I still consider the original Diablo one of my favorite ARPGs of all time. I doubt this is a controversial statement as it helped spawn an entire genre, but the slow pace, uneven threats, and gothic horror cemented it as a game I could come back to again and again. I would never recommend anyone try it for the first time now though, at least not without enormous disclaimers. It’s a game that hasn’t aged well not for anything it did wrong, but because the genre has moved so far beyond it. Darkstone is another victim of this phenomenon, though honestly I’m not sure I would have had the patience for it even at its release.
Draak is back, baby, and he’s brought a whole cult to fuck things up for everyone. The merciless dragon has come to imperil the kingdom and it’s up to you to stop him, apparently by finding seven macguffins that will do… something and let you fight him. You’ll need to delve deep into the randomized dungeons just outside of town, battling skeletons and goblins and all of high fantasy’s greatest hits while snatching loot to make yourself more formidable. There’s plenty of odd dungeon denizens to encounter as well like the lonely ice golem or the walled-off mad wizard, and they might even provide a challenge that the regular foes don’t.
There’s a lot of criticism to unpack here but at the heart of it is the simple fact that you’ve played this before. Maybe not with exactly the same systems or combat but you’ve played a warrior or wizard descending into dungeons to kill spiders and bats and get loot. The fact that this is a loose Diablo imitation doesn’t do much, especially since we’re decades past its main selling point of being 3D Diablo. None of the enemies are unique or interesting, they all attack in exactly the way you’re imagining, and what few differentiating elements they have are more annoyances than anything. This is the kind of game where poison never goes away until you take an antidote, for example.
An hour into the game got me to level 7 and a slightly better club than the sword I was using. The items are just as uninteresting as the enemies, and the few enchanted pieces I found were extremely simple stat boosts. I don’t know how long it takes to start finding stuff worth using, but in this day and age it’s too long for me. Other design annoyances abound like the stiff camera that likes to take low angles blocked by walls, and the janky movement that feels stuck to an invisible, misaligned grid. In addition to managing health and mana you need to eat to stay alive, which would be little more than an annoying gold sink if you didn’t find bushels of apples and cherries in the dungeons. You’ll be deluged with boring loot that will barely fit into your tiny inventory, prompting plenty of trips back to town to unload if you have the portal scrolls for it.
I know I’ve been relentless against this game but I don’t really think it’s bad, it’s just a game out of time. Back at release it would have held up much better as a simpler, 3D Diablo clone but at this point the genre has built upon every single aspect of its design. It does exactly one thing that’s semi-unique, which is letting you run two characters at a time and granting them both experience based on how much damage they do. It’s not a perfect system but I sure would love more ARPGs to let me level two characters at once. Maybe some future game will pick up on it so we can finally lay Darkstone to rest in the halls of gaming history, because it makes a much better historical reference than game.