Darksburg Early Access Preview

Darksburg's take on zombie-killing co-op action marries MOBA and Left 4 Dead.

By Woozie, Posted 18 Feb 2020

The quaint town of Darksburg has a human problem: its shambling, zombified populace is constantly harassed by four pesky Survivors that are looking for a way out. They’re not friendly Survivors, either, preferring to bash, shoot and bite their way through unending waves of rightful undead residents instead of asking for directions. Shiro Games’ latest action co-op title might not have the most original premise, banking instead on its MOBA meets Left 4 Dead approach to gameplay.

Every run of Darksburg’s co-op survival mode starts with choosing one of four playable characters, each having a passive ability, three regular ones and an ultimate that define their roles. Rose is a ranged expert whose pet ferret can scratch and chew opponents surprisingly well, slowing them down for her to leap to safety or land devastating, precise shots using her crossbow. Runolf takes on a more supportive role, being able to charge into foes, temporarily buff others and heal them in a large area. Varag is a werewolf who uses a wooden door as a protective shield and the chains that once imprisoned him as a makeshift flail, his ultimate letting him tap into his animal side to become a veritable force of nature. Lastly, Abigail is a nun who wields a wooden crucifix, slows enemies down with her bell and obliterates them with her laser beam ultimate.

Darksburg, Early Access Preview, Screenshot

Each character also unlocks up to three perk skills which enhance their skills in various ways. An early perk for Rose makes her gain two stacks of her damage-increasing passive per kill instead of just one; a latter perk for Varag makes him restore true health – as opposed to temporary health that decays over time – when biting opponents. The perk system is Darksburg’s main avenue of progression which spans 50 levels for each character. But while these choices visibly make heroes more potent, enhancing their abilities, they never change the gameplay enough to add some much-needed variety. Rose’s ferret might end up dealing significantly more damage and she might dispatch foes faster as she unlocks new perks, but from the first level until the very last she still uses the same four skills.

Set in different districts of the city, Darksburg’s maps take players through streets and fields that don’t take long to be crammed with shambling undead. Moving forward involves a sustained effort of clearing foes from all directions and, on higher difficulties, working together is vital for survival. While the usual zombies only become problems during moments when hordes of them advance at an increased pace on the heroes, Darksburg also throws in Revenants for good measure. These are, essentially, zombie version of Survivors, each with their own theme and skill. The Brute, who didn’t quite fancy the idea of the guillotine, charges foes, using his mass instead of his trapped head and hands to deal damage; the Fishmonger throws spears that stun players, while the Executioner yanks them away with his chain, rendering Survivors helpless until a partner steps in to free them.

Darksburg, Early Access Preview, Screenshot

The AI versions of the Revenants do a decent job by themselves, applying some extra pressure, however, the Burning Witch and Raven King, with their area of effect attacks, rarely rose to the threat levels of the Brute and the dreaded Executioner, who brought about the end of multiple runs. Alongside Revenants, Darksburg also likes to throw in the Baron, a large undead which acts as a boss encounter. Depending on when he pops in, he can either be easily dealt with – as long as the concerted efforts of all four heroes go towards downing him – or he can push the team to the brink, as they face him, hordes of undead and Revenants at the same time.

At the start of each mission, players can also choose to spend currency earned during runs on healing items, additional buffs, and mission modifiers like removing bomber enemies or weakening barricades that block their path. Darksburg also makes use of a ping system that it doesn’t explain very well. Clicking the middle mouse button pings at wherever your cursor is pointing, being helpful for when you want the team to move in a certain direction or for highlighting healing items. Alt opens up a radial menu that lets you bark out commands and requests. While all these are helpful tools of communication in the absence of voice chat, they did tend to sink under other sound effects when attacked by large crowds of zombies, leading to quite a few instances in which I had a hard time spotting pings and figuring out where calls for help came from when the Executioner sneakily dragged teammates away.

Darksburg, Early Access Preview, Screenshot

Darksburg’s blend of MOBA and Left 4 Dead is great casual fun – especially in a team where players coordinate attacks and help each other out when downed – but currently struggles when it comes to lasting power. The regular zombies aren’t varied enough to keep gameplay fresh in the long run and the Revenants, at least when controlled by the AI, don’t consistently manage to harass or force players to break away to deal with them. Although I wanted to unlock the various character perks and see how they play out, the three available maps become stale rather quickly, as all of them involve pushing through the city’s streets, then either waiting for a ferry or seeking various items which you carry to certain locations while awkwardly pushing through the zombie tide.

Despite its ominous-sounding title, Darksburg doesn’t dial the doom and gloom up to eleven, preferring to take on a more cartoonish visual style. At the same time, while warm lights of the tight paths between stalls in the marketplace and the houses next to the harbor do recall a time before the citizens were zombified, its locations lack a sense of place. Play each of the game’s three maps a couple of time and it’s easy to forget which part of the city you’re in, as they blend in together.

Darksburg, Early Access Preview, Screenshot

Darksburg launched in Early Access with two other modes. Versus gives control of the Revenants to AI players and was harder to get into by using the quickplay or browse game functions. The few matches I did end up playing always ended with the Revenants eventually overwhelming the Survivors by exploiting moments when the Baron struck or when zombies attacked in larger numbers. Then there’s Last Stand, which is about as classic as it gets: a square map, 20 waves of foes, two braziers that when lit improve your score. While Last Stand’s smaller arena does help with creating a more packed, intense experience, after a while, seeing four of the same special enemies thrown at you in a desperate attempt to up the challenge becomes rather tiresome.

While it struggled to hold my attention in longer sessions, returning to Darksburg to clear one or two maps was always good casual fun. Succeeding on the higher difficulties comes with a sense of triumph, partly given by the increased amount of earned XP, and the four characters have a certain charm to them. While its relative lack of content is understandable, as it only recently opened its Early Access gates, Darksburg needs more levels and a more consistent progression system – or some other form of gameplay incentive – if it plans on having players frequently return to cull some more of its zombies.

Bogdan Robert,
Senior Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information



Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Shiro Games
Developer(s): Shiro Games
Genres: Action
Themes: Co-op, Zombies
Release Date: 2020-02-12 (Early Access)

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