[Editor's note: Every two weeks, we'll pick a classic game to play and discuss. Then the choice of the next game will be made by a randomly selected participant from the current discussion. It's like a book club, but with videogames. We'd love to have you join us. Register for the forums and hop into the discussion! This week's choice, by rezaf, is Darklands.]
After the Quarter to Three Classic Game Club started with a strategy game and continued with a Star Wars FPS and then a stealth game, I thought RPGs were in for some time in the spotlight. My number one choice would have been the gold box RPGs from SSI. I’ve replayed each of them numerous times in years past, but I haven’t returned to them in a decade or so. Unfortunately, none of them is available on Good Old Games. An alternative I considered was Temple of Elemental Evil. It’s a much newer game and hands down the best tactical implementation of D&D games in modern times.
But I ended up picking another game instead. Microprose’s Darklands. It’s one of my favorite RPGs of all times (I actually had the poster at the top of this entry on my wall for a couple of years), and it’s quite different from its modern cousins. It features many things never seen in CRPGs. For instance, its unique theme. Darklands is set in Medieval times as the superstitious contemporaries of that age saw it. There are dragons and undead, gargoyles and dwarves, but you have to look hard to find them. Much more prominent are thugs and robber knights and the likes. Praying to the saints will make them tip the scales in your favor, or alchemists will brew potions that might tip the scales in your favor. But there are no mystical superweapons; just ordinary Medieval arms and armour.
Creating your character is a miniature RPG on it’s own. It’s up to you whether you take inexperienced youngsters who have all the strength of their youth, but lack social connections and formal education, or seasoned veterans, who will start to lose their edge in the years to come. In most RPGs, this would be a non-issue, as game’s don’t last years. Not so in Darklands.
There are some major plotlines — one I remember involves the Templars — but you don’t have to tackle them. You can go look for a dragon or try to hunt down some other mysterious beasts. You can investigate a strange cult in a remote village somewhere in the countryside. Or you can just play goody-two-shoes in cities across greater Germany, rooting out robber knights and becoming famous in the process. You can retire from adventuring at any time and the game will present you with your score, representing how your actions will be remembered. Or you can retire individual characters who have grown old, replacing them with new blood. You can spend years investing your hard earned money to make your priest or alchemist more knowledgeable in his art while your knight earns a pittance as a guard for a blacksmith. You have a lot of freedom in the game, which is one reason why I hold it in great regard. Also, Darklands was a pioneer of the type of combat later associated with the Infinity Engine RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale.
The Good Old Games package contains the cluebook, which may be worth a look in case you want to know exactly how things work. Otherwise, the manual and the game itself intentionally keep you in the dark a bit, which you might not find appealing. You can find some info and tools (some people like to use a Quest Lister) on Darklands.net. But as it goes for many old titles, the game runs in low resolution, which might be off-putting to some. If that’s an issue for you, consider sticking with it for a while anyway. You’re in for a unique experience.