As the flurry of strings plays an otherworldly chorus, the Narrator’s voice beckons out: “It will live again in another time, another place.” The Sleeper has fallen before me, and we are greeted with eerie silence, but only for a moment. This humble farmland is the home to a new insidious chaos. There is no respite, no true victory, only endless abominations from beyond time and space. Nevertheless, my mercenaries trudge on, driven by an iron will, madness, or sheer greed for bizarre crystal formations.
The Color of Madness is the latest DLC for Red Hook’s Darkest Dungeon. Boasting a new Endless Mode, incredibly powerful trinkets, challenging boss fights, new district blueprints, and a fantastic soundtrack, there’s no question that it is an absolute steal at only $5. While Darkest Dungeon is an excellent game in its own right, passing on this gem of fresh eldritch horror would be doing the game, and yourself, a grave disservice.
Taking place in The Farmstead, crystalline husks bereft of life shamble aimlessly, tilling fields that have long since died from the comet’s explosive impact. Brave or foolhardy adventurers must overtake The Miller, acquire crystal shards, and eventually reclaim The Mill for themselves, while tackling endless waves of enemies new and old alike. Unlike the adversarial Crimson Court DLC, The Color of Madness aims to offer players an extremely difficult, but lucrative and optional, side quest to aid in their struggles against The Darkest Dungeon itself. The only interaction outside of the new area is running into The Thing from The Stars, which roams one of the four primary dungeon locations each week. Given this is well broadcasted on the main dungeon screen however, he is entirely avoidable if preferred. While exploring The Farmstead, players can retreat at any time with no penalty. However, the longer you can withstand the ceaseless onslaught, the more crystal shards you can obtain. I appreciate this versatile mechanic, as players can flex their strategic muscles in showing off incredible kill counts, or just enjoy the Endless Mode collecting crystals at their own pace.
This new form of currency is no joke, as it allows you to purchase absurdly powerful trinkets. Normally trinkets in Darkest Dungeon offer some boon at the expense of a negative downside, yet The Color of Madness bucks this trend with some trinkets that are purely positive, like the Ashen Distillation for the Plague Doctor. Others are just outright ridiculous, like the Non-Euclidean Hilt for the Crusader, and the recently nerfed Coat of Many Colors.
Likewise, rebuilding The Mill makes it so that heroes never suffer from random hunger checks ever again. For the uninitiated, that’s a massive buff to your party, as you will never have to worry about potential starvation in the other dungeons. Being able to pack less food, or just use it strictly as an on-the-go healing benefit, allows players to be much greedier with camp meals and their overall inventory space. The Tainted Well and Miasmal Orchard add secondary benefits to increasingly necessary status cleansing items. Seemingly minor at first glance, the long-term benefits of these new districts are unquestionably worthwhile.
In a nod to the potential issue that many new players haven’t gotten comfortable enough with the game to have maximum strength heroes, Red Hook also added Mercenary Heroes to the Stage Coach for recruitment. These champions of their craft are only interested in reclaiming The Farmstead, but it gives everyone immediate access to a crew of characters well-equipped to tackle the impossible challenge (minus trinkets; you’re going to have to share your shinies). In addition, heroes that do perish in Endless Mode will drop their trinkets, which can be reacquired if you last until a checkpoint, and return to The Hamlet after a week with the newly minted “Refracted” affliction. This is a nice touch, as it removes the stress (pardon the pun) of potentially losing heroes you have spent countless hours fine-tuning and buffing for their inevitable doom at the hands of the main-game itself. Lastly, due to the wacky nature of time and space, runs in Endless Mode do not advance time forward in the Hamlet. This means that individuals playing on higher difficulties that include time constraints can also participate without penalty. With less at stake, everyone can feel comfortable enjoying the Endless Mode without dramatic ramifications towards their main progress. Such sensible game design is a testament to Red Hook wanting to ensure its final DLC goes out with a thunderous bang for all to enjoy.
Speaking of bangs, the soundtrack for The Color of Madness is a perfect blend of eerie, unsettling, and vibrant. Tracks like “The Blasted Heath” and “Dark Mitochondria” invoke a sense that you are treading in unfamiliar and extraterrestrial territory, with discordant and terrifying strings tempting you to continue towards demise. The overall musical aesthetic manages to still feel at home alongside the rest of the game’s soundtrack, embellishing Lovecraftian horror elements while drawing upon the nature of alien science-fiction. Composer Stuart Chatwood deserves applause for meshing the two themes together in such a seamless blend. These tunes are certainly worth giving a listen even while not playing the game.
I genuinely have nothing but positive things to say about Red Hook’s capstone piece of content towards Darkest Dungeon, other than I am sad further development must end here. Red Hook is still committed to balance updates and patches, alongside translation quality control for fans across the globe, but no further content is planned for the game. Having been an avid player since the days of Early Access on Steam, it has been an absolute joy following this independent studio and wonderful game through its many stages of development and post-launch content. It may very well be one of the few games I purchase a second time, just so I can enjoy it on the go with my Switch. Simply put, if you enjoy Darkest Dungeon, buy The Color of Madness, as the Endless Mode may be the perfect thing to help pass the time while Red Hook works on its new game. Hopefully it will be just as out of this world as The Color of Madness.