Wow! It's Diablo in 3D!
It happens every time: just before the sequel to a great game is put onto the market, some other company puts out a clone, to reap the benefits from those gamers with little patience and lots of money. The Action/RPG game Darkstone fits quite nicely into this niche. DSI (makers of the classic Flashback) released this game to help Diablo fans holdout until the long awaited Diablo 2 is released. Unfortunately, the game they released is an unpolished 3D shadow of the original.
Normally, I don't like comparing two games directly, but the format of Darkstone leaves me no choice. The game uses the same basic game structure, the same isometric view of the action (except in 3D), the same grid-based inventory system, the same health/mana system, the same random dungeon generation, the same magic casting system, many of the same spells (with different names, of course), and even similar pictures of the items you collect. With this many similarities, it's amazing that they didn't call it Diablostone.
The plot goes like this: some really evil monk gets the power to turn into a dragon and destroy the world. You, as the main character, must find several crystals, form the time orb, and then kill the monk. Sounds like the standard, last-minute excuse to hack and slash all sorts of monsters.
First, for the good stuff: the game is based off of Diablo, which was a great game, and thus the underlying idea is pretty good. Being able to control two characters at the same time is fun, though occasionally confusing. The control is fairly good, as is the sound. Be forewarned that the voice acting is horrible, however. There are a few new RPGish characteristics, like the requirement of eating food to keep your health up, which does add a little complexity. Though, why does your character need to eat, but never needs to sleep?
The biggest change from Diablo is the full 3D rendering of everything in the world. All the characters in the game look very polygonal and angled. Though not as smooth looking as many other games, I must say that the enemies are occasionally well done. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this game requires a 3D Graphics card, they still cut corners - the leaves on the trees look very pixilated, and various objects in the game look downright unfinished.
Another problem is the treatment of the camera. Whenever your character is blocked by something, the object turns transparent, which is a real neat trick. However, the camera still can get stuck in buildings, ruining the effect. The ability to rotate and zoom the camera is useful to fix this, but it's still awkward to have to stop, push the appropriate arrow keys to fix the view, and then continue on your way. While there is a follow-type camera view, it can feel awkward for gamers used to a fixed view.
The 3D format of Darkstone also messes up some elements of the dungeon game. In Diablo, it was exceedingly easy to find objects strewn on the ground, because it created a glowing outline around the sprite when you moved your mouse over it. Now, because of the 3D treatment of this game, they couldn't do that. Instead, they made selectable objects glow red. This is all well and good, but red doesn't stand out against the black of the dungeon, and you can't see the glow if it's hidden behind your character, a desk, or any other object in the game. This makes it really hard to pick up treasure you free from various barrels and treasure chests. (Hmmm, barrels and treasure chests. That sounds familiar...)
Darkstone also suffers from a few petty annoyances. For example, the font they use for small in-game text is horrible. It's barely legible, requiring you to read over it several times before you understand it. This problem is compounded by the fact that all the information in the character creation screen is in that font. The game's website does have a a fix for it, but that fix causes the map to get screwed up. Like I said, it seems unfinished.
Graphics aside, the gameplay doesn't really match up to Diablo. Although, on the average, it plays adequately, there are lots of little things that detract from the game. For example, treasure sometimes appears outside of the room you opened the chest in, when its dark you can barely see any of the screen, the mouse pointer is fairly inaccurate, and the AI for the other characters in your party is pretty stupid. With friends like these, who needs enemies . . .
Although not a complete waste of time, Darkstone is an unimaginative marketing ploy to ride on the coattails of Diablo. If you don't own Diablo, buy that instead. If you have both Diablo and patience, wait and see what Diablo 2 looks like. However, if you're one heck of a Diablo junkie, who can't stand another minute without some sort of fix, than this is the game for you.