You come upon a page for a work which has been tended like a garden and contains much text. A gargoyle perched on a nearby tombstone eyes you cautiously, while a red-haired fortune teller welcomes you. You decide to...
...read the page using your Read & Write skills.
...draw weapons and attack the other tropers!
...throw an alchemical potion of "Wiki Magic" at the page.
...pray to a saint for assistance.
...leave this page for other adventures.
Darklands is a Wide Open Sandbox and Role-Playing Game by Microprose, released in 1992. Its most defining trait (there are many) is that it is set in 15th century Central-Europe (rather than a fantasy-fictional land), and turns real-world cultural lore and even religion into a background story.In Darklands, an adventuring group of four characters sets out from very humble beginnings to make a name for themselves and (potentially) save the world from the dark forces of The Devil. The unique choice of setting (I.E. the Holy Roman Empire's last days as an actual power) also means that it aspires towards realism, despite taking plenty of freedom with subjects like alchemy, supersitition and religion. The characters visit many cities across renaissance-era Germany, Denmark, Poland, and Switzerland. They wear armor and use weapons that did indeed exist during this era (including inefficient but deadly handguns!), and spend much of their time battling brigand-lords and sucking up to the clergy. They can work for a living, maintain a decent reputation, and perform many other mundane activites that most RPGs simply take for granted.On the flip-side, the world of Darklands incorporates real-world mythology as de-facto reality. This means that Alchemy actually works, so the "Wizard" class character is replaced by an Alchemist, who concocts various and potentially dangerous potions from alchemical materials. Christian saints can actually bless your teammembers if you pray to them, so a cleric must be a pious man versed in the properties and abilities of each saint. Monsters are taken right out of central-european medieval lore, and includes Gargoyles, Dwarves, Witches, and even the occasional Dragon.Darklands is perhaps one of the more hard-core RPGs out there. Character creation is a complex process that involves choosing the character's background (more like "past career choices") and life experiences, rather than just putting points into skills. There are about two dozen skills, and each one has an impact on at least one important aspect of the game, making it difficult to create a party that covers all of them. Survival is tough, especially because combat is insanely difficult at times (the game doesn't scale down encounters...). Magical weapons are extremely rare, so you can expect to play most of the game with just the basic fare (which includes a vast array of different weapons, all of which are useful in some way). Additionally, while the manual is quite hefty, it doesn't even begin to cover everything the game has to offer, adding another aspect of Fake Difficulty.Despite many bugs and other issues with its original release, Darklands managed to stay popular with hard-core RPG gamers for the past two decades, and is remembered very fondly even by players who didn't manage to get very far in the game. It should be noted that, for the most part, the game is a Wide Open Sandbox with virtually no objectives. Even if you do manage to complete the VERY LONG main quest, you can just keep playing on. Characters die of old age, and can be freely replaced with new recruits whenever necessary. The game never moves past the 15th century, even though it does keep track of time normally. For this reason, few players have actually finished the game at all, but that is not really required to enjoy it. It's more a question of how famous you can make yourself before you get bored.Darklands is currently available as a digital download in Good Old Games. Unfortunately, while there have been many calls from the fanbase to remake the game, these calls go unanswered. A sequel was originally planned, but scrapped early on. It remains to be seen whether another developer will pick up this very, very heavy gauntlet.
This work contains examples of the following tropes:
Alchemy Is Magic: There're no magical spells in the game not counting the Black Magic of witches and demons, but characters can practice alchemy, buy and trade recipes, obtain ingredients, and brew many, many potions.
Awesome, but Impractical: Some character classes are simply not going to be usable by the average PC. A prime example is the Village Schulz; you need to have both been a peasant and taken an upper-class job at some point, which means the youngest you can realistically start the job is at 35, and at that point you should be ready to go adventuring.
The Battle axe can do massive damage... if your opponent isn't wearing metal armour. It's also rather slow.
Handguns are powerful and good at piercing armour, but painfully slow to reload.
Awesome Yet Practical: The Military hammer is very good at bashing through armour and strikes quite quicky, allows you to use a shield, and is very light to boot!
Be Careful What You Wish For: Sometimes a defeated witch, trying to save her life, offers you a boon of your choice. Hint: do not ask for "unnatural strength".
Boring, but Practical: The Shortsword is the plainest-looking sword, but don't let that fool you. It may not do much damage, but it strikes very quickly, and is surprisingly good at penetrating armour. It's very weak against plate armour, though.
Unless your opponent is wearing chain, brigandine or plate armour, the Shortbow is better than any other bow. Why? It shoots quicker than any of them, and does the same amount of damage. In addition, it's *much* cheaper.
Breakable Weapons: Weapons don't deteriorate during usual fighting, but alchemical fire and other supernatural causes such as dragon's breath and demonic fire can lower their quality.
Copy Protection: Required to adventure outdoors, interesting in that it is based on real alchemical symbols so it is possible for a student of medieval/reinassance alchemy to not need it.
Corrupt Church: Maybe not exactly corrupt, but the Catholic Church is, in general, presented as a rather mercantile enterprise, with monks expecting "donations" in return for vital medical aid, library access or tuition services, bishops collecting special tithes off everyone they pass on the roadway, and wandering monks literally cursing people who refuse to pay up. To add insult to injury, just in case you get the idea to tell the racketeers where to stick it, kicking a priest's ass for any reason will lower your Virtue.
You can reason with most of them, if your Virtue and knowledge of religion is high enough, and talk them out of taking your money, but this requires a lot of training.
Saintly Church: The saints only answer you if you're a virtuous soul (something of a double standard, yes). Also, in general, the village pastors are decent people who live to save souls. Unless the village is secretly Satanist.
Another Saintly Church example: if you attack a pious feudal lord who enjoys holy blessing, your party may get mind-controlled and walked away from his land; also you lose some Virtue. Since robber barons are an overwhelming majority, it's easy to make a mistake.
Covers Always Lie: The intro features a gargoyle peeping at a witch creating a glowing game title. The box art is the same witch and title. Somewhere in the game you may meet some winged monsters and witches (who have no cool spells and just throw potions), but that's about that.
Darkest Hour: The final boss destroys all of the items that are supposed to prevent the apocalypse and has the characters at his mercy.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Virtue, ethics and religion are based on fifteenth-century Christian standards. Accordingly, sometimes your traveling brotherhood needs to bow down to corrupt nobles and greedy clerics, and anyone who's not a Christian is a baby-killing worshiper of Satan (Not Hyperbole).
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: At a glance all cities seem quite simple. Central street, side street, town hall, marketplace, inn. Maybe also slums, docks and a grove. But falling into bad ways may lead you to places most games ignore. Let's say you got caught violating the curfew and did not bribe the patrol. Now you may try seeking sanctuary in a church. Or try various ways of sneaking out of the city. Or if you lost a fight with guards, you can try breaking out of prison. Or fight your way to freedom during your torture or execution.
Expansion Pack: Several were planned, adding more territories, like Mediterranean or Russia, but never materialized. Descriptions of some saints include additional bonuses they can give in specific countries, you cannot visit.
Fantasy Gun Control: Averted. You can get your hands on some brass "handguns". They're VERY expensive, and only useful for hitting heavily-armored opponents, where a bow or crossbow may fail to penetrate. They take ages to reload, so after the first shot it's likely that you won't be able to shoot again for the whole battle.
Guest Star Party Member: Possible under very specific circumstances. Also it is possible to recruit a village's schultz. For example if you take his quest to slay a robber baron, he may join you for the duration of the quest. But since there seems to be no time limit...
Hope Spot: The final boss tries to induce this, but sticking to hope beyond all reason will break him.
Karl Marx Hates Your Guts: Averted, it is possible to make a profit through trading and good bargaining, and the party can work ordinary jobs for a stable income.
Low Fantasy: It may not be "as low as it goes", but this is a game set in 15th century Europe, with no magic (except Alchemy and Religion), and an ample emphasis on mundane activities.
Mana: The game has no spells as such and no spell points, but the way saints work is close enough. When characters pray to a saint for help they spend "Divine Favor" (DF) points when the miracle is performed. DFs regenerate over time to a maximum of 99. To speed up the regeneration the character can spend a day praying for DF instead of working or studying.
Mugging the Monster: As the party increases in power, many of the random encounters become this. It is even possible to intimidate some of the bandits into running away. A well-built party can easily dispose of common muggers at the very start.
No Stat Atrophy: Very averted. Characters accumulate penalties with age, most noticeable when creating a character older than 30 years. However, a year takes quite a lot of game time, and it is easy for a 20 year old character to peak at their specialty skills in 3 or so years, long before age penalties kick in. There are also some encounters and traps that drain your stats permanently.
Now, Where Was I Going Again?: There is no quest log. Heaven help you if you don't write your quests down, or leave the game for a while. Hopefully, someone will fix this in a remake.
Not long after the release of the game, someone made a DOS-based tool that reads the game file, analyzes it, and prints out a list of all the quests you're currently on. It's still available, and usually comes bundled with abandonware downloads of Darklands today.
Obvious Beta: While Microprose released a series of patches, this was back when update disks had to be purchased and mailed. Even then, several of the following bugs and quirks were never fixed:
Every time you save a game, a new file is created. It's easy to get lost in them, and disk space was an issue back then.
Furthermore, while you could have as many saves as you wanted, the menu would only show the first 8 saves on the disk, which were not in any particular order. If your latest save fell beyond this number, one had to delete among these 8 saves until your latest save scrolled up.
The physician could not be employed in early versions. You would be always told you could not afford the treatment, even if you had enough money to buy the entire town.
Saving a game between battles in a series (Satanic village, Sabbath...) may result in what manual describes as "mixture of you present and past". In other words: your party has fought, lost some HP, spent some potions and DF, weapons and armor are damaged, and you have to start from the very first group of enemies.
Even worse, defeating devil-worshipers affects your reputation. Thus after loading a game you may get significantly tougher enemies. Normally you should have met them only at the next Sabbath-crashing.
At least one of the mine quests is unwinnable. Instead of the final boss you get a huge empty hall without exits.
Sometimes going up or down a level in a dungeon will instead get you stuck into solid rock. Unless you can solve the mission by winning a key encounter with the rest of your party, the only way out is a reset.
Sooner or later your characters start changing colours. Sometimes animation sprites get mixed and characters start walking backwards.
Pre-generated characters have weapons and armor that suits their former professions. Clerics and alchemist that you generate are naked.
Game crashes for no apparent reason every now and then. The patches did reduce the frequency.
In many instances where you can adquire alchemical formulas, you have no say over who on your team will actually learn the recipe, leaving you with a one-in-four chance of your dedicated chemist learning it. The same goes for virtue improvements for charitable acts, which only help your cleric.
Politically Correct History: Only three professions are forbidden to women, specifically friar, priest and bishop (and most male PCs will never get those jobs either). Women can become knights, soldiers or students as easily as males.
Purely Aesthetic Gender: Mostly played straight, but there're some aversions: for example, at least one saint grants her miracle only if there's at least one female character in the party. Also some miracles have different benefits depending on the character's gender, and only males can be friars, priests or bishops.
Quicksand Box: The game's "Main Quest" is actually optional. You could spend a long time playing before even encountering the first "plot hook", and nothing compels you to take it. In fact, even if you finish the main quest, you're free to play for as long as you like.
Real Time with Pause: During combat, this is practically essential... mostly due to a clunky interface.
Religion is Magic: There're no spellcasting priests, but learning about different Saints and praying for miracles is an important part of gameplay.
Revenue Enhancing Devices: You'll want the cluebook, trust me. (Fortunately, it's available in scanned PDF if you know where to look.)
Shown Their Work: Both history and legend are extensively researched, particularly the latter.
Take Your Time: Baphomet is plotting to bring the end of the world, but you can play to exhaustion without it ever becoming more of a trouble than it already is. For most quests you get an ingame year to complete it, and then one more year upon completion to claim your reward.
Talking Your Way Out: Most random encounters can be solved this way, IF your characters are sufficiently trained. However, there's not one, but two statistics for quick tongue: "Speak Common" and "Speak Latin" for dealing with different classes. And you often need some additional statistics. Streetwise and a weapon use statistic may impress street thugs. Virtue and Religion may allow not paying church taxes and not buying indulgence. Woodwise characters may even calm rampaging bears. Saints also can help, usually by boosting stats.
The Knights Templar: They are really evil in this game, and are pretty difficult foes due to all wearing good armor.
Village With A Dark Secret: You sometimes encounter such villages; their secret is that they are filled with devil-worshippers. (If your characters go to confession to the priest of such village, the penance will be quite disturbing: "You must slowly kill a small animal...") If you expose the devil-worshippers or just stay the night in such a village, they'll attack you.