Dark and Darker hands-on: Everything you need to know about the extraction dungeon crawler

By Mike Stubbs, Contributor

Dark and Darker can feel brutally unfair. It’s an extraction shooter, but wearing the armor of a medieval fantasy dungeon crawler. It’s coming to the Epic Games Store soon, though it’s playable right now via the official Dark and Darker site. I recently spent some time with it—here’s what it’s like to dive into the depths while monsters and other players are out to get you.

After spawning into the map with nothing on me but lint and hope, I stumbled upon a room filled with chests and loot. There were helmets, armor, coins, and other valuables all over the place—so much so that I didn’t have room to take it all with me. To find so many valuable items so early on in the run got me off to a great start, but there was one sticking point: I still needed to make it out alive.

Seconds after I left the room, valuables in-hand, I spotted another player at the bottom of a set of stairs. Adrenaline pumping from my massive loot haul, I battered him, only to realize they were as poorly equipped as I was when I entered. But I was still alive—even if only just—and could continue looking for a way out through one of the portals that randomly spawn on the map. My health continued to dwindle as I took the occasional hit from monsters, until eventually I was very close to death.

Then I heard the noise of safety. The sound of a portal spawning.

As I rounded a corner there it was—the headstone that I needed to interact with to open up a portal and get out with my loot. In my excitement I ran towards it, failing to notice the floor spikes on the ground. Mere steps from safety, the clank of metal spelled my doom and my big barbarian boy tumbled to the ground, his legs no doubt shattered from the massive spikes that had just rammed into them. My loot haul was gone, and the only slight positive was that maybe another adventurer would fall victim to the same trap when trying to loot my body.
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This is the crushing reality of Dark and Darker, a game that will cause frustration and anger—but always with the allure of one more run through the dungeons, in hopes of finding and escaping with incredible loot. After a minute to cool off, I went right back in there, rifling through chests and battering goblins.

When Dark and Darker first arrived on the scene last year, the early demo proved massively popular. Its medieval fantasy setting was (at the time) a new spin on the popular extraction genre, and despite the demo being relatively barebones, it was fun from the get-go. A few legal issues caused it to go, well, dark for a bit—but now it’s coming back with a ton of new content, along with a level of polish that makes it play a lot better than before.

The core of Dark and Darker is still very much the same. You’ll pick a class from a list that will be recognizable to fantasy fans—ranging from big barbarians to wizards and even bards—and then get dropped into one of the many dungeons filled with loot. Here, you’ll fight past an assortment of AI mobs (who can hold some decent loot themselves) to get to the goodies, or go hunting for other players to fight and take whatever's on their person, whether it's loot they've already found or items they brought into the dungeon. Once you're satisfied with your haul, you need to find an exit portal and get out. Simple stuff on paper.

Dark and Darker has expanded a lot, though. It features a load of skills and spells, which add a lot of variety even to the most basic classes. The Wizard, for example, has 13 different spells to choose from, ranging from the useful light orb (to see where you're going) to an explosion that acts like a sticky bomb—and even a spell that can lock doors to keep enemies behind them.

The Warlock has a vastly different kit that's all about seeking out enemies, weakening them before a fight, and then summoning minions to finish them off. It’s a very different style of play, which adds to Dark and Darker's variety and replayability, and the weapon options only add to that once you've chosen a class. There are a lot more options than just a big dude with a sword, an archer, or a mage shooting fireballs.

There’s more variety in the maps as well, plus quests to give you proper objectives, and more to do with your precious loot. But it’s not just more of everything. What was originally in Dark and Darker has been refined as well. Combat is smoother, for one, and the overall package is much improved.
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As you get more confident—which will take some time, as it's difficult to overcome the fear of losing all your hard-earned gear—you can venture to deeper levels of the dungeon in hopes of meeting stronger foes and getting even better loot. This is where Dark and Darker really comes into its own, with battles becoming more about positioning, smart play, and clever ability usage, rather than the wild swings you can usually get away with against weaker players and AI enemies.

It can take a long time before you finally feel strong enough to try this and find success—but when you do, Dark and Darker goes from frustrating (like dying to a spike trap in my early run) to an exhilarating high-stakes medieval combat game. It's still punishing, sure, but also incredibly satisfying.

With overarching quests giving you more reason to go into the dungeons (aside from finding better loot of course), Dark and Darker becomes incredibly addicting. You never quite know what's around the next corner, and that's reason enough to keep playing.

Dark and Darker arrives on the Epic Games Store soon, and is available to wishlist now.