An Uncommon RPG
Although many assume that to have a role-playing game in a video game, one must have armor class, hit points, and levels, many game makers were fully willing to bend or break the rules set by Dungeons and Dragons in order to bring about a unique gaming experience. While Darklands certainly has many similar trappings to the venerable D and D franchise, there are some marked differences.
All player-characters are developed through a set of careers. You begin by selecting the character's gender, then choosing career paths from there. Choices are limited by gender and by previous choices. At each decision gate, you then allocate skill points into the various skills, which contribute to many things both in and out of the combat system. Everyone in a sense can pray to the saints, but the more effective prayers come from those who devote a lot of skill points to the skills regarding faith and the research of the saints, while those who wish to delve into the alchemical arts must spend a long time in a few narrow careers to build up the abilities necessary for useful creation of potions.
This may push the player into creating what are recognizable as classes, with a priest, a wizard of sorts, and warriors of varying abilities, but because the system is so flexible, many different combinations are possible, and the variation from character to character is tremendous.
In addition to a set of attributes that help contribute to skill rolls and provide bonuses to certain actions, players have what could be called two different types of hit points. The first is endurance. This drops easily, but also replenishes easily. During combat, this slowly degrades, and any non-lethal wounds the character takes drop endurance. Strength, however, is the character's lifeblood. When strength drops, characters can be crippled, and when this drops to zero, the player is unarguably dead. As there is no reliable resurrection mechanic per se, you are forced to hire new adventurers or reload when a character dies.
All characters are also capable of praying to saints, not just dedicated priests and the like. When you pray you allocate the amount of a what is called Virtue to the roll. Should there be even a slim chance, you should be allowed to allocate a minimum of one point before attempting to call upon a saint's favor. Each saint is different; some saints are harder to call upon than others, some can only be contacted at certain times, some answer the prayers only of women (to offset the historically limited career paths open to female characters), or only have power in certain regions.
Weapon and Armor Statistics
Armor comes in different types, which has a direct bearing on a character's ability to survive combat. Weapons are not divided into categories relating to how magical they are, which one finds in games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses. In general, heavier weapons require skill and lifting power to use. Some weapons are slower, some are really good with certain types of armor while poor with others.
What sets weapons and armor of the same type apart are their quality ratings. Different blacksmiths in different towns provide variable quality of gear, and the higher quality the gear, the better it performs. This quality degrades over time, especially in combat with armored opponents or opponents armed with acidic alchemical bombs. It's best to keep an eye on the quality of one's weapons to prevent them from wearing down too much. While games like Diablo can be argued to be a bit tedious when it comes to fixing weapons, the plentiful nature of weapons in Darklands, and the mundane nature of most equipment, makes this wear-down mechanic not as traumatic, as you are less likely to have a pet piece of gear that you hate to see spoiled.
Players begin with the knowledge of a few saints. The saint screen shows you what a saint is known for, as well as what they're capable of granting, and their requirements for evocation. Over time, players can visit cathedrals and universities, where new saints can be researched and added to the list of saints known. This can take time but is well worth it.
Saints are very useful, often helping heal the party, raise statistics, provide money or weapons, or transport them to other areas. Many of these acts do come with a cost, though, so it's wise to understand exactly what a saint will ask in return for a divine favor. The nature of prayer in Darklands is such that it's impossible to evoke a saint in combat, so it's best to prepare ahead of time if you expect to run across dangerous opponents.
Players skilled in social interaction and alchemical recipes can try to convince the greedy, secretive alchemists in various towns to give up their hard-won knowledge and actually teach you a thing or two about making potions. Each potion recipe has varying levels of quality, which can affect just how much damage an explosive potion can do, how much a healing potion will heal, how much a sharpening potion will increase the quality of a weapon, and so on.
Very often, you may even anger an alchemist and be locked out of his study for a time. Alchemists also sell various components that one needs to follow the recipes. Players with proper alchemical gear can stay at inns, where they can spend some time brewing potions. It's best to have a master alchemist among you, because if your alchemical potion explodes while in the inn, you will likely be kicked out and banned from the place!
The potion effects vary, but many of them seem much more plausible than the convenient spells you'd find in many RPGs that prefer spells to be basically rules breaking engines. Potions are at best a supplement to your arsenal, not so much a replacement, although a few types can really, really help in a few key circumstances.
Resembling more a primitive Baldur's Gate than any of the first-person RPGs like Might and Magic, Eye of the Beholder, or Realms of Arkania, Darklands' combat was real-time, 3/4 perspective, with pauses. Players begin combat in a scenario screen, where you select which character will do what action, including drinking or hurling alchemical potions (anyone with a decent throwing ability can throw them), guarding, fighting all-out, or fighting guarded. When unpaused, the players move in to attack, and your attackers do the same. Combat is brutal and quick, and it pays to keep an eye on your party's stats to make sure they don't get overwhelmed.
Navigating a town is done through a set of illustrated menus, allowing for quick travel between various districts. Different towns have different businesses which offer gear and services to travelers. Hamlets don't offer a whole lot, often having a mediocre blacksmith and a no-frills place to stay. They're also capable of being corrupted by hellish forces, so it's best to ask questions of the local clergy to make sure they haven't fallen. The bigger the communities, the more you will be able to find and do. The biggest of cities have representatives of the Hanseatic league and nobles, which give quests should you be renown enough, as well as surgeons of varying quality for healing wounds, alchemists for recipes and components, inns where you can hire out horses and spend the night (as well as rest for a few days, doing odd jobs to make money), universities where you can study saints and train your skills, and many shops where you can buy equipment.
As this game is historical fantasy, the religion of the Holy Roman Empire is not shied away from. The creators took great pains to depict what a common person might PERCEIVE to be the reality of religion and the dark forces at work in the lands and in people's hearts. There are corrupt ministers of faith, and there are things that only the use of faith can save you from. Saints have undeniable power, and pagan forces are seen as an ever-present evil. While this treatment of the subject matter may offend some, it is refreshing for those of us used to the standard, bland pantheon of other RPGs.
In addition to purging corrupted hamlets, there are infrequent random encounters in cities and in the countryside, with robbers, wolves, and stranger things which try to rub the party out. You also may stumble upon caravans, pilgrims, and strange huts in the forest, among other things. Raubritters, robber barons, also hold sway in a sphere of influence surrounding their towers; the infiltration and destruction of those terrors will definitely win over the local populace, making it much easier to get more complicated missions-- although taking out a robber baron and his minions is no cake walk.
There is an over-arching plot having directly to do with the slow corruption of the land by fiendish forces, and the more time players takes to solve this problem, the more corrupted towns they'll run across.