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Medieval extraction looter Dark and Darker is having a moment in Steam Next Fest

Knight vision.

A first-person view of a dark dungeon, lit sporadically by gouts of flame from braziers or torches in sconces on the walls. I wouldn't live there.
Image credit: Ironmance / Dark and Darker

It seems like whenever there's a brand new medieval multiplayer game on Steam, it surges on popularity. And the Dark and Darker demo is currently doing exactly that.

The hook is that it's an extraction looter, which is a bit like a battle royale only you have to escape with the spoils you find. You and up to three others go into a dark, maze-like dungeon at the same time a bunch of other people do. And as time wears on, a danger zone closes around you and forces you on top of each other, until a winner is had.

Also, just as in battle royale games, you equip yourself as the game goes on, finding and searching chests and areas for better equipment and consumables like health potions and bandages.

Here, however, there's a bit more going on. To begin with, you're specialised by class. There are rogues, rangers, barbarians, wizards, clerics, etc., and each of them has unique things they can do - and in the case of the magic users, spells. And these can be levelled up and affected with perks as your character grows.

There seems to have been an alpha playtest a few months ago. There are a fair few tips and tricks videos kicking around if you're keen on playing it and improving.Watch on YouTube

There's also a bit of persistence to the game whereby you can buy and equip better equipment and weaponry, and restock consumables, in between dungeon dives - although doing so depends on getting out of the dungeons you're exploring intact. If you don't find a portal to exit the dungeon, the swarm - the storm - will get you, and you will leave with nothing.

The only other thing to know is there are computer-controlled enemies like skeletons in the dungeons too. It is, then, a PvPvE game.

In play, it's awkward and dark and tense. It's a game about gingerly edging forwards and not making too much noise, or drawing too much attention to yourself with a blaring torch - although everything you do seems to make noise, and you won't be able to see much in some places without a torch.

It's awkward in the same way all first-person melee games tend to be, as you swing weapons and hold up shields in an effort to deal with whatever is in front of you - and it's not the most sophisticated game of this type. What you can do in combat feels quite rudimentary, but then, I've only played a Cleric, which isn't the melee-specialising type.

Oh mummy!
This is my new best friend who I'm about to let get killed, but they don't know that yet.
The lobby screen. I quite like it. Can you see how much energy I'm giving out in chat? That's what I do. I'm a team player. (They left not long after this was taken.)

The battles I've seen were a confusing scrum of people edging backwards and forwards, trying to exploit reach distances while not being hit.

Spells, and the idea of balanced group composition, deepen the possibilities here, especially when you factor in healing, but spells take time to cast, require aiming, and can only be cast in limited amounts. There's a memorisation system governing this that I haven't quite figured out yet; it seems to punish you for memorising more spells rather than fewer, but it's not well explained.

Wooden though it can be, though, it's a compelling mix. The artwork in particular, on character portraits and loading screens, is very evocative - there's a bit of Warhammer about it, that same kind of grime. And while the reality of the gameplay experience doesn't quite match it, it's still capable of turning a look with torches flickering and stony hallways beckoning.

How long it will prove entertaining for, I don't know, but I'm happy it's having a moment - I can see why.

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