In times of great peril and darkness, heroes arise to stem the tide of evil and reclaim the world for mankind. Warriors of sword, bow, and magic cut through the demon and monster hordes that plague the land, retaking ground and forcing the dark lord into a final confrontation. Only through preparation and courage will you be able to face the denizens of darkness and bring light back to the land.
The Match-3 genre is one that pairs well with many other genres, but none more than with RPGs. Puzzle Quest showed how the mechanics of Bejeweled could act as a means of combat in an RPG setting, with loot, exploration, leveling, and challenging foes. Since then, many other entries into the Match 3/RPG marriage have come in, each trying something new with the formula. Darkest Hunters is the newest foray into the genre mix, claiming to mix the mechanics of Puzzle Quest and the atmosphere of Diablo.
Darkest Hunters is available on Steam for $5.99.
If you couldn't tell by the plot intro at the beginning of the article, the writing in Darkest Hunters can't be considered a pioneer of any sort. Like most RPGs of its ilk, the standard series of events is that evil has claimed power and is trying to obtain dominion over the world. Heroes step forth to push back the ever growing swell of evil and, through force of will and strength, set out to defeat the lord of darkness and bring peace back to the land.
As a story telling device, this trope works for a reason, but at this point it can be considered little more than a skeletal structure – something that should be built upon rather than used as is. There's no harm in having a story about heroes setting out to defeat evil, it's an old standard for a reason, but there has to be something more to the plot than just that. While some may say it's a bit much to ask a Match-3/RPG to have compelling plot, I beg to differ.
Being a smaller title, more time can be allocated to work shopping a more interesting plot. Some bits of lore are scattered throughout the game in the form of notes, but they are few and far between. With smaller titles such as this, there is more room to be creative, crazy, and innovative with your story. To simply pull out the old-standard of RPGs and slap it onto your game, with little to no variation to it, tells the player they shouldn't care about the writing because it seems like the developers didn't either.
While it's fair to classify this in the puzzle/match-3 genre, it's not strictly a match-3 game. There's no requirement to combine three or more similar gems together in order to gain resources. Your character can, and sometimes will have to, progress forward by eliminating one gem at a time. The gems do offer up color-specific bonuses, like stamina, health, and magic, and also produce extra effects for larger combos, however.
Rather than have your avatar off to the side, the gem board acting as a means to execute attacks, and defeating enemies is your means of progression, your hero will be placed down with the gems and the monsters. By sliding your character across the gems, you move across the board, as well as collect resources and build up power for attacks. Enemies will move across the board to you, though their attacks are primarily just to ram into you or shoot from afar, taking no advantage of the gems themselves.
There's rarely a reason to strategically move across the board except during certain boss fights. Gems don't fall down to cover those you've collected; instead new ones appear in your wake, so cascading is not really something that can be accomplished. Instead, large strings of gems are the big payoffs, offering stronger and stronger special gems at the end. With very little strategic value in mapping out your progress, most levels feel dull and uninteresting. Boss fights will occasionally offer up enough challenge that you'll want to keep a large collection of green gems clumped together for health in a pinch, or a reserve of special gems to do massive damage, but that's about it.
Leveling up your hero offers up points into health, stamina, and mana, so most of your defensive and offensive boosts will come from gear. Gear gets upgraded both through gold and by acquiring enough duplicates of an item. This is easier than it sounds, as opening a chest will always give you many copies of a piece of gear, adding to the overall upgrade progress bar. Spells can be unlocked to deliver extra damage and board clearing, though the damage ones all play out the same, just with different elemental bonuses. Most of the gear, in fact, is all the same, except for elemental changes. It makes gear collecting a rather dull affair, rather than something exciting to look forward to after opening a chest.
Darkest Hunters is a mobile port, which becomes clear when you realize the game uses the word "tap" and "slide" rather than "click" and "drag." Originally on mobile, there were microtransactions and waiting periods for opening chests, but on the PC all of those are gone. Chests open instantly, and there is no extra currency used to buy extra powerful gear or overcome challenges that were clearly made to force the player to spend more real world dollars. The balancing does feel off in areas, specifically boss fights, however. None of them were impossible, though unless you get very lucky with gem placement, they sometimes feel like they are.
Presented in a classic pixel style, Darkest Hunters tries to capture a nostalgic feeling of playing an old school RPG on DOS. While the art is by no means bad, it's nothing spectacular either, unfortunately. Certainly there is talent behind the execution, but other games have utilized pixel art to elevate themselves above the medium, rather than stay comfortable in its perceived limitations. The designs are detailed in many ways, but simplified in others. It's almost like the designs are somewhere between draft and finished states. There's a grittiness to it all too, which does serve the "dark atmosphere" the developers claim it shares with Diablo.
Much like the writing, the sound work serves it purpose but doesn't try to advance beyond the basic. Music fits the themes, and the sound effects sound appropriate, but nothing stands out at extraordinary or even worth a second look. Match-3/RPG games consist of a lot of gem matching and repeating processes, so the sounds associated with these actions need to be satisfying. Darkest Hunters, sadly does not offer up much in the way of satisfying sound effects.
Darkest Hunters is, at best, an average game. It checks the boxes it needs to, but doesn't do much beyond that. It strives for the middle, hoping to gain players that aren't familiar enough with either the puzzle or the RPG genres to recognize it for the mediocrity. It's certainly not a bad game, and for the cost of $6, with all the levels, challenges, and multiplayer content there is, you can easily hit the 1:1 ratio of dollars to hours played. They just won't feel like worthwhile hours, is the problem.
For those interested in seeing what this mixture genre of match-3/RPG is like, Darkest Hunters is a cheap option. If offers up much of what Puzzle Quest does, but for cheaper, and easier in some aspects (though more challenging in others). Other players have found a lot of enjoyment with the game, so there is value to be gained with Darkest Hunters. However, if you have extra cash, Puzzle Quest is likely going to be a more enjoyable time.
|+ Plenty of content; 60+ levels/300+ challenges.||– Supremely dull and uninspired in most areas.|
|– Control issues between movement and camera.|
|– Balancing issues.|