Home Game Reviews Descent: Legends of the Dark Review

Descent: Legends of the Dark Review

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Board Game Review by: :
Tony Mastrangeli
Price:
$175

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4.5
On Jul 29, 2021
Last modified:Aug 2, 2021

Summary:

We review Descent: Legends of the Dark, a new edition of this classic dungeon crawler published by Fantasy Flight Games. Descent: Legends of the Dark is a fully app integrated board game that really impressed us.

Descent: Legends of the Dark

Descent: Legends of the DarkWhen it comes to dungeon crawlers, many gamers cut their teeth on Descent (or Descent 2nd Edition). Descent: Journeys in the Dark was a 1 vs Many game that came out way back in 2005. It was certainly one of my first dungeon crawlers (outside of Hero Quest). Over time, Descent changed and even brought in an app to help transition the game to a cooperative experience. While the app definitely worked and allowed for play without an overlord, it always felt kind of shoehorned in.

And now all that has changed. Today we are going to look at Descent: Legends of the Dark, a new offshoot version of Descent (note: this is not Descent 3rd edition) that has been built from the ground up as a fully cooperative, app-integrated experience. Whether or not that is a good thing will depend on your feeling of coop vs 1 vs Many games, and also app integrated experiences. But that’s enough of the history lesson. Let’s descended into the depths and see what this game is all about.

Gameplay Overview:

In Descent: Legends of the Dark (just Descent from here on out for brevity’s sake), each player gets to choose one of four heroes to play (at first). While the lore is unique to the world, the roles are the standard fantasy troops: Tanky fighter, ranger, magic user, healer(ish). Each player gets a mini, character sheet, and starting weapon.

The app handles a lot of the game for the players. It starts by dropping you into the world with some background story and banter. The first mission has the characters guarding a caravan when they are attacked. If you’ve played either Mansions of Madness or Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth (both excellent games), then you’ll feel right at home here as much is borrowed from both games.

Descent: Legends of the Dark Cards
Each player starts with a dual sided character card and weapon.

Each round has a player phase and a darkness phase. During the player phase, each hero takes a turn in any order. On your turn, you get a maneuver action, and two additional actions that can be chosen from: maneuver, fight, ready, explore, or character-specific ones. Maneuver lets you move around the battlefield with your mini. Fighting involves telling the app which monster you are attacking and rolling your die. The app tracks the health and any special powers of the monster. Your roll might get a success, surge (which activates your surge power), or + symbol, which can be converted into successes by place fatigue tokens on your cards. Every card has a fatigue limit that when reached, can’t be used to convert +’s or activate the card fatigue power anymore.

That’s where the ready action comes in. Ready allows you to flip a card. Just about every card in Descent is double-sided and has a fatigue limit. Flipping the card clears all tokens and usually transforms it into a different item or changes your hero’s power. For example, the ranger has a bow on one side and twin swords on the other. So, after your bow is at its max fatigue, you can flip it over to its sword side and keep in the action in melee range.

Descent: Legends of the Dark Dice
Custom dice will be used in skill tests and combat.

The other thing of note is that Descent comes with a lot of 3D terrain. Most of it you can interact with. There are trees you can climb, bookshelves to ransack, stairs to ascend, and lecterns to loot. Interestingly, the terrain can also block line of sight. It’s easy to know which because any terrain piece that is taller than your mini will block LoS.

After each player takes a turn, it’s the Darkness phase. Here, players each heal 1 fatigue, and the monsters get to act. The app dictates who they attack and how much damage is dealt. The attacked player rolls their defense to try and avoid some of it. It’s a pretty streamlined system.

Rounds go on like this, with the app adding in terrain and map pieces as the players explore. The app also keeps track of objectives and loot for the players. Once the scenario objectives are completed, the mission ends with a success and players head to town to level up, buy loot, have events, and choose their next mission.

Descent: Legends of the Dark Terrain
Descent features terrain that will go up and down different elevations creating lots of tactical opportunities.

Game Experience:

Considering its pedigree, Descent had a lot to live up to with this release. It’s a name that’s been around as a tabletop dungeon crawler for over a decade and a half. And at the risk of sounding too excited, I can honestly say that our group fell in love with this one rather quickly. The first time we sat down to try it out, we played game after game of it for going on 6+ hours. In fact, we only stopped because it was getting really late, or else we would have kept playing. There is a lot to love with this version of descent. Interestingly, it feels like it pulled inspiration from some other contemporary dungeon crawlers. There is the card flipping from Bloodborne, overland events, unlocking heroes, and town activities found in Gloomhaven, and even some mechanics from OG Descent.

But this is, without a doubt, the best board game with an integrated app we’ve ever played, and it’s not even close. It almost merges a video game feel with a tabletop game. For example, when you attack an enemy, and they have armor, it doesn’t automatically deduct their armor, but a random bit of it. So, if an enemy has 3 armor, they will defend anywhere from 1-3 points of the attack. In addition to that, some upgrades you find for your gear will have random chances to have benefits, and the app handles all that heavy lifting. So, you might find a medallion that adds bonus damage 70% of the time and the app figures all that out for you. It also tracks all your loot. When enemies fall, they might drop items that you can equip later or crafting materials. No need to write things done or hunt for cards (yet).

Descent: Legends of the Dark Crafting
Descent allows you to craft items and consumables between battle.

That’s right, Descent lets you craft consumables and upgrades between missions. So that trusty sword you have, you can upgrade the pommel or blade via crafting. You just craft, and equip it on your sword in the app. You can even switch things around between missions, there are a lot of customizations for your character. Then, whatever benefits it gives you will be automatically calculated in the app when you attack. This kind of mechanics would be really fiddly and clunky if you tried to do it with cards and tokens. Not all crafting is strictly related to the app. Some items you craft and then take the card and put it into play as well, which was kind of a cool way to get gear.

So, let’s talk about combat now. One thing we really liked was how you never miss in combat. I think what the designers did was give the monsters a lot of extra hit points to compensate for that. So now, you attack and it’s just a matter of how much damage you are doing. This eliminates turns where you roll the die, miss, and move on with the next player. Yet there is still tension there because there is plenty of opportunities for a low power roll or one that requires you to spend fatigue that you may or not may not have. Overall, the exploration and combat was a really streamlined experience. Actions made sense, and the card flipping added in some nice variety throughout the mission.

Descent: Legends of the Dark Battle
Damage and variable results are handled by the app.

From the story side, the writing is fine (from what we’ve seen at least) if a little silly at times. It’s not going to be winning any narrative awards, but that par for the course with board games. Although at times I found myself looking for a Skip button. What is interesting is that each player gets to make choices along the way for their character called virtues. The app will ask you at key points how you react to something, and supposedly the story will build off that as the campaign progresses. We were only given a few missions to try out for our early review, so I can’t comment on how well the system works over the long term.

I can say that while the missions are overall the same, some things are different as you play them. We had the app crash during the second mission (we were using a beta version), but thankfully the app has save points regularly so we didn’t lose too much time. But it did allow us to realize that things change. Some of the loot we searched for was different when we resumed the game, and the monsters also came out in different spots. So, while the overall story and goals are the same, it does have some baked in variety to help with replay.

Descent: Legends of the Dark Map
Between missions you’ll head to town for crafting, shopping, and reequipping, and events.

I have absolutely been loving Descent, but it also hasn’t been perfect. Besides the above crashing issue, I also had some issues with the terrain. It took a few hours to put together, and some things weren’t die cut correctly. I had to get my xacto knife out to fix more than a few miscut punchboards. And things like my lectern were punched completely off center for some reason. I can say that the minis are fantastic, easily the best FFG has ever made. While not on par with someone like Games Workshop, for preassembled minis, they are some of the best you’ll see. We also had issues with the plastic-colored inserts for the mini bases falling apart, so that was a bit frustrating as well.

As to the art, it was an odd style choice, and I don’t think it will be for everyone. It reminds me a bit of the old Aeon Flux cartoon. I won’t say it’s bad or amateurish, but I probably would have gone a different direction personally.

Descent: Legends of the Dark Terrain
The 3D terrain was both interactive and helps to determine line of sight.

Final Thoughts:

Descent: Legends of the Dark is good… really good. We sat down to play the game and ran it nonstop for hours and I absolutely cannot wait to play it some more. I loved the combat system—from the card flipping, to the no wasted turns, to even how the app handles randomization. The designers built this game from the ground up to leverage the capabilities of a digital app, and it shows. I know there are board game purists out there that want nothing to do with technology in their games, but they are going to miss out on a really fun dungeon crawl experience. Descent: Legends of the Dark not only succeeds in creating a fun tabletop adventure, but it sets a new benchmark for dungeon crawlers that many to come will need to measure up to. I hope Fantasy Flight Games supports far into the future.

Final Score: 4.5 Stars – An amazing dungeon crawler that melds perfectly with its digitally integrated app.

4.5 StarsHits:
• Excellent use of a digitally integrated app
• Beautiful looking minis
• Fun, streamlined rules
• Lots of loot drops and crafting between missions
• Good variety for characters with the card flipping system

Misses:
• Quality of the 3d terrain could be better
• Writing was just OK

Get Your Copy

While he will play just about anything, Tony loves games that let him completely immerse himself in the theme. He also is a bit of a component addict.

25 COMMENTS

    • Fantasy Flight Games provided the review copy and that’s all. Is it really that hard to believe that we enjoyed the game and had fun playing it?

      • We live in an the age of pay-for-play and access news media. And heck, I still frown at the thought of Lords of the Realm III and the fraud perpetrated there 15 years ago. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that a board game, inherently a thing designed for you to have fun doing, would be fun. And given how good a game Descent 2 was, all the designers really needed to do was not screw up the design. I’m not going to get this game anywhere near the asking price, but good reviews like this make me want to keep an eye on it for later.

  1. I COMPLETELY agree with Kurac. This is very fishy, and you folks are not known for coming out with full reviews BEFORE a game is even out to the public. I encourage people to check this fact out about Board Game Quest. A great many of their reviews are about games that actually already came out in retail. So you need to ask yourselves…WHY and HOW did they give this game a premature review before it officially releases on August 6???

    “Generosity” on behalf of FFG has been rather common. And don’t get me started on all the “reviewers” they hire to put 5 star reviews for their games on Amazon! FFG is definitely doing a great disservice to their fans (no surprise that they turned off comments on their video either)

    • If I had to guess, you yourself have not played this game. Given what I imagine is this fact, I’m not quite sure how one could say a particular reviewer is being generous when you yourself would not have this basis for comparison. But assuming you have, and so obviously would then disagree with the review presented here, I wonder, what is the outcome you hope to achieve by posting that opinion here? It is repetitiously and expectedly predictable that you would disagree with views and opinions shared here by the array of reviewers. And that is well within your right. But it seems you have no interest in bringing up the points you disagree with and have no real interest in any kind of objective dialog. So if you hate what you see here so much, as seems evidently so, why continue to subject yourself to it like a digital Sisyphus? While I think no one here intends to share an opinion that would bring about the sort of intense recoil you seem to have, I would caution that exposing oneself to continued negativity only continues that cycle. Just something to consider.

      Your friend in board games,

      Jason Klementine

    • I have no idea what you are talking about Dr. D. Almost every game we review here on BGQ is a review copy (probably 95% or more). Many we get before they are in retail. Review copies of items before they are released is standard in just about every industry (movie, tv, books, comics, video games…).

      This was one of your weaker trolling attempts. You can do better.

    • First of all, we do disclaim all sponsored content, go look. Second, if you think FFG would pay us to write a positive review about the game, you are delusional.

      The game is good, really good. Sorry that didn’t fit whatever narrative you created in your head. You’ll need to get over it.

  2. Clearly, you had your kids’ college savings accounts filled up by FFG in exchange for this favorable review. /sarcasm

    Honestly, if you’re tempted to post something about your supposed belief that we were paid or got any sort of consideration other than a review copy, go and peddle your GamerGateesque bullshit somewhere else.

  3. This is an intriguing review, thank you for writing it.
    I own, and have played, dungeon crawlers since I was little like Hero Quest, Warhammer Quest, Descent 1st and 2nd and so on and so forth. However, the gameplay videos posted by FFG of this edition looked horrible, not because of the app but because the combat was bland and lacked skills and effects.

    But reading this, seeing the app-integration, it looks really smooth. Too bad it’s so excessively priced as it looks like a prime candidate for “try before you buy”.

    • I hear you. I’d suggest checking in with your local game store, many have demo copies that you’ll be able to try.

  4. Hello I am the owner of the Blog Heroes de Terrinoth in Spain, dedicated to the universe of Terrinoth games, and I want to congratulate you for your review, I do not understand so much hatred towards the game is as simple as not buying it if you do not like it.
    I hope to try it when it comes out in my country in September and to be able to give my opinion freely without anyone saying stupid things because they don’t like a review.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

  5. Just wanna balance out all the unhinged commenting on this one – I’m looking forward to trying this and appreciate your thoughtful review!

    • This review got me back on board with the preorder. I like the simplicity and story the app appears to provide.

  6. I’m in no way bashing this game (seems a shame I have to say this) but could you explain the theme aspect about flipping your weapon card. If I understand it correctly, you can flip your card from a sword to a bow (for instance) but does that not mean you can’t always use your sword? I might have misunderstood the mechanism but if the above is correct I’d find it difficult to explain (thematically) why I’m using a bow when next to an enemy. As I said at the start I’m not knocking the game just curious if I’ve understood it correctly.

    • Sure thing. Using the rangers weapon card, twin swords on one side and a bow on the other. You can shoot with your bow all you want. If you want to use some of the special abilities of the bow, you have to place fatigue tokens on it. Once the bow hits its fatigue limit, you can still use the bow, you just can’t use its special power anymore.

      One way to refresh an item is to flip it over to its other side, which clears all tokens (good and bad). Another way, is during the darkness phase, you can remove 1 fatigue from any card. So you can slowly refresh it that way too.

      hope that helps!

      • Ah, I see, yes thank you that’s very helpful. I like to be able to make a narrative, in my head, about what’s happening. How would you characterise this sort of thing? Ie I’m using my sword, it’s getting tiring or damaged, so I back of and switch to bow for a bit? Do you see what I mean? What does the mechanic represent?

  7. You’re one of my go-to reviewers for recommendations, Tony. I think we diverge here though (which is fine).

    I’m looking to pick up a big dungeon crawl (that’s not Gloomhaven). I want to like this, but it just looks like so much time in the app.

    What are your thoughts on this vs Middara vs Sword & Sorcery?

    • Thanks for the kind words, and I understand. Personally, I love app integrated games because it offers so much flexibility and creative gameplay that you cant have otherwise. From generating the maps as you, to variable powers for the monsters, to the crafting system, it feels more of a helper than intrusive.

      To be honest, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve played Middara, so I don’t think I can compare it anymore. You can read my review of it here:
      https://www.boardgamequest.com/middara-review/

      I haven’t played Sword & Sorcery, so I can’t comment on that. I know our reviewer Brian has though, so you can always hop on our Discord channel and ask him about his thoughts on the two.

  8. Thanks for the review! With the delay of Frosthaven, I’ve been pining for another dungeon crawler and this looks impressive. I’m not a purist; I use a couple of apps in Gloomhaven to track conditions, initiative, monster actions, and map setup. IMO those have helped the experience greatly, but I do worry that with Descent:LotD too much is being managed by the app. Can you comment a bit more on how the app integrates with the gameplay experience?

    • If you’ve played Mansions of Madness or Journeys in Middle Earth, it’s about at the same level.
      When you start a mission, the app tells you what tiles and terrain to lay out, and what monsters to place. When you want to fight, the app tracks monster heath and special effects. All the card play, rolling, and movement of miniatures happens on the table. The app has no idea what miniature is where on the table. It’s basically a big Dungeon Master.

  9. I’ve never seen so much hate for a game and for people reviewing it. To all the people getting their little panties in a bind – this game happens to be getting rave reviews. While not perfect, the general consensus so far is that it’s a lot of FUN.

    As games are meant to be fun, I’d say it’s a success.

    Challenging the reviewer’s credibility smacks of Ad Hominem fallacy…

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