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Descent: Legends of the Dark Review

Set in the high fantasy world of Terrinoth, Descent: Legends of the Dark is a quest-driven cooperative adventure game for up to four players. 

The game has a whole different take on the combination of DnD, classic board games, and the use of game apps. If you’re interested in trying something different and don’t mind the higher price, Descent could be an excellent choice! 

Brief Overview of Descent: Legends of the Dark

Descent: Legends of the Dark Board Game Featured Image

Descent: Legends of the Dark is a spin-off of the well-known Descent: Journeys in the Dark board game. While the Journeys featured 5-player asymmetric gameplay with one player acting as a DM/antagonist, Legends is a fully cooperative four-player game.

Descent deviates significantly from the classic board game formula; It combines aspects of DnD with digestible game sessions and a heavy reliance on a game app. It’s hard to picture it but think of something along the lines of Gloomhaven.

The game is not particularly difficult, but it takes a while to complete. The full campaign should last around 50 hours, which is a solid value proposition for the price. 

What will make and break the purchase decision for a lot of people are the app and the gameplay loop. While considered excellent by a large number of reviewers and players, there is a sizeable group of those who have quite different opinions. 

I’ll do my best to fairly highlight both good and bad aspects of Descent and leave my personal opinion for the end. Also, I’ll try to keep story-centric spoilers to a minimum to allow you to experience the game fully should you decide to get it.

Buy Descent on Amazon | Buy Descent at Walmart

Descent: Legends of the Dark
  • RPG BOARD GAME: Descent: Legends of the Dark is the next entry in...
  • COOPERATIVE GAME: Unlike previous Descent titles, Legends of the...
  • APP-DRIVEN: The all-new Descent app brings an increased level of...

Unboxing Descent: Legends of the Dark

Descent comes in one of the largest board game boxes you’ll ever see, with the following pieces stored inside: 

  • 1 Lore Guide 
  • 1 Rulebook 
  • 1 Component Assembly Insert
  • 9 Custom Dice
  • 18 Map Tiles
  • 46 Terrain Pieces
  • 6 Underlays
  • 16 Plastic ID Markers
  • 40 Plastic Figures
  • 40 Weapon Cards 
  • 18 Armor Cards
  • 168 Cards of Various Categories
  • 8 Card Sleeves 
  • 12 Explore & Sight Tokens
  • 80 Condition Tokens
  • 56 Fatigue Tokens
  • 4 Health Dials

Generally, I’d start the unboxing from the first item behind the lid, but Descent’s packaging deserves a separate mention. The components are stored in a cube box that is nearly as deep as it is wide and long. You may think the designers have gone over the top, but the volume is necessary to store all of the game’s pieces safely. 

Speaking of pieces, the quality of minis is what makes Descent shine. Underneath the lid and the rulebooks sit two trays of miniature holders. The level of detail on the minis is one of the best I’ve seen in a board game. Every piece looks amazing, and I’m sure they’d look even better once they’re painted.

The terrain components are made of punchout cardboard but they’re fairly durable, which they need to be as you’ll often have to disassemble and assemble them. And did I mention that this is 3D terrain? In Descent, you’ll form rooms that have multiple levels, which not only looks cool but adds to the gameplay as well.

The graphic design is superb; Far too often do we see drab color palettes and cards that quickly become just a set of numbers and text. Descent’s artists really put their heart and soul into creating a proper RPG adventure atmosphere, with every piece of the game drawing attention.

The one dilemma I have is whether the box is too big or not. When you unbox it for the first time, you’ll notice that the components hardly fill half the box. The reason why is that you’re supposed to store the assembled 3D pieces, rather than take them apart. 

Even though it’s apparent that it serves a practical role, I can’t help but think that the big box also plays a part in marketing, perhaps to visually justify the high price.

How to Play Descent: Legends of the Dark

Descent: Legends of the Dark Board Game Box and Components

One of the strengths of Descent is that you don’t have to spend a lot of effort on learning how to play. The app does an excellent job of guiding you through the process, and it stores a ton of game-related stats. 

So, instead of focusing on all the mechanics and rules, let’s review the core concepts and what makes Descent an interesting dungeon crawler

Game Setup

The way you start a game of Descent is quite different from any other board game. The first thing you should do is launch the app, and choose a difficulty setting and the starting party. 

Descent can be played with up to 4 players that form a classic RPG party. The heroes available have different skills and attributes, represented by the hero and starting weapon cards. 

The two weapon cards are placed back to back to hide the upgraded variants, then placed together in a card sleeve. During the game, players will frequently flip the card to use the alternate weapon.

Map Creation

The concept of creating a map/room is going to be prevalent throughout the campaign and is one of the core elements of Descent. 

Whenever you reach a quest destination, the app will instruct you on how to set up the terrain pieces. You’ll place tile shapes, doors, trees, chests, and other pieces on the map before engaging in exploration and combat.

Quests & Gameplay

Descent’s campaign takes dozens of hours to complete, but players can enjoy more digestible sessions through the quests. Each quest consists of a series of rooms and rounds through which heroes have to fight, before exploring the curios for loot.

I won’t get into the details of combat because I’m certain you know how it works. There’s a grid-based system with movement, line of sight, and hero and monster phases. You’ll track certain stats on the table, but the app handles most of the data, including damage, monster actions, and their health.

Once the room has been cleared (or during the fight if you’re brave) the players can rummage through the objects to collect a variety of items. Descent features a video game-like crafting system; The game app will tell you which components you’ve received, and you can later use them to craft consumables and other items. 

The Hub 

After completing a quest, the heroes return to the city of Frostgate which acts as a hub. While in the city, the players can visit three locations: 

  • The Crafthall, where recipes and materials can be spent to upgrade equipment.
  • The Armory allows you to upgrade weapons.
  • The Shop lets you exchange gold for materials, recipes, and equipment.

There, players can craft and upgrade equipment with the materials gathered while questing, visit the armory to modify weapons, and purchase materials, recipes, and equipment from the shop. 

Occasionally, the city will feature an event that will reward players with narrative progression, but also equipment, and other items. 

Your First Game of Descent: Legends of the Dark 

Even though Descent is a campaign-driven game, it can end at any time if one of the heroes loses all of their HP. Unlike some games in the genre, failing in Descent is not the end of the world — You won’t rip up cards or place markers on the game board as you play. 

Instead, you’ll just create a new game through the app and start over as if nothing has happened. This is very important to remember, as you don’t want to put pressure on yourself to succeed at every quest. Should the game feel too difficult, remember that you can always adjust the difficulty from the app.

If there’s one tip every new Descent player should know about, it’s that you should not use a phone for the game app. It’s far too inconvenient and it may lessen your experience with the game. This is one of the main gripes I have with the game, and something I’ll reflect on in the pros and cons section.

Buy Descent on Amazon | Buy Descent at Walmart

Descent: Legends of the Dark
  • RPG BOARD GAME: Descent: Legends of the Dark is the next entry in...
  • COOPERATIVE GAME: Unlike previous Descent titles, Legends of the...
  • APP-DRIVEN: The all-new Descent app brings an increased level of...

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Component Quality
  • Ease of Access 
  • Use of the Game App

The components of the game are exceptional, with the only remark being that some of the miniatures are a bit delicate. Still, you can’t help but be impressed with the stuff that comes in the box. 

The accessibility of Descent is one of its strongest points. It’s rare to see a campaign-driven game that doesn’t require a ton of time and effort, both initially and throughout the game just so you can figure out what to do. 

Descent handles a lot of the gameplay through the app, giving you all the info on the monsters, setup, and combat. With minimal preparation and some understanding of the grid-based combat, you could get into Descent and play competently.

The app is a polarizing topic, but if you like this sort of thing, then you’re going to love it in Descent. The app takes most of the load off the players and provides new mechanics that were simply not viable with physical components. It also strongly pushes the narrative, providing screens of dialogue between characters akin to visual novel games.

Cons:

  • The Price
  • Lack of Real Depth
  • Identity Crisis 

Before I get into the cons, I have to preface this section by saying that these opinions are not universal, apart from the price. 

The game costs $175 and while it can be found on sale, it’s still very expensive. The problem isn’t with the cost as much as it is with the unknown. Spending that much on a game you may not entity like is a big risk. 

The best way to explain the lack of depth would be to say this: If you like Borderlands, Genshin Impact, or Warframe, then you’ll likely enjoy Descent as well. It’s essentially a board game equivalent of a looter game, where most of the thrill comes not from combat, but from opening chests and getting rewards.

The inclusion of the app has certainly driven away the board game purist, but even those with an open mind may find Descent to be a bit perplexing. 

You’ve got the virtual loot, virtual maps, and virtual combat stats and the game needs to be played on a device no smaller than a tablet. When it comes down to it, there’s really not that much of a reason to have the physical game, to begin with. 

I know some of you might disagree, but if you think about it, I’m sure you’ll see there’s some truth to this statement. 

Descent: Legends of the Dark Review (TL;DR)

Descent: Legends of the Dark provides an interesting take on the dungeon-crawling genre by relying heavily on a game app. The game provides a new dimension of gameplay that is simply not possible in a classic board game, so if you’re looking to try something different, Descent is a great choice. 

Before you buy the game, I strongly suggest watching a playthrough of the first quest, just so you can see what kind of an experience you might be getting into. A light spoiler is well worth it if it’s going to save you from spending quite a lot on a game you may not enjoy. 

Conclusion: Verdict?

For all its dazzling features and premium components, Descent has not been as enjoyable of an experience as I would have hoped. 

I had the same feeling I do when I play Path of Exile, Borderlands, and other looter games — I felt hardly anything. The genre just doesn’t do it for me, but I can acknowledge that this part can be just me and that a lot of people crave experiences like Descent.

There is another point I have that is not entirely subjective, but it’s completely radical: Why does this game even exist in the form it does? 

Hear me out. Descent is a DnD-style game that is DMed by the app. The story is also told through the app, so it’s not like you’re going to roleplay or anything. Almost everything you do is tracked through the app and you just repeat some trackers on your character sheet. 

The components, albeit excellent in quality, are just set pieces. You assemble a room and you just move the pieces around. When your character approaches a curio, you’ll gain some resources through the app. When you fight a monster, you’ll resolve combat through the app.

When you boil it all down, Descent is an overpriced video/board game hybrid that didn’t have a budget to be a proper video game. 

The only benefit of Descent I could think of is that you have to get together in person to play it. However, I then realized that you can do the same with Divinity: Original Sin 2 through couch coop for a fraction of the cost. 

I still have to respect the fact that Descent has an 8.0 rating on BGG based on 3,000 reviews. A lot of people love this game, and as long as you know what you’re getting into, you’ll enjoy it as well!

Buy Descent on Amazon | Buy Descent at Walmart

Descent: Legends of the Dark
  • RPG BOARD GAME: Descent: Legends of the Dark is the next entry in...
  • COOPERATIVE GAME: Unlike previous Descent titles, Legends of the...
  • APP-DRIVEN: The all-new Descent app brings an increased level of...

We hope you enjoyed our Descent: Legends of the Dark review! Have you tried this beautiful, technology-enhanced board game? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.

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Stats at a glance

Players: 1-4

Ages: 14 +

Medium

120-180 Mins

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Published: 2021