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Dark and Darker has plenty of players despite struggling Steam reviews

Dungeon-crawling extraction RPG Dark and Darker is now free on Steam, and its player count is consistent despite a mixed initial reception.

Dark and Darker Steam player count holds firm despite mixed reviews - A blonde-haired man wearing an orange hood.

Back in the Steam Next Fest of February 2023, a Dungeons and Dragons style old-school, dungeon-crawling multiplayer RPG mixing the looks of Skyrim with the extraction sensibilities of Escape From Tarkov blew up, with a demo peaking at over 100,000 concurrent players. That was Dark and Darker, and after a lengthy period absent from the Valve platform due to legal issues it’s now back as a free Steam game. Despite a mixed user response to the return, it seems to be holding strong for now, as developer Ironmace works on resolving the divide between free and paid players.

The return of Dark and Darker to Steam and the Epic Games Store felt like a landmark moment, one we’ve been waiting a long, long time for. Yet in those intervening months we’ve seen other contenders such as Dungeonborne pop up, along with more modern rivals including Gray Zone Warfare and the new Level Zero: Extraction, leaving Ironmace’s RPG fighting to claim the seat it once looked destined to hold.

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Nevertheless, while it hasn’t reached the highs of that initial demo flurry, the Dark and Darker player base remains resolute right now. The game is pulling in a consistent concurrent count peaking at around 30,000 every day and slowly climbing, which is no mean feat in a world stacked both with new and upcoming PC games and with free-to-play giants such as Counter-Strike 2 and PUBG Battlegrounds.

Despite this, the Steam reviews currently sit at 55%, giving it a ‘mixed’ rating, with just about 10,000 players having delivered their verdict so far. Some players remark upon the ever-shifting balance and the fact that it can be a difficult game to get into especially when faced with geared-up veterans who have been playing for a long time.

The largest point of contention, however, is the divide between free-to-play players and those who pay the $30 to upgrade to the full version of the game. Along with being locked out of the ‘High Roller’ dungeons and an inability to access the most powerful gear, you can still be dropped into matches with paid players that have the ability to gear up with powerful items. The upgrade path also only exists in-game, leading some to call its Steam store page misleading as to the ‘trial’ nature of the free version.

Dark and Darker Steam player count - chart showing peak of 32,517 players via SteamDB.

Ironmace says this model was adopted primarily to serve a promise made to early adopters on the Ironmace-owned Blacksmith launcher. Those players were told they wouldn’t have to buy the game again if it returned to major platforms. It also notes that the restriction of free players to the Normal modes was a deliberate consideration against potential hackers and bad actors, minimizing their impact on the more valuable High Roller dungeons.

“It was never our intention to mislead our players and we are learning from your feedback,” Ironmace says. The team is continuing to work on the balancing, and has already introduced a split in the Normal mode where matchmaking pools are divided between adventurers in low-rated gear and those who have already begun to upgrade their characters. In addition, the higher pool now has no item restrictions, meaning even legendary-grade loot can be brought into Normal mode. “We do have some concerns regarding pub stomping,” it adds, “but we’d rather give players this choice of play.”

If you’re trying to decide what to start out with, our Dark and Darker classes guide should help you find the style that’s right for you. Alternatively, have a look through the best free Steam games for plenty more options that you can try without buying.

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