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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.
Written by  :  Jack Lightbeard (2653)
Written on  :  Feb 12, 2010
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Summary

A Historic RPG!

The Good

Darklands is an RPG set in 15th Century Greater Germany with an attention to historical accuracy, you have the whole of the map of Greater Germany to travel across to any of the towns, villages, monasteries and other locations, that you choose. MicroProse are well known for making simulation games and Darklands is in many ways a simulation of Medieval Germany. For example; time keeping uses the monastic 'hours' of the medieval era, Matins (Midnight), Latins (3 am), Prime (6 am), Terce (9 am) etc. Currency is in Florins, Groschen and Pfenniges, the seasons change on the world map and have an effect on gameplay, for example in winter you may encounter blizzards, crossing a boggy area of the map may result in one of your party members getting stuck and needing rescue (with the loss of a couple of items) and all of the armour and weapons your party members can be equipped with are based on real world items. There are day/night cycles which affect gameplay, especially in towns.

One important aspect of the game is that the beliefs and superstitions of the time are actually real in Darklands. Praying to saints can have a direct effect on attributes and skills and is often an option to solve many other problems throughout the game. Alchemy can be used to create potions from raw materials, again these can be used in battle or as options in the text style interface while in towns or during encounters, or sold for profit. Nothing is certain however as a call to a saint may fail and an attempt at alchemy could result in a large explosion! While magical spells as such do not exist in the game witches and cultists corrupt communities and gather to summon demons in unholy rituals.

You can use the Quickstart option to begin the game with a default set of characters or create your own. When creating characters there are six possible family backgrounds, ranging from rural commoner to merchant or noble etc, they affect the initial occupations (thirty something in total) which are available and each have there own advantages/disadvantages. Naturally your characters will advance in occupation and gain attributes and skills over 20 to 65 years.

Skills are an important part of the game and they improve the more often you use them. They relate to the success of pretty much anything in the game, for example Virtue and Religion help while praying to saints, Alchemy helps with alchemy, Artifice with picking locks and disabling traps, Speak Common and Speak Latin aid when dealing with the different people you will encounter and the various weapon skills come in handy in the type of situations you might expect. Skills can also be improved by finding a tutor you can hire for training.

While the game has a very much free-form or 'sandbox' style of play, you can go anywhere anytime, there is also a main plot to follow involving the Knights Templar. Once this is completed, which is well worth doing, you can continue your adventures on the map of the game world.

There are three main sections to the game;

On the map of Greater Germany you will meet numerous encounters while traveling from location to location (it's also possible, by the way, to travel by boat between towns with docks). These can be anything from a knight travelling to a tournament to bandits disguised as merchants (and genuine merchants).

The game enters an isometric style view for combat, which is in real-time and can be paused with the space bar for issuing orders, it's a good idea to have your characters skilled in both ranged and melee weapons.

While in towns or villages or after an encounter on the map you will be presented with a watercolour style background pic, a text description and several options. The background pictures are very atmospheric and add to the unique look of the game, although they are repeated, especially in the towns, there are a lot of them and due to the number of locations it would not be practical to create a different picture for each inn, village or docks etc.

The game music is all based on original music from or around the era, and adds a lot to the atmosphere.

The ultimate goal in Darklands is fame. Your party has an overall fame score as well as a local reputation, the latter can vary greatly from location to location, keep performing good deeds and completing missions in a town and your reputation will increase in that town and the nearby area and you may even become a local hero, however fall foul with the law and your party could achieve wanted status. Taking on the bigger problems the game throws at you, such as the main plot, clearing mines and defeating raubritters (robber knights stationed in castles) provide decent increases to fame and local reputation.

The Bad

The biggest problem with Darklands is bugs, you will probably encounter the occasional glitch during your adventures so it would be wise to keep a few saves and cycle through them. I have read that the game was very buggy on release, but MicroProse did release a number of patches. I encountered some bugs even when patched to the latest version (483.07), including the famous neon bright green hair-do and multi-coloured characters, I restored a previous save and when playing through the same events it did not happen again (and only happened once in all the hours of playing).

I also encountered a strange test screen (entitled 'Initial Card for Testing Only’) which was displayed near the end of the plot instead of the correct background pic and text. Against a slightly different night docks background it gave options to enter a location while it was preparing for war, while at peace or while it was at war, it also had options to set your local reputation to -99 (the worst), 0 (unknown) or +99 (local superhero), none of these options are in the finished game, and clicking on them didn't result in much happening, whether some of these options were once proposed to be included as features in the game or not I don't know, towns having additional states of peace/war could have been interesting. A reload solved the problem.

The Bottom Line

One thing that really should be mentioned is the manual, it's about a hundred pages and covers the game interfaces/mechanics in detail followed by a history of Medieval Germany and even a bibliography of over eighty history books (grouped under sub-headings with notes) that the development team referred to while creating the game.

Darklands is one of the best RPGs I have played, it may take a while to get into, and have the occasional bug, but I certainly found it a rewarding experience! The setting is very well done and is refreshingly different to pure fantasy RPGs.