Best RPG 2016: Darkest Dungeon

Deep dungeons, eldritch horrors, and shaky heroes make Darkest Dungeon special.

Darkest Dungeon is our RPG of the year. GOTY gongs are chosen by PC Gamer staff through voting and debate. We'll be posting an award a day leading to Christmas, along with personal picks from the PCG team. Keep up with all the awards so far here.   

Evan Lahti: Total artistic and creative cohesion. Darkest Dungeon brings the best parts of Lovecraft into a roguelike RPG, but does so without getting bogged down in cliche. Its eldritch enemies are so wonderfully hateable, and all of them can cause trouble. Even an unlucky lump of 20 stress from a lowly cultist frustrates you, gets under your skin. Darkest Dungeon is committed to its difficulty: there's a single, intended difficulty setting, and I've heard tales of people dying in the tutorial. Along with XCOM, it's one of the few games where you can be 40 hours in and then lose a huge chunk of progress if you botch a dungeon run. 

But unlike XCOM, Darkest Dungeon pushes you to treat your party members not as handmade, precious heroes that you nurse from recruits to legends, but as disposable napkins that you use to sop up the unearthly horror left behind by your ancestor. Every character is a tool that will break (usually mentally), become diseased, or gain some costly predilection. Get too attached to a Highwayman or a Hellion, and you'll waste loads of gold curing them of every malady. Getting over that emotional hump, that instinct to love and develop your soldiers, is the most interesting aspect of the game.

Through a complex interweaving of RPG systems, random dungeon generation and ambient detail, stories emerge.

Chris Thursten: Darkest Dungeon excels in every area. The artwork, music, and writing are all phenomenal—and as Evan notes, they're all cohesive parts of an intricate, punishing whole. Driving parties of doomed mercenaries deeper and deeper into your horror-haunted family manor, you're tasked with managing their sanity along with their safety. Through a complex interweaving of RPG systems, random dungeon generation and ambient detail, stories emerge. There was the stalwart knight with a kleptomaniac streak, whose reliability as a front-line combatant meant I overlooked the fact that he'd steal a few thousand gold worth of artifacts on every run. Or the fraught scouting expedition where each of my warrior-priestesses went mad, in turn, until they started to refuse healing with increasing frequency and had to be pulled screaming through each encounter by a paranoid jester. It's not the year's flashiest RPG, but the memories Darkest Dungeon have created have stuck with me.

Tyler Wilde: On my first quest I forgot to bring any torches. My party survived, barely, but by the end they were all on the edge of death and had become irrational or masochists. Darkest Dungeon is like playing D&D with a DM who secretly knows you regifted the box of artisanal cheese you gave them last year. You have not been forgiven. Roll a saving throw against a sudden heart attack, you clod.

Evan Lahti: The mileage that Darkest Dungeon gets out of its 2D art and presentation is ridiculous. It's way more than the sum of its parts in this department. The hand-drawn characters—enemies, bosses, and heroes—are grim, grotesque, and colorful, but it's the expressive animation, camera movement, and ominous narration that make it all work, adding physicality and drama to fights. It also helps that your characters don't completely adhere to RPG archetypes: I love bringing a tanky Leper into battle alongside a Houndsman, Occultist, and Jester, who's basically an evil bard.

For more praise for Darkest Dungeon, check out our review.