Shacknews Best Early Access Game of 2023 - Dark and Darker

Dark and Darker came out of nowhere, dominated Steam charts, crushed it on Twitch, and gave players something they didn't know they needed.


No one knew they needed a game like Dark and Darker. But after hearing the gameplay loop, it just makes sense and it’s a mystery why something like this had never come to light before. Imagine a three-player, Dungeons & Dragons, extraction game. It’s just you and two mates against other groups of friends just trying to plunder a dungeon and escape (or dig in further for greater rewards). Out of the myriad of early access games released this year, none had the same impact as Dark and Darker.

In Dark and Darker, you and two friends load up as one of several different classes in a bid to defeat monsters in a dungeon and hopefully escape with some treasure. But the catch is that there are several other teams trying to do the same thing. Escape isn’t guaranteed given that the limited extraction points only spawn near the end of the match, long after the circle of death closes in, constricting the active play area. It comes down to a game of risk and reward, of patience and bold strategies. Get out with your life and you can sell your trinkets for gold, allowing you to buy some better gear and head back in, or dive deeper for vastly stronger loot and glory.

Where Hunt: Showdown has its permadeath hunters, Dark and Darker has its classes which persist even after death – however, you will lose all of your gear. What remains are the skills you’ve unlocked by leveling up your class. And so, while you might start out as a feeble fighter (or rogue, cleric, wizard, barbarian, bard, etc), you’ll eventually grow in power as you unlock new skills and abilities.

While there is definitely a challenge in facing other players, the monsters in a dungeon are not to be trifled with either. A lowly skeleton will cut you off at the knees if you block in the wrong direction. Walk into a room full of Death Skulls and you’ll be attacked almost as much as an Aussie going for a bike ride during magpie swooping season. There’s challenge around every corner in Dark and Darker and the joy is in overcoming and eventually excelling.

The challenges haven’t been limited to the players either as the team at Ironmace have been put through the ringer. After attracting more than 100,000 players during the Steam Next Fest and dominating on Twitch, the game was delisted from Steam following a DMCA takedown from Nexon. The company claimed that a few ex-employees had stolen work. Despite being embroiled in court proceedings, Ironmace managed to deliver another alpha playtest, this time via magnetic links for torrenting. The developers then launched the game on their own storefront and have been studiously updating and patching the game ever since.

When it comes to early access games, not many other titles this year offered this level of entertaining gameplay or news surrounding the developer. Dark and Darker is such an ingenious idea, and makes so much sense as a concept, that it’s wild to consider we haven’t seen something like it before. We’ve so loved our time in the brutal dungeons of Dark and Darker this year that we just had to give it our Shacknews Best Early Access Game of 2023 award.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Guides Editor

Hailing from the land down under, Sam Chandler brings a bit of the southern hemisphere flair to his work. After bouncing round a few universities, securing a bachelor degree, and entering the video game industry, he's found his new family here at Shacknews as a Guides Editor. There's nothing he loves more than crafting a guide that will help someone. If you need help with a guide, or notice something not quite right, you can message him on X: @SamuelChandler 

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