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Darklands (DOS)

74
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
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Description

Darklands is a role-playing game set in 15th century Holy Roman Empire, which at that time encompassed today's Germany and several surrounding countries. Unlike most other role-playing games, it is set in a concrete historical environment that is accurately depicted, including geographical outlines, social and cultural backgrounds, authentic establishments and items, and so on. The game's supernatural elements are strictly based on the popular beliefs of that time and region and include fantastic creatures such as kobolds or dragons, curses, witchcraft, alchemy that actually works, etc.

The player controls a party of four active characters, though any amount of them can be created and swapped in the town inns. The player can begin by either selecting a pre-made party (quickstart) or by creating their own characters. In the beginning the player selects the character's social background. Afterwards, when they are ten years old, the player can choose an initial career path for them. Careers may include diverse occupations such as soldier, peasant, bandit, etc., which may eventually become more specialized (e.g. a student turning into an alchemist).

The more time the player invests in a certain career path (in five year periods), the more experience points the character receives, which can be manually allocated to improve their skills. Career choices affect main attributes such as strength or charisma, as well as skills, which involve weapon proficiencies, stealth, virtue, speaking Latin, healing, riding, and many others. Though there are no class definitions and each character can theoretically achieve excellence in any skill, character builds in the game can be seen as warriors, clerics, and alchemists. Religion-oriented characters may learn about various saints during the course of the game and pray to them for different benefits. Alchemists gain access to formulae and have to procure ingredients to mix potions with various effects. Skills in the game increase through repeated use: using swords in combat may increase the edged weapon skill, successfully conducted conversation may increase the character's common speech skill, etc.

The party chosen by the player begins the adventure in the inn of a randomly chosen town. The main plot eventually involves confronting a powerful demon and its cult, but it is unraveled only under specific circumstances achieved in the game. The game has a vast scope and can go on indefinitely. However, characters would age, grow weaker, and eventually die, requiring the player to create new ones. The main goal is to collect as much fame for the party as possible to obtain higher-ranked quests with better rewards, which also includes the quest that leads to the completion of the main plot. The player is completely free to roam the vast map of the Empire, accessing towns, castles, villages, and other places of interest. Towns and castles are navigated via text menus, with background images representing various locations. The travel screen is a map of the Empire with a lone figure representing the player-controlled party.

Most settlements of the same type have nearly identical options, though actual results may vary depending on the characters' skills, their local reputation, as well as unique traits found in different locations. For example, different towns may have wares of vastly different quality for sale; villages may engage in devil worship, and the player may attempt to prove that, etc. It is possible to increase local reputation (for example, by taking on cutthroats bothering the citizens) and overall fame by making virtue-increasing choices and vanquishing foes. It is, however, also possible to become outlaws by attacking guards, killing priests on the roads, and so on.

The game has several large isometric dungeon-type areas, most notably mines of different types, which contain generic quests as well as puzzles to solve. Areas unique to the main plot are also built like dungeons with particularly dangerous enemies and treasure to loot. However, much of the activity in the game takes place either in towns or in the wilderness, through various types of random encounters. The player is always given the option to avoid combat either through diplomacy or other means, the success depending on the character's corresponding attributes. Combat takes place on separate isometric screens and proceeds in real time, but the player can pause the action to give orders to the characters at any time, giving it a pseudo-turn-based flavor. Characters can be ordered to attack, search for the enemies' vulnerable spots, use items, etc. Different types of weapons may have different effects depending on the enemies' armor: for example, blunt weapons are more effective against plate armor than swords. Depending on the enemies' intentions, player-controlled characters may only be knocked down or wounded mortally in case of defeat. Dead characters can not be brought back to life and must be replaced with new ones.

Screenshots

Darklands DOS Travel screen
Darklands DOS Victory over evil! - after defeating a witch you have several options that you may choose from. Not all are beneficial to your cause however.
Darklands DOS Most battles take place in such random locations. These guards don't stand a chance against us... because of the Basic Difficulty selection, maybe
Darklands DOS Spoils of war - defeating thugs in towns at night gradually increases your local reputation.

Alternate Titles

  • "Darklands: Heroic Role-Playing Adventures In Medieval Germany" -- Tag-lined title
  • "Darklands: Heldenhafte Abenteuer im mittelalterlichen Deutschland" -- German tag-lined title

Part of the Following Groups

User Reviews

A Historic RPG! Jack Lightbeard (2653) 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
A realistic historical CRPG that could've revolutionized the industry. Ray Soderlund (3500) 4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars
One of, if not the only the greatest CRPGs made ZombieDepot (45) unrated
Most original RPG ever. Shogun (6) 4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars
I haven't found its equal in the 9 years since I started playing it. Gordon Menck (3) unrated
Wow, Darklands is an RPG that would kick the living day-lights out of today's games! Indra is here (19781) 4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars
Fantastically atmospheric Hugh McKenna (5) 3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars
Time to kill the mood! Pixelspeech (955) 0 Stars0 Stars0 Stars0 Stars0 Stars

The Press Says

Svenska Hemdatornytt Nov, 1992 87 out of 100 87
ASM (Aktueller Software Markt) Sep, 1992 10 out of 12 83
Power Unlimited Sep, 1993 8 out of 10 80
Mega Fun Sep, 1992 79 out of 100 79
The DOS Spirit Dec 12, 2013 4.5 out of 6 75
Retroguiden Nov 13, 2011 7 out of 10 70
PC Joker Aug, 1992 66 out of 100 66
Pelit Jun, 1992 65 out of 100 65
Power Play Sep, 1992 62 out of 100 62

Forums

Topic # Posts Last Post
Uh-oh... 18 אולג 小奥 (171551)
Sep 09, 2013
Wrong Platforms? 6 vedder (20204)
Mar 05, 2012

Trivia

Cancelled Amiga version

An Amiga version of Darklands was considered, but the game was judged as too large to be played from floppy, and the potential market of hard-disk equipped Amigas was apparently deemed not large enough, going by a chat log with Arnold Hendrick.

Influence

Darklands is based on history (whether true or not) of the influence of the Templar Knights, a powerful monastic order during the crusades which were eventually crushed by the Church (Pope Clement V) and the King of France (King Philip IV) based on their allegations with Satan, specifically Baphomet.

Intended Sequels

From the Designer's Notes in the Game Manual: "Darklands was designed to permit sequels. It is possible to have some additional adventures in Germany. More importantly, it is possible to create entirely new games elsewhere in Europe. The system not only allows moving "saved game" files back and forth, but also allows you to load multiple games onto your hard disk and move back and forth between the nations, in a sort of giant adventure. Let us know what you enjoyed in Darklands, what you would like to see in a sequel, and what setting you prefer. There are plenty of possibilities: the Emperor in Germany has many political problems and intrigues, England and France are busy finishing the last half of the Hundred Years War, after which England falls into civil war (the War of the Roses). Meanwhile, Italy is at the peak of its warring city-states era, Vlad the Impaler appears in the Balkans (the historical figure who ultimately became Dracula), Tamerlane is conquering Central Asia, and much more.What's your preference?" ~ Arnold Hendrick, 1992.

Sadly, they must not have received enough feedback to pursue this any further.

Memory

The game needs over 600K of free DOS memory to avoid crashes. In fact, the MORE lower memory you can free up, the better the game runs, something that is barely addressed by all the later patches.

Awards

  • Computer Gaming World
    • November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) – #10 Least Rewarding Ending of All Time
Information also contributed by Игги Друге and Indra was here

Related Web Sites

Brian Rubin (20) added Darklands (DOS) on Aug 30, 1999
Other platforms contributed by Picard (29344) and Sciere (268235)