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Descent: Legends of the Darkish lives as much as the hype, our full assessment

Revealed in 2005, Fantasy Flight Video games’ Descent was among the many first trendy board video games that attempted to recreate the construction of a conventional role-playing sport. One participant served as the sport grasp, working the remainder of the group by a sequence of adventures whereas controlling all of the enemies ⁠— a bit like Dungeons & Dragons, however with a simplified ruleset. The sport’s second version, Descent: Journeys within the Darkish, improved on the expertise by offering a better mission selection whereas nonetheless requiring one participant do many of the work. Now Descent: Legends of the Darkish ⁠- Act 1 has really fulfilled the sequence’ promise, offering an expertise with all of the tactical and narrative depth of an RPG whereas counting on an app to do the heavy lifting. The result’s a wealthy, seamless expertise and one of many absolute best board video games printed this 12 months.

Set on the earth of Terrinoth, a comparatively benign, Tolkien-inspired excessive fantasy world, the sport’s marketing campaign unites six heroes to combat off all method of threats from ruthless bandits to mad wizards. The required companion app guides gamers by missions, informing them the way to construct a 3D map and populate it with treasure, traps, and monsters.

The sport is bodily imposing. Simply unpacking and assembling it requires about an hour of labor. You’ll then want an enormous quantity of desk house to put out the maps, which increase as your characters discover new rooms. The app permits the sport to shock gamers, forcing them to navigate labyrinths or by having rooms shrink over time as they’re devoured by flame. The app usually offers hints as to how they need to navigate a scenario or cope with a harmful foe, and paying cautious consideration to these hints might be the distinction between success and failure.

Descent: Legends of the Darkish accommodates a comic book book-style visible novel filling within the story behind each mission, and determination bushes for every of the characters, which impacts not solely the present state of affairs but in addition future encounters. These options make Legends of the Darkish really feel very acquainted as a online game, even when I feel its designers may have leaned into that medium a bit extra. Some voice appearing would have been good, since there’s a lot exposition and dialogue that may be onerous to share in case you don’t have your pc synced to a display large enough for all of the gamers to see. Alternatively, having gamers take turns voice appearing their characters does add to the texture of being a part of a TTRPG.

After the app exhibits you the place to initially place every monster and your social gathering members, it’s as much as the gamers to trace their motion on the sport board. Nonetheless, the app will level out who an enemy is attacking, and observe random occurrences like particular enemy defenses or triggers on a participant’s weapon that may do further harm or apply debuffs. Most challenges, from swinging a weapon to selecting a lock on a chest, are dealt with by rolling cube, with gamers inputting the outcomes into the app. The result’s all of the kinetic pleasure of enjoying a tabletop sport without having to do as a lot math. It additionally higher allows secret info, like the issue of a problem or what weapon varieties an enemy is susceptible to.

The characters all really feel very mechanically distinct and there’s a satisfying problem to arising with best social gathering composition. Most missions require {that a} particular character come alongside to finish some a part of their private plot, so that you’ll have to study the nuances of enjoying every of them.

That complexity largely lies in a intelligent system of fatigue administration. Do something particular — like add further success to a roll, or use a capability reminiscent of letting an ally transfer or enfeebling an enemy — and also you’ll add some variety of fatigue tokens to one in every of your playing cards. Some enemies will fatigue you simply by hitting you and you may additionally take fatigue for finishing quest targets like hauling individuals out of a burning constructing. In the event you grow to be too exhausted, you’ll begin taking harm.

Gamers can take an motion to flip a card and take away all these fatigue tokens, however each card has completely different skills on both sides. Consequently, gamers should always change techniques even when it would look like a profitable technique to simply maintain slamming into an enemy with the weapon already geared up.

The app actually shines between missions, when the social gathering heads again to base to relaxation. The town display presents a store with a always altering stock of crafting supplies, recipes, and tools, plus workshops the place you’ll be able to forge your individual gear. Potions, armor, and trinkets are represented by playing cards gamers maintain within the play space and might present them with highly effective results when used correctly. Making an attempt to scrounge up sufficient cash to get everybody therapeutic potions earlier than embarking on the subsequent mission actually felt like enjoying D&D.

A demons stands on a mountain of flagstones.

Picture: Charlie Corridor/Polygon

Within the metropolis and through overland journey it’s also possible to play by narrative occasions that may give extra rewards or assist flesh out a sure participant character. Whereas the plot could depend on broad fantasy tropes, the characters are charmingly particular person, just like the kind-hearted rogue Probability who likes to steal from dangerous individuals and the overly optimistic wizard Syrus who dotes on his phoenix acquainted. Moreover, Legends of the Darkish isn’t particularly linear. The app offers entry to a number of quests without delay, so you’ll be able to select no matter appears most fun or no matter quest requires the characters you’re within the temper to play.

Whereas the sport allows you to play with simply two characters, it’s finest to have a full social gathering of 4 ⁠— even when which means having a participant management a couple of character. Maintaining observe of a number of actions ramps up the complexity, however the sport simply doesn’t scale down correctly for smaller teams. Huge teams encounter extra foes who’re additionally individually more durable, however the true limitation on success is commonly motion financial system as your characters want to collect quest gadgets whereas coping with timers created by respawning monsters or collapsing terrain. It’s additionally more durable to handle your well being and stamina when the dangerous guys are all ganging up on one or two characters.

Descent: Legends of the Darkish ⁠- Act 1 boasts 16 major quests, with a mean playtime round 50 hours, in line with builders. After experiencing roughly one-fifth of that marketing campaign, I can say that the pacing and the density of the narrative feels excellent. There’s loads of room for growth as nicely, though how Act 2 will likely be delivered remains to be unknown. Like a very good D&D sport, I’m anticipating this journey may final years.

Descent: Legends of the Darkish was reviewed on Home windows PC utilizing a pre-release copy of the bodily sport and app supplied by Fantasy Flight Video games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought by way of affiliate hyperlinks. You could find extra details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.

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