It’s been over a year since the cinematic announcement trailer for Darkest Dungeon II dropped, but there’s been nary an update since. In March of this year, Red Hook Studios cryptically tweeted that updates will come when the stars are right. The good news is that, in the meantime, Iratus: Lord of the Dead can fill the void.
The similarities between Iratus and Darkest Dungeon are obvious, and the developers of the new title have not shied away from acknowledging their inspiration. Iratus borrows the basic combat structure of its spiritual predecessor and aims to evolve it. The player commands a group of four minions in turn-based combat. These minions have access to certain abilities based on their position in the formation. The key difference between the two turn-based games is that in Darkest Dungeon, the player fights against the forces of darkness, but in Iratus, the player commands the forces of darkness.
Like in the Legacy of Kain series, which never got a proper ending, the player takes the role of the bad guy. As the necromancer Iratus, the player leads an army of undead to break out of the dungeon in which Iratus has been imprisoned for centuries. Initially, the horde consists of basic monsters like skeletons and banshees. Across multiple playthroughs, Iratus will gain the ability to construct more powerful and more terrifying creatures, such as liches and bone golems.
Iratus also turns Darkest Dungeon’s novel stress mechanic on its head. Rather than having the player-controlled minions suffer the mental strain of facing Lovecraftian horrors, the minions inflict psychic torment. The player can either attack the physical vitality of their enemies, or they can inflict sanity damage. When an enemy’s sanity meter fills, they can either lose heart and flee the fight or die of fear.
As a more traditional roguelike, Iratus encourages the player to play the game multiple times by keeping the game short. One of Darkest Dungeon‘s few flaws was its pacing. During the 2016 Game Developers Conference, Red Hook Studios’ Tyler Sigman admitted the 40-60 hour campaign was too long. Instead of working from a central hub and visiting the same four locations over and over again, the player moves through a branching map with each stop along the way providing various challenges and benefits. It’s a progression system reminiscent of the deck-building roguelike Slay the Spire.
This change in structure helps remove much of the monotonous grinding present in Darkest Dungeon. A run of Iratus can be completed in around four to seven hours. It can also be lost far more quickly. Every combat encounter in Iratus is critical, making the game punishing but consistently rewarding.
After being in early access since July 2019, Iratus: Lord of the Dead fully released on April 23. It’s available for PC and Mac through Steam.
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Heavily inspired by Darkest Dungeon, Iratus: Lord of the Dead takes the turn-based dark-fantasy roguelike formula in exciting new directions.