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SummaryA realistic historical CRPG that could've revolutionized the industry.
The GoodThe singular most likeable thing about Darklands is that it broke the mold. In an industry of CRPGs that all seem to use some variant on the classic AD&D rules, Darklands wanted to be, and succeeded, in being different. There are no classes, no wizards, no levels, no spells, etc. Instead you get a much more original game system; alchemy, praying for saintly blessings, open ended skill sets, a semi-linear plot, and one of the earliest functional realtime/turn based combat systems. Want to avoid the main story and just run around Germany? Feel free. Although the game doesn't really do much as far as adapting to the way you're playing, you can go about your own business as you see fit.
The character creation (which is similar to ones used in games both before and after [notably MegaTraveller and Twilight 2000]) is wonderful, as you quickly run through your character's histories and watch as the functions they've served in their past affect their stats and skills sets. This is a wonderful way of doing things, because you can create the young, strapping guy who's physically fit, but untrained, the veteran knight, or the aged woman who's very knowledgeable, even if old age is creeping up on her. Characters have history and aren't just 'Bob the first level fighter'.
The world is a medieval Germany as the more superstitious saw it. It's 'historically' accurate and Celtic folklore, witches, and German faery tales all combine into a wonderful tapestry of culture. The game may teach you a few things about Germany of the period and the creatures drawn from Terran mythologies are every bit as wonderful as one from a complete fantasy world.
The main interface art imitates water color and, while muddled, is very attractive and fits the mood, even if the images are all static. Even though you'll see the same image hundreds of times, you'll rarely grow tired of most of the imagery. The combat graphics are clean and functional, if everyone moves rather stiffly.
Anyone who's played Pirates or Sword of the Samurai will recognize the 'choose your own adventure' text interface for most options. Unlike the previous games where the options were limited, Darklands gives as many options as you have abilities. Want to get into a castle? Bribe the guard, con your way in, bust your way in, try to climb in, or call upon a saint for a heavenly solution. Granted, in most cases, one learns the 'best' solution, but there is some randomness, so what worked last time may not work another.
Again, Microprose comes through with another superb manual that not only runs through the game, but also gives a history lesson on medieval Germany.
The BadThe biggest problem for someone who finds an early copy of this game is the very thing that caused this game to never be as popular as it should have been: BUGS. This was perhaps the first major game to be shipped long before it was ready and for over a year and half after its release Microprose was sending out patch disks every few months. Until at least the second one, the game was virtually unbeatable as a few set encounters would almost always crash the machine. If you pick this up, look for patches and make sure you have latest version (.07?).
If the repeating menu screens in Pirates! and Sword of the Samurai bug you, perhaps you should avoid this game. You'll spend a great deal of time staring at similar screens and choosing similar options. In many people, the game inspired enough imagination to get around this flaw, but not everyone can stand the redundancy.
The combat engine, while inventive, becomes repetitve very quickly as you often wind up performing the same tactics again and again against enemies that lack in variation (every thug looks the same as another thug, every soldier looks like another soldier, etc...) in areas that all start to look the same. I must admit that while there was nothing new about most of the battles, they didn't wear on me in most circumstances (though some dungeons and castles can get tiresome).
The sheer amount of saints (realistic, mind you), many of them performing similar functions, sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of who does what. While there's no problem as far as the option menus, sometimes you want to pray to a saint or two before battle to get some combat benefits and you'll find yourself referring back to the manual to determine what saints are good for what.