From Delphine, the team responsible for some of the best adventure games of all time (Future Wars, Operation Stealth,), comes an RPG which at first glance appears to be nothing remotely special. Start the game in a village, wander outside, jump in a dungeon, hit things on the head (or chuck spells at them), go back to the village, restock, and repeat to fade.
Not the stuff that RPG classics are made of, but it gets better. All the game's characters have special skill-sets that really affect how you play. Magic-users can recharge mana, fighters have special abilities to get round traps and locks etc - there's a huge amount of skills to choose from. And the spells comprise an almost endless list of offensive and attack spells.
But what about the game? Well, it's pretty standard stuff really, dungeonsearching and monster-dispensing prevails, and it does get repetitive, particularly when you've found the exit to the next level and know you'll miss something if you don't search the whole dungeon, so laborious mapcovering is needed. The interface is a little clumsy too, with simple things like moving your character round to face the right direction before they get wasted by an oncoming horde sometimes proving unnecessarily difficult. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise entertaining game. With so many skills and spells to choose from, Darkstone offers a predictable but enjoyable journey through a reasonably attractive landscape, and you can hardly ask for much more than that. Oh, and the box is nice.
If Take 2 Interactive's $10 line of PlayStation games has taught us anything, it's you get what you pay for. But with Darkstone, you actually get quite a deal--that is, of course, if you can get past the hideous graphics. Darkstone is a surprisingly solid action/RPG, a 3D Diablo of sorts, but my god, is it ugly. The visuals are strictly first-generation (if not worse), and they get so messy at times it's almost shocking. Thankfully the camera can be rotated and such, but that's not half as helpful as it should be in most areas. But after a good three hours I became numb to Darkstone's horrific graphics (they caused me physical pain), and I've got to admit, there is some definite fun to be had if you have the patience. The combat with its auto targeting is simple, you level up quickly, and the story line isn't too shabby. I like the fact you can play as eight different characters and the overworld is huge and fun to explore. The dungeons are a pain to traverse though, mainly because the lighting is so horrible it's almost impossible to see where you're going. There is an automap (thankfully), but it does little to subdue the annoyance. Darkstone is an awkward port of the PC game by the same name, and it's cool that Take 2 is bringing this solid (if uninspired) title to the consoles, but its shortcomings are hard to ignore--especially if you're looking at the screen. All in all, Darkstone's still worth the $10 price tag, if you're desperate.
The monsters resemble poo with legs, the walls look like they were drawn with crayons, but I still dig this game that looks like Diablo on a bad-hair day. I'm not a masochist, but there's something about this that game that made me want to keep trudging on to the next dungeon. Maybe it's because I want to see how silly the next monster looks, or how sophomoric the next bit of dialogue is, but it's more likely that I'm a sucker for finding and gathering items and then sorting out which ones work best together. There's also lots of characters, towns and quests to jump into, making this an epic scavenger hunt that's actually bigger than Diablo, just not as pretty.
Wow. Even for $10. I wouldn't touch this game. I just cannot get into its Diablo-style gameplay. This game only reminds me why I didn't like RPGs before I played Final Fantasy III on the Super NES: I don't want to have to worry about a slew of menus right from the get-go, or need to read the instruction manual just to start the game. There's too much setup involved. The graphics are atrocious, even compared to first-generation PS one games. Character animation is so choppy and herky-jerky, it's sickening to look at. I suppose if you liked Diablo, Ultima. Wizardry and those types of games, you'll like this a little more than I did. Otherwise, avoid.
If you're gonna steal, steal from the best That's what developer Delphine is doing with its new dungeon crawler. Darkstone, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Diablo. But that's okay--Darkstone will surely appeal to fans of the action/RPG genre with 37 levels, eight characters (two of which you can enlist and control in a party), and, unlike Diablo, true polygonal 3D graphics and full camera control. So far, Darkstone looks promising; if the gameplay matches that of Blizzard's monster hit, Delphine and Gathering of Developers may have a monster hit of their own.
Even in its early stages. Dark-stone is poised to make a run at Blizzard's Diablo II by outdoing the lattcrs formula with larger, more lifelike visuals, an improved inventor/interface, and more options.
Thanks to a highly intuitive control system, Darkstone allows you to control two characters simultaneously and share their inventory, while still offering the hands-on combat of Diablo. Phenomenal light sourcing, impressive dungeon design, and a plethora of complicated puzzle quests could make Dark-stone a viable challenger to Blizzard's franchise.
The world is in despair as an evil magician threatens to usher in a new order of chaos. The only glimmer of hope in this dark time is an ancient weapon hidden beneath the earth. It can only be recovered by a hero of pure heart and true courage. Will this hero of prophecy be you? Only many hours of engaging game play and mighty left-clicking will tell.
Note to purveyors of fantasy everywhere: please produce a new story; this one is a little worn. Thank you
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The worn storyline aside, Darkstone is a lot of fun to play. To cut to the chase, DarkStone plays almost exactly like Diablo, which is not a bad thing. For the uninitiated, both games play something like this: You wander through dungeons hacking up everything that moves, doing good to NPCs (Non-Player Characters) along the way by solving their problems. Periodically, you haul all your booty back up to the surface where you sell it for gold, saving up for that perfect item at the shop. Once you've purchased that item you've saved so much for, however, one will appear on the next level of the dungeon. Oh, well. The more you kill the more experience you get and the buffer you become, until one day you are tough enough to take on the antagonist, whom you defeat after several reloads and you get to watch the closing cinematic. Yeah!
Now, this is a very tongue-in-cheek description, but in reality it is good, mindless fun. It's fun to see what the next monsters will look like, what swords they will cough up when they die, and just what lies in store next. That's the beauty of these games: the mystery of what is just beyond the next level. It can be very engaging; just ask my wife. She's a player too.
Which brings up some of the unique things that DarkStone has brought to the Diablo-esque genre. First off, it is much less dismal. Diablo is so dark and so evil-feeling my wife hated playing it. It was too "spooky," for lack of a better word. In DarkStone everything is much brighter, monsters are more cartoonish, and the entire tone of the game is more pleasant.
DarkStone also lets you control two characters at a time, and it's pretty easy to do. You just click on which character you want to actively control and the other one follows his lead, backing him up. You can switch back and forth as you feel necessary.
Another new feature of the game is that you are playing in a fully three-dimensional environment. You can rotate around your character to see into those difficult corners. This is very handy. You can also zoom in to get a close look at that new monster or examine the battle more freely, or you can zoom out to get a good look at what's around you.
The graphics are somewhat simplistic and cartoonish (vaguely reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII if you ask me) to allow for several characters to be on the screen at once. Despite their simplicity, most of the items look complete, not half-baked. I got a kick out of zooming in on new creatures to see what they looked like and what they were wearing. It's kind of fun.
Audio is adequate. I'm a firm believer that good sound effects are not noticed. I heard nothing out of place in DarkStone. I liked how each character (four classes with male and female versions of each) has his or her own distinctive voice. As for music, it is not earth-shattering, but it is adequate. It creates mood and keeps your feet tapping during level changes.
Pentium (or equivalent) 233 MMX, 4 MB 3D AGP video card or 8 MB PCI compatible accelerator card -- uses Direct 3D, 170 MB hard drive space, 32 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM drive, keyboard, and mouse.
The game gets very good marks for documentation -- one of the first for me in a long time. Every feature is documented in a logical, straightforward manner, but everybody does that. Well, some do, anyway. DarkStone, however, has background stories, pictures, hints, charts, and even a glossary all bound up in an attractive cover (not stuffed into the CD jewel case). I actually had a question about how to do something and the manual had me straightened away in just a few page flips. Hooray! Good job, Delphine.
Fantasy hack-and-slash just can't be beat for relaxed recreation. However, the game does get dull after so many levels of the same thing over and over. Yes, the levels and quests are randomly generated each new game, but the manner of play gets old after 20 levels or so. I find myself playing this game bulimically. I binge on it for several days, enjoying myself thoroughly, then I have to lay it aside because I've gotten bored. But my cravings bring me back after a while.
Pick this game up if you like Diablo, mindless slaying of orcs, or just can't wait to wield that magic left mouse button in battle. You won't be sorry.