Point, click and slay. The PlayStation version of Darkstone was derided upon its release in 2001 as an obvious cash in, a shameless derivative, a poor man’s Diablo clone–roundly ignored by just about everyone. It wasn’t until later that people realized Darkstone was a solid action RPG experience, and it’s that mistake we’re out to rectify with this fifteenth birthday tribute to a title that is still overlooked and underrated to this day.
Darkstone might bear more than a passing resemblance to Blizzard’s flagship dungeon crawler, but the programmers at Delphine Software poured enough heart and soul into their game that it should overcome that instinctive stereotype within a few minutes of popping it into your system.
The first obvious difference is the engine. While Diablo populated its world with sprite-based maps, heroes, enemies and buildings, Darkstone takes place in a full 3D environment, full of polygonal monsters aching to take a chomp out of your equally-polygonal hero/heroine. It took Blizzard eleven years to catch up on this aspect alone. It took them a similar amount of time to catch up to Darkstone‘s character creation system, for while Darkstone offers your standard four fantasy trope classes (Warrior, Thief, Priest, Wizard), it gives you eight class options by letting you pick your gender. Want to play a female Warrior in Diablo, or a male Sorcerer in Diablo II? Sorry pal, unless you’re playing D3 you’ll take Blizzard’s gender-specific choices and like ’em. Darkstone, by contrast, allows you to pick from Warrior, Amazon, Sorceress, Wizard, Thief, Assassin, Monk or Priestess. Differences between the genders are completely cosmetic, but the fact Delphine took the time to create these assets and present them as viable options scores huge points in my book.
The other major difference? Price. While Blizzard’s game set you back $50-60 depending on when and where you bought it, Darkstone was practically given away on the PS1 with its ten dollar price point. And while you had to put up with some pretty serious load times, the PlayStation version of the game is much larger than its PC counterpart, featuring twice as many areas to explore.
Darkstone is the very definition of an overlooked gem. Yes, it’s repetitive in its point-and-click nature–so are other Rogue-likes. But it tells a coherent story, has decent graphics, great FMV scenes, a large quest-based system, and dozens of hours’ worth of gameplay in both single and multi-player modes. Diablo-lite? Maybe you should give it a try and judge for yourself.
Oh, and enjoy the awesome two-page ad spread: