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Game Over Online ~ Darkstone

GameOver Game Reviews - Darkstone (c) Gathering of Developers, Reviewed by - Daxx

Game & Publisher Darkstone (c) Gathering of Developers
System Requirements Pentium 166, 32MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Friday, August 6th, 1999 at 02:02 PM


Divider Left By: Daxx Divider Right

Darkstone has been one of the few games released in the last few months that I've really taken the time to sit down and play. Even though this is a "me too" game and I'm quite sick, as I'm sure you are, of "me too" games, this "me too" game has emerged in a genre that was started by Diablo back in 1996 and has been left alone until now.

This game is graphically very nice. The 3d engine is very bright and colourful, and I haven't noticed any clipping problems or other various engine problems. The game is presented in a 3d view, however the camera is controlled by you (using the keyboard arrow keys) and can be rotated 360o and zoomed in and out. It takes a little while getting used to, but once you learn how to control the camera well it is a very impressive tool and adds a lot to the game itself. Another great feature (which will actually appear in the real sequel to Diablo, Diablo 2) is object transparency. Having a full 3d engine with a 3rd person view can sometimes create problems with the camera having an obstructed view of the characters, be it through a wall or a tree etc. Darkstone deals with this in a very nice method - objects become almost fully transparent if they obstruct the view of the camera. This is well implemented, the transition to/from transparency is seamlessly smooth and non-intrusive, it won't cause you to lose your focus or anything.

The game takes place in 3 areas - the town, the above ground lands, and the dungeons. The town is average looking, a few houses and stores, and it's quite tightly packed. The above ground lands are made up of trees, grass, water, sand etc, nothing very interesting but it's more of a transition land than anything. You spend a large majority of your time in the dungeon, and the developers tried very hard to break the graphical monotony which was present in Diablo and add small details which enhance the atmosphere. They succeeded quite well, the levels are more interesting to look at, with a variety of tables/chairs/boxes/crates/chests etc. The used of lighting is also well done, unless you have a torch or a light spell, you have to be careful in some of the darker spots because it's harder to see the enemies coming. There are also more unique architectural areas than Diablo which helps to distinguish each level a little more.

Speaking of enemies (and NPCs and playable characters), they all look very nice. They are a little low on the polygon count, but you can't tell unless you are zoomed in fully and concentrating on your character. Although still not enough for my taste, there are a lot more varied enemies than in Diablo, however Darkstone and Diablo share the same feature that you can have different colours of the same enemy, and that means different strenth/abilities etc. The enemies are typical fantasy characters, skeletons, bats, orcs, trolls etc. There are also a few unique creatures, which I suppose can be called bosses, similar to the butcher (they inhabit a particular level and they are stuck in a room until you let them out and fight them. The characters look equally nice, I wish there was a bit more variety in the NPCs, there are a handful of different humans but they repeat enough to be kind of annoying (especially if one of the characters in town gives you a quest, and you have to find that person again, when there are 3 other characters that look the exact same). A minor detail though.

Spell effects are nicely done, they are all varied and "big" enough for my taste, but not so big that they look like you just caused a nuclear explosion to occur.

The game interface is simple and function, and it follows the Diablo look and feel almost to a tee. There are 4 (2 in Diablo) slots where you can place items to be used quickly (aka: health/mana potions). In an obvious rip off, the health potions are red and the mana potions are blue, exactly like Diablo. I personally don't find this to be a problem, in fact it's kind of helpful because it is familiar to all of us who played Diablo. The inventory is done via a grid system just like Diablo, where you have to fit the items in a set number of spaces. Easy to manuever, easy to use.

Now we come to sound. I enjoy the sounds in this game, they add to the atmosphere nicely. There aren't many atmospheric sounds, and I do wish there were a few more (creaks, bumps, claws moving over the floor, water dripping etc) but the actual game sound effects are very nice. Especially nice are the fighting sounds. Every weapon has a unique and well done sound, there's nothing better than hearing the twang of your bow and the thud of the arrow hitting enemy flesh. When the blows land they sound very solid, something that is very important to me. The spells effects are quite loud and impressive, for example the Spark spell has a loud electrical crackling sound that is quite neat to hear. All the other sounds are very similar (well done) to Diablo, items dropped on the ground/in your inventory, doors opening, potions being drunk, money being picked up. The music is decent, it is very unobtrusive but sounds ok. It's a little "upbeat" for a dungeon crawler, I would say Diablo had better music but this isn't half bad. There are voice-overs for every bit of text in the game, which is impressive considering there is a substantial amount of text. However, the "professional" voice actors, while not terrible, were a little annoying for my taste. They also talk quite slow, so you might want to turn on subtitles (they default to off) so you can read what they're going to say.

The game itself is very simplistic. I won't go very deep into the storyline because, basically, the storyline is irrelevant. You go into the dungeons, hack your way around, find treasure, finish quests, and that's about it. It's all done using the mouse to control where the characters walk, and the keyboard to move the camera around. If you click on an enemy, you go up and attack it. If you hold SHIFT and click anywhere, you swing/shoot in that direction. It's very similar to Diablo, people who have played that game will have no trouble with the control. The right mouse button uses the currently selected magic/skill.

The quests are pretty simple, there are the main quests that you need to do to complete the game (which involves gathering 7 pieces of a crystal) and sidequests, which you do on behalf of the townspeople for money. The main quests basically involve tracking down and killing somebody for some reason. The stories behind the quests aren't exactly original, but nor are they identical to each other. However once you cut out the history behind the quest, it basically amounts to going down a dungeon to the bottom floor, and killing some boss-ish enemy. There's usually another step that involves a little thinking, which is nice in this mindless (yet fun) game. The sidequests are pretty lame, I personally found that I just happened across the items in my travels and then went back to town and see who was looking for it. I kind of wish you had to spend some time actually looking for the object, and it was somewhat difficult to get. Case in point, I was wandering around smashing up barrels looking for health, and suddenly out from a barrel popped the holy grail. First of all, a holy grail in the barrel? Come on :) Secondly, I never even knew I was looking for it, I just got it, went back to town to see who was looking for it, and got money for it. It doesn't feel as rewarding as having to look (and fight) for it. Minor problem though, the sidequests aren't very important, hacking around the dungeons is.

The dungeons and overworld are randomly generated, (just like Diablo, go figure!!) which adds virtually infinite replay value. Of course, there's only so much variety in a dungeon, even if the layout is completely different. The developers of Darkstone added something very cool that adds a lot of replay value and also adds to the strategy of the game (Yes there can be more to fighting than just *click click click*, albeit not much more). That feature would be the ability to play with two characters in the single player game. You control one at a time, and whoever you aren't controlling is run by decent AI.

I should explain the character generation process. You can choose between 4 different player classes, Warrior, Thief, Mage, Priest. There are actually 8 characters to choose from, but the other 4 are just female varients of the classes with different names. Those of you who always wanted to be a warrior with boobs (in a game at least) can have your cake and eat it too. Each character has 4 stats, Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Vitality. At a level up, you have 6 points to add to any of the 4 stats, to customize your player farther. The nice thing about being able to control 2 characters is you can balance out the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. For instance, if you want to play as a Warrior, match him/her up with a Thief or Mage and you have yourself a flexible and balanced team. One note of advice, I'd suggest arming the character that is more often controlled by AI with a long range weapon, they seem to act smarter with a long range weapon, acting more as a support character.

The AI is quite acceptable, the computer controlled character does a very good job about getting out of your way (if it's blocking a door or something) and working in a supporting position. One problem I noticed is that the AI doesn't seem to detect monsters as soon as they are visible, it seems to take the AI a little while to "see" the monsters, which can be a little annoying. Also, the AI character generally runs directly behind you, and if it is armed with a long range weapon and you want it to shoot at characters in front of you, you have to move alongside it so it can take shots, otherwise it'll just stand behind you and do nothing much. Overall though, the AI is impressive and playing as two characters is a lot more fun (and strategic!) than just as a single character.

Gameplay variety is comparable to Diablo, there is a large number of weapons, armour, spells etc. which mean you can constantly work on upgrading your character. There are also skills which aren't based on mana but are just skills your character has, and those can be upgraded substantially. Just like Diablo weapons can have special attributes, like +10% to hit rate, +2 to damage etc, which is a nice feature. I have been playing this game for many hours now, and I'm not bored of it yet.

One thing that is slightly frustrating is the mouse selection. You would suspect selecting things in 3d while you rotate and zoom would be slightly tough, but even if you have very good mouse accuracy there are still problems. There have been many incidents that I have had where I try to click on an enemy beside me but I end up clicking on myself and therefore my character doesn't attack. I think that the only way you should be able to click on yourself is on your picture in the corner of your screen, that would reduce the incidents of you clicking on yourself instead of enemies. Another problem I found was when trying to ressurect dead companions. VERY frequently they (and I) would have to restart because the person you are playing with can't select your body to ressurect you! It seems to happen only when you're dead, but it's quite frustrating when you could be ressurected, except they can't click on your body!

Of course, there is only so much fun in single player so what's in store for multiplay? Well, it's included and it's good fun, IF you can find people to play with. Unlike Diablo, which is played through Blizzard's online gaming service Battle.Net, this game is run more like a first person shooter, with no central server, just small servers generally run by people playing the game themselves. This makes finding people to play with a lot more difficult, but on a small plus side it means you don't rely on the company to keep the pseudo-Battle.Net up, and it's a lot faster way to set up and join servers. One very annoying omission is the ability to cut and paste an IP into the IP box, you have to remember it and manually type it out. My friend hosted games on his cable server and there was minimal lag with 4 people playing. You might notice some of the characters/enemies jumping around a little bit, but it's definitely not a big problem. This is definitely the best way of playing DarkStone, there's nothing more fun than clearing out a dungeon with a bunch of your friends. One small bug I noticed that is _VERY_ annoying is that when you are dead, you can chat with the other players but you can't read anything they say! This makes coordinating anything when you're dead very hard. Luckily the person I usually play with lives in the same city as me, so when I die I usually give him a call so he can tell me if he can come ressurect me or if I should restart. I'm sure that will be fixed in a subsequent patch, but it's annoying as of right now.

One thing we should watch out for is problems similar to what Diablo had, including cheating and player killing. Darkstone supports player killing, however, as in Diablo, you have the option to enable or disable it (if you disable it, you can't kill or be killed by another player). This game is new so I haven't heard any problems yet, but I'm hoping the problems of high level characters giving low level characters amazing items won't work. Blizzard is working hard on fixing all those problems of Diablo 2, it would be a shame if Darkstone wasn't developed with the same determination to get rid of cheating. I did notice they have item duplication checking, which means if two of the same item is found in the game, one is removed. This is useful, however it is slightly buggy as I once dropped two rings (completely different) and it said "Duplicate Items Found" and deleted both.

In conclusion, Darkstone is a fun hack n' slash game that takes Diablo, adds a nice 3d engine, the ability to play as 2 characters in single play, a few other nice touches, and ends up with a fun and enjoyable game. While it doesn't break any new ground, it is a fun game that should keep you interested for a decent amount of time. I must admit, if I was to see this game without knowing anything about it, I would call it Diablo 2 or maybe Diablo 3d. However, they did a good job ripping off Diablo, and it's not like there are millions of other clones to group it with. Another thing is that Diablo 2 is NOT going to be 3d, so that is a feature unique to Darkstone. It'll be interesting to see how many features in Darkstone overlap with those in Diablo 2 as soon as that game comes out.

 

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Rating
85%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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