In the finest stories and myths, it’s the woods and forests which are always the most dark and magical places. The famous wolf would lay in the shady wood as Red Riding Hood ventured in. In the Hobbit, the forest of Mirkwood held spiders and places where you could forget yourself if you would drink from the river. In games, those woods are places of horror; where the scary, the unknown, and the mysterious lurk. Darkwood is a game that is full of riddles, portraying a world where shadows slink.
Initially reviewed by us in Xbox One form back in 2019, we now have a chance to look at the Xbox Series X|S version of Darkwood. Care to venture back in?
We loved Darkwood when it first arrived on Xbox in 2019, but now we get an Xbox Series X|S optimised version, running as a free upgrade that allows players to enjoy 4K visual upgrades, bug fixes, and some very quick loading screens. But what is all the fuss about?
Darkwood is a top-down survival horror game that is pretty much unlike anything else you might experience, however you don’t get much of a lead in terms of story or narrative. In the prologue, you wake up in a dark oppressive cabin, set in the middle of some oppressive woods. Who are you? What are you doing? It’s very unclear. Medical records and instruments lie dotted around and there is a locked door with someone trapped inside; you don’t want to let out for some reason. Your dog lies dying outside and you need oil for the generator. So off you embark into the Darkwood.
The story and sense of world-building of Darkwood are excellent. Discovering the world slowly, bit by bit, and meeting new characters and uncovering new horrors is amazing. I was truly gobsmacked by the creative choices on offer and how the sense of horror is ramped up to eleven throughout. It’s a strange world with even stranger stories and I loved it.
The gameplay runs as a mixture of exploration, survival crafting, and combat. In exploration terms, there is no hand-holding after the prologue and you are on your own in this top-down world. To make things slightly stranger the map operates on a day/night cycle, procedurally generated each time. For me, it’s the day which is good for exploring, moving the narrative along and meeting chance encounters. At night the monsters appear and you have to try and survive the night by building defenses, attacking when you need to.
The crafting mechanic at play works extremely well, fairly simple when compared to other games in this genre. You can make several items like lockpicks or torches, and the items required are easily explained in the menus. You might find a series of weapons around the world, from an axe to a leg table to fight against enemies or to smash down a door. Be careful though, because these weapons don’t last long through wear and tear. Resource management is key.
For some, they might find the lack of direction a bit too much and the atmosphere and gameplay too unforgiving. But there is a real sense of progression in Darkwood as the more you get hardened by the experience and survive the onslaughts at night, your character builds up and your experience aids you further. Combat is clunky and takes a while to get used to, and that might not be satisfying enough for some. But the overall experience is very engaging and extremely addictive.
The visuals found in the Xbox Series X|S version of Darkwood have had an upgrade, creating a very crisp and shiny new version. What I love about the design is that even though it’s played top-down, the designers have created a brilliant sense of space and horror in their design. Creatures, documents, and the woods themselves add to the growling atmosphere and decay of a dying world brilliantly. The same can be said of the sound design which adds perfectly to this world of repulsiveness and ever-increasing fear.
There may not be any new content on offer and the upgrade of Darkwood to Xbox Series X|S may focus on some shiny visuals and quicker loading times, but if you are new to the game then this is a great version to jump into.
Darkwood is an amazing experience – one that delivers a dark world and an even darker wood.
Darkwood on Xbox Series X|S is available from the Xbox Store