What have I gotten myself into?
Okay, a quick premise; I don’t do horror. I’ll happily watch things to do with the mythical nasties, such as vampires, werewolves, etc., but when it comes to true horror, things that haven’t be trope’d to death, I’m out.
I’m not sure how to explain it properly, but hopefully this review on Darkwood will help you understand.
You wake up in some woods
It’s as simple as that, no other explanation. There isn’t any long narrative about what’s going on, how you ended up here, or who you even are, you’re just there.
Luckily this initial area is short, to the point, and acts as a great tutorial to the rest of the game, teaching you the controls, the environment and gameplay mechanics, with a little bit of story sprinkled in.
From then on, you’re on your own.
Full disclaimer, I’ve not completed the game; I think I’m about halfway through the first half but I’m unsure as to how much is left.
From what I’ve gathered, you are trying to escape from these woods, which are quite mysterious. There is some strange force or pathogen which is affecting the woods and all who live inside (yes, there are people here), but I am unsure as to how long this has been the case and if the outside world even knows.
At a hunch, I would say that it is some form of fungus which is causing this behaviour, but it’s also like a black ichor, similar to the Symbiote from Spiderman. In any case it certainly has set the mood for the game.
There are a few NPCs who do help you out, give you hints, trades with you, and generally progresses the story, and the premise is “don’t go out at night, and probably kill anything you see”, because, quite frankly, that is what this game is about.
You’ll find yourself running outside and savaging during the day, and then legging it back to your hideout to fortify it as soon as the sun starts to set, because you don’t want to be out after dark, and you don’t want to let the dark in.
How hard can that be?
This game is unforgiving, and I’m playing on “normal” mode. I like some challenge, but there are some nights where the game is just being unfair.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, I think I’ve got pretty adapt at handling things (despite still being in the beginning sections of the game).
There are certain patterns you should follow, depending on your play style.
Mine is very much a mix of defensive and offensive, although I do find myself going strong on the offensive of late.
Even in the early game, the nasties that come after you are strong, and they only get stronger later on. There are also numerous optional things to do, which has even scarier things come at you (and sometimes you just resign yourself to your fate).
There are some RPG mechanics in the game, such as upgrading equipment and learning new skills; RPG-lite, if you will.
Have I mentioned it’s scary?
Boo! Got you!
This game is very atmospheric.
Even during the day time, I found myself creeping around and holding my breath, because I just did not know what was going to attack me next.
The vast majority of the encounters I’ve had so far have been hostile, and when I’ve managed to clear an area of these nasties (thank God there is no re-spawn), there are traps and ambushes all over the place.
I could be going for a nice walk, pick up some supplies I saw on my last pass through (inventory space is limited), and SNAP a bear trap, or an ambush, or worse… I’m running from an ambush and into a bear trap!
And that is during the day time, when things are meant to be in my favour!
The nighttime sections are just cruel, unnerving, and quite frankly, I think the game cheats here.
Generally during the night, you have an encounter of some kind. Usually being attacked by some nasties you see during the day, but then there are some extra events; spooky goings-on and all that.
I’ve encountered poltergeists, mobs, banshees… and I’m probably around 1:1 on the K:D during these nights; it is quite stressful and resource consuming.
I’ve yet to benefit from any of the nice encounters (I know there is a wedding invite, somewhere).
Is it worth it?
In all honesty, yes, I would say Darkwood is worth playing.
You get your scares, and there is the dopamine rush when you’ve learnt how to kill the nasties or survive the night.
The maps are randomly generated, so it’s re-playable, with choice-branches in story and gameplay.
The game essentially pushes you forward, because if you linger for too long, you are either killed or get bored.
It is quite a repetitive game in design (collect things, build up your base, survive the night, repeat), but there is plenty to explore and as resources are limited from savaging, you are forced to go further afield.
Saying that, I have sunk a fair amount of hours into the game, and I’ve not made it that far (I think). Once you’ve learnt how to survive, it loses it’s fear-factor, but the challenge is still there.
You can only be exposed to something so much before you come desensitised to it, but luckily there is always something new to come and get you.