to eliminate enemies, who are constantly inflicting damage. Healing is mostly useful for keeping characters off death’s door and for recovery after the opposition has been reduced to one weak and preferably stunlocked enemy. It is entirely possible if not preferable to field parties with no dedicated healer.

    While in early-game fights you are right that morale is a bigger problem than health, which can be managed with death’s door heals, this situation changes in the late-game. High-dodge characters with good trinkets can avoid about 2/3 to 3/4 of enemy hits, massively reducing the burden on the vestal’s healing and allowing her or an occultist to actually keep entire parties up near full health through most fights. Stress becomes almost a non-issue by hero level 5 and 6, where innate stress resistance from high character level and the repeated stress heal from getting lots of critical hits (while dodging more enemy critical hits) more than compensates for most minor stressors. I don’t even need to use stress-healing buildings 90% of the time after lvl 5+ adventures, and thats without any stress-healing characters/ability use at all. Health, on the other hand, remains hugely important due to the risk of hero death, which is much more punishing at high level after investing tens of thousands of gold into each hero’s gear, skills, camp skills, and trinkets.

    Also consider that dedicated healers are usually put in the back slot, and when replacing them you can’t just tack on more crusaders/highwaymen/lepers/hellions because those classes don’t fight from the 4th slot. Of the remaining damage characters, only the plague doctor can do serious damage from the 4th slot, but the weakness of dot characters in general makes this a questionable choice. This may well change with the release of classes like the arbalest, but as of right now there really isn’t a ‘high damage’ 4th slot class anyway, meaning a dedicated healer put there doesn’t cost the party meaningful damage regardless.

    *Jester’s Battle Ballad is the best buff in the game, granting +3 SPD, +6 ACC, and +5% CRIT to the entire party for three rounds of combat. After doing that for 1-2 rounds, you then either have him keep Stress under control with Inspiring Tune (though the crits from Battle Ballad does that to a lesser extent as well) or use Slice Off/Harvest to inflict respectable damage via bleed. Unlike HP, stress doesn’t recover at the end of adventure, so sometimes taking a little HP damage is worth it. Of course you can just go with a Jester+Vestal+Crusader combo and heal boatloads of both while sandbagging…

    For most of my runs, my characters who need to be accurate are already at the accuracy cap of 90% vs most monsters from trinkets/camp buffs, and don’t need a minor song buff in combat. Crit and speed are nice, but not nicer than just having, say, another highwayman who can straight up massacre their entire team with grapeshot, or a powerful frontline tank/dps, or a healer who can prevent the loss of any of your extremely expensive and (on lvl 5+ dark runs) frail heroes. Especially now that sandbagging has specifically been nerfed by causing stress damage for delaying combat and characters not being at full health invites rng crit disaster, heals are an ‘at any time as needed’ kind of affair, rather than waiting for the optimal a single stunned foe situation.The jester’s bleeds, while reliably providing some nice damage over time in low level quests, are very hard to land at higher level, and don’t do enough damage to justify waiting 3 turns for their full effect even when they do ‘take’.

    #12043

    robofish126
    Participant

    As such I want to love and utilize the complexity of the character classes and abilities at this game’s disposal, playing my favorite classes lore/concept wise, but the mechanics of the game currently favor raw brute power over nuance in almost every combat situation.

    I think an overall game philosophy of keeping game hard and punishing with meaningful risk reward tradeoffs is the way to go. However this difficulty should come from evil creatures and creeping madness, not from mechanics that feel cheap, lack player agency, encourage mistakes due to lack of information accessibility for the player, counter-intuitive and unrealistic mechanics, or otherwise generally lower the players ‘quality of life’ when playing the game. The game is and can be made hard enough without needing to rely on any of these things to create artificial difficulty.

    This is really the biggest issue. The game is easy for all the wrong reasons, and hard for all the wrong reasons, and while the game has a lot of variety, the real differences are superficial and the choices don’t really mean much. Most of your assessment is pretty dead-on though.

    Buffs/Debuffs:
    Damage Over Time (DoT) Effects:

    My inclination is that all should simply persist until the end of combat. And that buffs should also feature some HP/Stress healing.

    On the subject of healing, you are overrating the Vestal and underrating the Jester. To be specific:
    *While the Vestal may seem indispensable, every turn she spends healing is a turn she didn’t spend helping to eliminate enemies, who are constantly inflicting damage. Healing is mostly useful for keeping characters off death’s door and for recovery after the opposition has been reduced to one weak and preferably stunlocked enemy. It is entirely possible if not preferable to field parties with no dedicated healer.
    *Jester’s Battle Ballad is the best buff in the game, granting +3 SPD, +6 ACC, and +5% CRIT to the entire party for three rounds of combat. After doing that for 1-2 rounds, you then either have him keep Stress under control with Inspiring Tune (though the crits from Battle Ballad does that to a lesser extent as well) or use Slice Off/Harvest to inflict respectable damage via bleed. Unlike HP, stress doesn’t recover at the end of adventure, so sometimes taking a little HP damage is worth it. Of course you can just go with a Jester+Vestal+Crusader combo and heal boatloads of both while sandbagging…

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