Take 2s first wave
of ten-dollar games, Spec Ops and Grudge Warriors, were less than impressive. Actually,
thats 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 wont 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.
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 characters 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 havent 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.
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 werent 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 characters 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.
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 wont be able to try them all) is one of the more
enjoyable parts of Darkstone.
Thats not to say that running through a dungeon smiting the undead
isnt fun. Anyone whos ever done so, or pretended to do so in a videogame, will
tell you its a hoot. The dungeons arent 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 cant wax another giant spider, youre out of the dungeon and off to do
battle with skeletons and amazon archers.
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.
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.
Hell 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 warriors ability to repair items before selling them, for
example, is a financial windfall.
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
The graphics are pretty simple, but theyre 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