For those of you unfamiliar with Darkest Dungeon, the Ancestor, who serves as both narrator for the dreaded missions into the dark below, and mostly final boss of the Darkest Dungeon itself, was a real bastard in his early life. Living his life like a frat boy with a broken debauchery toggle, he partook in many terrible misdeeds before finally digging into the unhallowed ground upon which his ancestral home was built.
The Crimson Court, the first real expansion to Darkest Dungeon, explores the results of some of said hedonism, as he unknowingly allowed a group of Mosquito Vampires to basically move on to his grounds, take over his courtyard, and get down to some real, real dirt.
With the amount of eldritch horror shambling around the depths of the homestead, no one should be surprised by the real dark ass shit living there. Rabid dogs, writhing tentacle nightmares, fish creatures fresh from beneath the waves; if you’re scared of it, chances are there’s a version of it cast as an adversary in the dungeons. But mosquito vampires… there’s something uniquely terrifying/disgusting/skin-shuddering about this new faction. In fact, they just might be some of the grossest looking things in the game currently, and that’s saying something.
To make matters more grotesque, most of the “bug-feratu” have two forms, one for when they first greet you in the dark, dank hallways of the Ancestor’s Family Plot, and a second, plump form for after they have slaked their thirst on your heroes’ scrumptious sanguine fluid. Even their most basic grunt, a giant ass mosquito, hits you with “The Thirst” and its back side expands, filled with the blood it just took from you. Supplicants look like a cross between Brundlefly and a royal servant dressed to impressed, even going so far as to vomit on things like the former. The worst, though, is reserved for royalty, with the vile, bloated forms of the Baron, Viscount, and Countess doing their best to live vicariously through your nightmares.
While horrible to look at, engaging with the them in combat is almost worse. As you can imagine, with these monstrosities being both vampire and mosquito, the majority of their attacks involve blood in one form or another, either making you bleed or taking said blood from you in the form of a self heal. Those that don’t often inflict other status ailments, like horror, a new affliction that works like a bleed for the stress meter. To top that off, most if not all of the new enemies can also afflict your under-paid meat bag- um, heroes with The Crimson Curse, a permanent disease that randomly forces consumption of “The Blood,” a new item, or you have to deal with weakened stats, your hero occasionally lashing out at your team, and eventually, death. The only way to remove to the curse is by clearing one of the main missions in the Courtyard, so not all hope is lost, but once you enter its twilight lit hallways, drinking blood for the rest of your life doesn’t seem like the worst thing.
Much like the actual Darkest Dungeon, the Courtyard map is not displayed for you when you enter it for the first time. It fills in every time you reach a new room, displaying only the the connected hallways, so you never quite know just how deep you need to go. Combine this with randomly placed doors and keys, and you are easily looking at the longest dungeons currently in the game. Thankfully, you are able to leave mid trip, saving your map progress, though you do suffer the same stress penalties you would from leaving any other dungeon early.
Unlike the other areas, the Courtyard is in a constant state of twilight, the light level set to a perpetual 75%. Torches instead are used for a +1 fight accuracy boost and popping egg curios for stress reduction. Campfires are also curiously absent for such a lengthy mission, though they do make an appearance if you happen to find a wine box curio and have a shovel with you. That kind of randomness applies to certain encounters as well within the Courtyard, with my favorite/SO-NOT-MY-FAVORITE random mini-boss crawling around.
The first time you encounter the Crocodillian is before the end of your first mission in the Courtyard. A giant, pudgy crocodile with a ridiculously large maw, it spends the fight surrounded by impervious high grass, and part of his multiple actions per turn is spent moving between the reeds, granting various bonuses to itself depending on his position. The first time we met ended in utter heartbreak and a full stomach for the beastie, but the second, and every time thereafter, I have bled the bastard to death through a combination of Hellion ferocity and timely bleeds from one of my Flagellants.
A new hero added with the expansion, the Flagellant, is bloody glorious. A frontline fighter who mixes attacks and heals, he has specific skills that open up as he takes damage. Easily one of the more versatile heroes, he is a staple of my boss groups, as his ability to stack bleed effects feels almost like cheating. In game built around punishing its players, it’s poetic that a hero built around the idea of punishment would do so well. As a boon to the other heroes, The Crimson Court also opens up a whole set of trinkets specific to each hero type, and equipping both available for each hero opens up a set bonus. I have yet to complete a set, courtesy of the randomness inherent to the loot drops, but having looked over the list online, it looks like some of the combinations could be quite powerful.
That randomness though… it is a killer. If there was a weak point to the new expansion, its that it doubles down on the randomness, or RNG factor. The randomness permeates everything having to do with the Courtyard, including, and this is the biggest stumbling block, entrance to the new environment itself. Past the first mission, entrance to the courtyard is granted only through invitations, an item carried by only one type of bloodsucker, which is found at random while exploring the other environments. When the homestead is a buzz with vampiric baddies, it's not hard to collect invitations, as the vampires are everywhere, even if the invitation carriers aren’t present in every encounter. Beating one of the main Courtyard missions resets their numbers though, placing a soft cap of a couple of hours before you can reliably get invitations again and thereby continue through the new area.
It’s nothing terrible, but it is annoying, and it forces you to play through the Courtyard as something extra to the main quest, rather than churning through it as standalone content. YES, I know that saying that out loud makes the whole complaint portion of this seem like good business, as though the whole system was working as intended, but trust me, playing through it, especially when you find yourself having a good run of luck, gating new content off bites ever so much.
Should that stop you from exploring The Crimson Court? Absolutely not. All the additions to the base game, from the new hero, to the ultra creepy MOSQUITO VAMPIRES, are glorious, and in the end, add a fantastic amount of good content to an already great game. Ten dollars earns you an easy 30+ hours re-exploring the Ancestor’s Homestead, and while I am loathe to make value calls, this one is so easy that not making it feels wrong. If you have not picked this up yet, stop wasting time. The Countess calls…
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!