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  Reviewed by Andy Grieser
September 15, 1999
Role-Playing Action
Gathering of Developers
DSI/Take 2
Darkstone takes RPGs back to the Dark Ages.

The role-playing game, ostensibly for PC but looking more like a console title, combines absolutely gorgeous graphics with a vague plot, clumsy gameplay and incoherent manual. Thatís a shame for a game that claim to be the heir to Diablo ó and one which very well could have been.

The player begins by choosing one of several Central Casting standbys: warrior/amazon, wizard/sorceress, monk/priestess or assassin/thief. A second character can also be chosen, who acts as a sort of backup. This is a good idea, just for the extra firepower. Experienced role-playing gamers will immediately plan for a sort of might-plus-magic duo, but itís not necessary. Any character can use any magic, as long as that characterís magic skill is high enough.

Then we get to the game, which begins in a town named, well, Town. This is just first of many disappointing touches that removes any rich sort of you-are-there feel from the medieval land of Uma. Once in Town, the player can visit several shopkeepers, from a blacksmith to a teacher to a banker and so on.

Also in town, random townsfolk provide the backstory ó but in chunks. Hear one part, and the player will have to stop someone else for the next chapter. Once the game really gets under way, townspeople will also approach the characters and talk about various quests. Better write these down; thereís no sort of discussion recall except a feature that replays discussions in chronological order. That means listening to each one until finding the appropriate clue.

Another reason to write down who says what: Completing the quest means returning the requested item to that person, even if he or she has said the king or merchantís guild or church or whomever needs it. This is not explained in the manual ó I had to find it in a Darkstone discussion group online.

So now we know that a rogue druid has somehow turned evil and taken the form of a dragon. This part is actually explained in the manual. Unfortunately for Umans, or whatever residents of Uma are called, the only way to destroy Draak the dragon is with a Time Orb. Problem is, the orb was broken into eight pieces, which were promptly lost. Anyone want to place bets on what the player will find while wandering various dungeons?

Actually, the dungeons are the best part of the game, even if they are really, really hard to see in. Maybe monsters have really good eyesight. Anyway, the graphics in the dungeons (and, to a lesser extent, the upper world) are incredible, with nice lighting effects and props that never look out of place. Better yet, the player can swing the gameís camera around and zoom in and out, so looking around (and enjoying the scenery) is fairly easy.

Sadly, the mapping system ó which works very well in the upper world ó is deficient in dungeons. While the camera can zoom, the dungeon map remains the same size, and so rarely shows more than a couple of rooms around the character. The rooms are all squared off, so itís really hard on some levels to remember what was where. This is not a problem upstairs, where world maps are shown in full and notable places are labeled. Also good, the player can simply click a location in world-map mode and the character will go there.

So letís talk about artificial intelligence. The monsters have one goal: kill. Some run away when mortally wounded, but for the most part they stick to swarm tactics. If the player chose to direct two characters, the secondary character is computer-controlled, and will hang back occasionally hurling spells and then attacking hand-to-hand. Another nice point, which makes the next problem all the more glaring.

The player-controlled character will not automatically attack, even when under fire. Itís up to the player to click on each monster in turn. This can get dicey when the bad guys are swarming and itís hard to tell whoís where.

Beyond that, the rest of the problems are just depressing. Voice acting is intentionally over the top ó the actors give a performance very familiar to fans of melodramatic Japanese animation. The manual is embarrassingly bad, and often unhelpful. Most quests are simply find-and-carry.

Our advice: Darkstone needs more than a little tweaking before it can claim the Diablo throne.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Pentium 233 MHz; Windows 95/98; 32 MB RAM; 170 MB hard drive space; Direct3D-compatible video card; 8X CD-ROM.


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