Are you the kind of person that seeks out misery in games? Do you believe the best way to tell a story is through suffering? If you’re on the hunt for the next game to hit that spot for you, there have thankfully been a lot of games this year that fit the bill.
However, there’s also been far too many games in general, at least when it comes to trying to keep on top of them. To help you cut through the doom and gloom, we’ve collected five of the best dark and gritty indie games from the year for you.
Tails of Iron
Tails of Iron is a brutally difficult action RPG that was inspired by the dev team's rats. We think that's pretty adorable, despite how utterly punishing the game itself is. You play as a rat prince called Redgi, who's a fair bit smaller than some of your kin. Despite that, you'll have the chance to prove your prowess in battle in order to secure your line to the throne.
Unfortunately, things go south very quickly, and it means you'll have to learn how to fight against the frog clan to find your way in the world. The combat isn't just hard, but also animated in a way that almost makes you squirm. Each blow is felt, each death is unforgiving, and many of the scenarios are the kind of thing you'd expect to see in the most brutal historical dramas.
Outside it’s visuals, it's not all doom and gloom though. You'll have to not only fight off the frogs, but also find a way to help out your own kin as best you can. Sometimes that means expelling bugs from a farm; sometimes it'll be avenging someone who's lost their family. The world is unforgiving, but your aim as Redgi is to restore hope to it. The story is great, the battles are deeply satisfying, and Tails of Iron is not to be missed.
Ender Lilies: The Quietus Knights
Having woken up from an unknowable slumber, you get to control Lily, a young woman surrounded by decay in Ender Lilies: The Quietus Knights. The world has fallen due to a cursed rain, and everything outside has become undead. Every creature, no matter how strong, has fallen to this plague and now wanders around with no aim other than violence. It's not a good situation for you — but you're in luck.
Along with you is also one faithful knight. You have the power to call upon this knight at will and they will serve as your blade. They appear out of nothing, a spectral stab in the dark, but the damage they do is very real. As you make your way through this cursed place, you'll find new abilities thanks to other spirits, and you'll have to master them all to survive.
Ender Lilies: The Quietus Knights has a clunky title, but the combat is anything but. You'll need a mastery of strategy to know what skills to use against which enemies, timing to dodge their crushing blows, and persistence to deal with the challenges ahead of you. It's a tough game, but the world is beautiful in its sorrow, and the combat systems are hugely enjoyable.
Congratulations, you're a grim reaper now. Well, you're not actually that grim, you're kind of a cute little bird thing, but you still have to ferry souls to the afterlife. You've been working hard for a long time, and it's a good job for you, and you're good at it too. However, things are all a bit weird, because someone seems to be trying to avoid death when they shouldn't. And that's bad. Real bad.
You'll have to track them down through realms untouched by death and correct things by using your own attacks to make sure death happens. It means you'll be fighting against smaller enemies, sure, but the big moments will come when fighting colossal enemies who are keen to make sure they never die either.
You'll have to deliver death unto them, but you'll also have to find out what's going on and solve the mystery of who is avoiding death in the first place. Aside from the fun gameplay, one of the biggest draws in Death's Door is the soundtrack, which consistently delivers immense swells of emotional impacts as you're journeying through the world.
What if, and you'll have to bear with us here, the world was made of rocks, but all of the people were also made out of the same substance. Imagine cave systems where the walls have gigantic, impossible eyes that follow your every move. A world where living beings have to be mined out of the walls they've been formed in. It's horrific and haunting, but that's a big part of what makes Grime so memorable.
You play as one of the few "perfect" creatures, except that instead of a head, you have what is effectively a black hole. You have to beat the life out of everything in your path, but you can choose to do so with the strange weapons you find, or by perfectly timing your counter-attacks and then absorbing them into yourself.
You have to then use these skills, and the new ones you learn as you go through this strange world, to fight god. (We all love fighting god, don't we?) Grime has an absolutely immaculate atmosphere that is so genuinely alien that it's hard to comprehend, and it also happens to have gameplay worth of such a setting. This is a Metroidvania that follows familiar formulas in an incredibly unfamiliar world, and everything meshes together perfectly.
You'll likely have played some variety of digital card game in the last few years. It's incredibly hard to avoid them, especially as a lot of them are so good that you'd be a fool to miss out. Inscryption is exactly one of these. Mechanically, it feels a bit like Magic: The Gathering at times, which is absolutely a compliment.
It also constantly shifts and changes as you play it, and is one of the most intelligent metagames to have come out in several years. It's really hard to talk about this without spoiling things, but we're going to do our best: You play as someone trapped in a small room with someone who appears to be death, or at least as close to it as makes no difference.
Your aim is to escape and you're going to do that by mastering the card system. Along the way though, you're going to constantly be surprised by what happens and have to really consider what games are as you go. If that sounds like a big old promise, then play it and prove us wrong.