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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Take 2 Interactive

Darkstone008-01.jpg (4534 bytes)Take 2’s first wave of ten-dollar games, Spec Ops and Grudge Warriors, were less than impressive. Actually, that’s just me being polite. To be more accurate I would have to use words like god awful and disgraceful, but those games are in the past now so I won’t use those words. Ball Breakers was a slight improvement in that it was actually playable and even enjoyable to the younger crowed, but it provided me with only a momentary diversion and quickly faded away. Darkstone is another story entirely. Like its Take 2 predecessors it has dated graphics, though not dated as much. Unlike its ten-dollar predecessors, Darkstone is actually fun to play and a heck of a bargain.

Darkstone010-01.jpg (4387 bytes)Darkstone’s gameplay is Diablo-esque. As an action RPG, you select a character from one of the eight archetypes: warrior, amazon, assassin, thief, wizard, sorceress, monk, and priest. Although there are eight archetypes, there are male and female versions of the same general character class and little to distinguish between the two. For example, the assassin is male and the thief female, but there is very little practical difference between the two. Between the broad character classes, however, there is a great deal of difference. All classes start with different point totals in the basic ability scores. Each time a character gains a level, you are given six ability points to distribute as you wish. Thus a thief could develop with massive power but little agility, and a warrior with little health but excellent magic. From a practical standpoint, however, it is far easier and more beneficial to develop your character’s primary ability score; it is higher to begin with, and many weapons and armor suitable to each class have ability requirements that will be difficult or impossible to reach later in the game if you haven’t been keeping the scores current. The order of dungeons entered and equipment available is also different for each class, which is another reason to simply follow your characters obvious path of development, but some variation is still possible.

Darkstone013-01.jpg (4706 bytes)I developed my first character, a wizard, with an emphasis in magic but pretty balanced overall. Later, I realized I was going to have a tough time getting the better equipment, and my spells weren’t working all that well because my magic score was too low. I ended up going through the entire mid game with a wizard dressed a lot like a warrior, and the only spells I really used were cure, to gain life, and berserk, to better hack and slash. Not the most sophisticated approach but a surprisingly effective one. Which brings me back to my original point, which is this; For best results in Darkstone, develop your character’s primary ability-- even if it means neglecting other areas. There will be a lot more options open to you, and much more variety between characters.

Darkstone021-01.jpg (4683 bytes)Equipment comes in a wide variety of shapes and functions. Expect a relatively normal progression at first, such as gradually improving swords and shields, but a little later in the game the equipment becomes much more exciting. Each character can equip an item in each hand, a body armor, helmet, two necklaces, and four rings. There are a lot of paths to take when deciding which equipment to use. Some items have special functions that raise ability scores, others that give you point bonuses to armor or weapons, others that give a certain percent immunity, and so on. The savvy adventurer will discover that a focus in coordinating dungeon attire will offer more bonuses than just looking snazzy. For example, you may use armor, shield, and helmet that have a lower defense value than an alternative. However, each also gives a percentage bonus to your defense, and that combined bonus is worth more than the more noticeable gain of a few points here and there. Or you might choose to go with a combination that yields greater resistance to magic, poison, or fire. Ultimately the choice is yours, and the vast amount of equipment available for each class (you won’t be able to try them all) is one of the more enjoyable parts of Darkstone.

Darkstone021-01.jpg (4683 bytes)That’s not to say that running through a dungeon smiting the undead isn’t fun. Anyone who’s ever done so, or pretended to do so in a videogame, will tell you it’s a hoot. The dungeons aren’t particularly complicated, but they do have a variety of different styles, and that keeps things from getting old. Dungeons tend to be saturated with a few different, but similar, types of monsters. Just when you think you can’t wax another giant spider, you’re out of the dungeon and off to do battle with skeletons and amazon archers.

Darkstone032-01.jpg (4472 bytes)Besides the obligatory gold currency, monsters also drop various weapons and items when defeated. Other items are located in treasure chests located throughout the dungeons. These weapons can be equipped or just hauled back into town and sold. While gold currency is of course enormously helpful, the real success of your dungeon raiding is measured in the items you take out. Characters are limited in the number of items they can carry, but you can drop unwanted items at any point. You can also return at any time to pick up those items, which is a pretty impressive feature.

Darkstone044-01.jpg (4500 bytes)In addition to leveling-up, characters can also improve through the acquisition and perfection of various skills. A local wise man teaches characters a wide variety of skills, depending on class, including how to identify magic items, how to repair weapons, develop a better sense of direction, and even how to turn yourself into a werewolf. He’ll teach you each lesson for a price, and each skill can be improved a number of times. Skills of course vary in usefulness, but all of the characters have a couple of excellent ones. The warrior’s ability to repair items before selling them, for example, is a financial windfall.

Darkstone048-01.jpg (4732 bytes)The control is also very well executed in Darkstone. You can navigate with either the d-pad or analog stick, while the other analog stick controls zoom and rotates perspective. The four pad buttons control basic game functions such as attack, block, and search. Two of the shoulder buttons can be set to the magic spells of your choice, while the remaining two shoulder buttons are reserved for quick item use. All in all, Darkstone makes efficient use of the PlayStation controller, exploiting every feature the controller has to offer. I would have liked the option of setting the two item buttons to additional magic spells instead. This would have made for a lot less switching back and forth between the menu screen, but at least excessive menu flipping is really only a problem with magic users.

Darkstone034-01.jpg (5068 bytes)The graphics are pretty simple, but they’re not that bad. If I this had been a regularly priced PSX game, I would have said it was a lot of fun, but it had pretty dated graphics. Add the excellent price to the equation, and the picture is a little more impressive. Darkstone is a fun arcade/action/RPG guaranteed to entertain for quiet some time. For the price of a medium pizza or cup of coffee (at Starbucks) you can land a pretty cool game. Darkstone is hardly a groundbreaking title, but it is a genuinely fun one.

Jeff Luther

Snapshot

Ups: Really fun play; lots of character classes; good depth; excellent control.

Downs: Very dated graphics.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation

 

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