Darkest Dungeon’s newest DLC isn’t quite like anything else in the game prior. The expansion, called “The Color of Madness,” is a clear homage to an H.P. Lovecraft story—“The Colour Out of Space”—in a game already full of such homages. But it also incorporates a whole new style of endless mission into ’s grueling grind.
Also, there are aliens.
Like the story on which it’s based, “The Color of Madness” starts with a comet crash landing into a farmstead. The impact spreads strange, slimy crystals across the surrounding land and its inhabitants, morphing them into a new enemy faction called Husks. Husks aren’t particularly tough but make up for their weakness with numbers. “The Color of Madness” mostly plays out as an endless, wave-based horde mode, granting better rewards the longer a single team survives the thronging masses. And if your team dies? It’ll just be temporarily lost in time and space, keeping its items and progress without that pesky perma-death.
This “Endless Harvest” requires very different tactics than the main game and its other major DLC, “The Crimson Court,” where attrition is as much about exploring dungeons as battling monsters. But developer Red Hook Studios has never been afraid to dramatically change the flow of its game. Sometimes that leads to controversy and outright hostility among players. Still, the fact remains that is a fundamentally different game now than it was at launch. Specifically, it’s now a game I’m happy to “suffer through” all over again.
Diving back in
is famously difficult. Learning to mitigate and tilt randomness in your favor is largely the point, but it still gets frustrating when a nasty critical hit permanently kills a hero you’ve spent hours grinding to the level cap. “The Crimson Court” made things even harder by introducing infectious vampirism that can kill those same heroes at home base. It’s the kind of game you finish with a sense of triumph, yes, but also . You don’t beat . You survive it.
And I survive it, in late 2016, shortly after the game came to consoles. Then in 2017, I dipped my toes into The Crimson Court’s murky red liquid to see the new content. Some major balance updates coinciding with that DLC made the return trip that much more enticing, but I ultimately lost interest before concluding another run through the endgame. I had done my duty in surviving that crucible once before. Like the maxed-out heroes that complete any of the titular ’s missions, I refused to go back inside.
Then “The Color of Madness” touched down. It drew me in with its overtly extraterrestrial aesthetic juxtaposed against a primarily fantasy backdrop, like an unnatural glow in the fields. Now it’s got me hooked with its strange bosses, unique rewards, and something very odd for : a high score to chase.
It still doesn’t hurt that developer Red Hook has heavily overhauled most character classes. Parties built around critical hits are more viable and stuns are harder to abuse. Learning the ins and outs, particularly against the Husks, has been like learning to play a totally different game.
The rub is that in-game time doesn’t progress when you enter the Endless Harvest. The space-time continuum is funny like that near the comet. So your stressed-out and diseased heroes won’t recover from their afflictions until you complete a non-Endless Harvest mission, which keeps you from grinding for alien rewards indefinitely.
As a result, I’m taking on more and bigger main missions to grind up troops for the harvest, which makes me increasingly invested in the overall run. And the Endless Harvest’s unique loot is just the stuff to spice up your heroes for the main game. In fact, the trinkets can make entirely different party compositions viable in totally different scenarios. The fabulously-named Non-Euclidean Hilt, for instance, gives Crusaders—an otherwise straightforward bruiser class—their first taste of damage-over-time poison.
Losing the grind
Of course the Crimson Court won’t be denied its pound of flesh (er, pint of blood?) either. The new expansion all but forces you to open a floodgate of Bloodsuckers into normal missions, nerfing the amount of stress your heroes restore in town until and unless you do. Once they’re free, they start to spread their curse, giving your parties their own thirst for blood. At that point, you’ll need to farm that blood to keep your people alive or cleanse the infection altogether by killing Crimson Court bosses. If “The Color of Madness” enticed me toward riches, the court dragged me into its cruel depths by necessity.
The pacing created by this new mix couldn’t have been more perfect on my latest run. All the futzing around with alien crystals and selectively dispatching major bosses let the infection sneak up on me. By the time I fought the Baron, the court’s first serious boss, nearly my entire roster was parched for plasma. I didn’t have enough to slake them all. So I swept into the Baron’s base for one final push—losing three fourths of my strike team in the process—and finally stole my luckiest victory in the game to date. My reward was a total purge of the curse impairing my soldiers.
Naturally, I went right back to chipping away at the Endless Harvest. The extraterrestrial riches inside will be just the thing to kill the brick-red boss, after all. But my infection notifier warns me the Bloodsuckers are already rallying. That’s fine. The trinkets drop might help me chew through the secret bosses in the deeper levels of the Endless Harvest.
All of this has been a very different experience than the one I had in 2016. That version of was all about guaranteed grinding. It took , but if you stuck with it, you’d eventually gain the money, experience, and upgrade materials necessary for the best odds of surviving that endgame oubliette.
Now, there are overarching layers of plates to spin. Blood needs to be farmed. “Optional” bosses must be killed to quell plagues of vampirism. In-game stress needs to be managed much more carefully if you want to farm the time-warped hordes under the comet’s influence. And you want to do just that, because it opens up too many tactical options to pass up.
I’m having fun just theory-crafting these new hero lineups and builds. But it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable if the Lovecraftian, vampiric, and alien stakes to successfully implement them weren’t so high. All three of these major pillars now support one another. They form a journey that feels completely unlike the one I thought I knew. The hasn’t changed all that much, but so what? I already survived once. Now I finally feel like I have the tools to master it.