Studying Darklands would be much harder without the folks at Darklands.net, particularly Matt Wirkkala who helped me get my copy up and running under Windows 98.
an intellectual's RPGDarklands was an attempt to take the hack-and-slash fantasy role playing world and actually mire it in the middle ages. Most Role Playing Games borrow their basic aesthetics and armory from mid-millenial Europe, few use any other cultural specifics.
Accordingly, Darklands was characterized by unprecedented attention to detail. Character generation not only involved strength and intelligence, but economic background and occupation. Characters didn't cast spells, but mixed alchemical potions and prayed to specific saints researched from German Catholic annals - over 120 particular saints are listed in the manual. While you travelled the land ravaging foes, much of the game was spent in universities and alleys of particular German towns, dealing with the superstitions and hearsay of the day.
Microprose intended a dramatic departure from the RPG genre: read the Darklands Press Release. It was to be open-ended gaming - there would be quests, and problems, but you would never finish exploring the world in all its attempts at authentic depth. At the time I recall hearing that Darklands would be extensible - that there would be Darklands based in Medieval England, in Medieval Poland, Spain, wherehaveyou. Perhaps the product was too complex for mass market or other forces somehow intervened - the promises of scenarios and sequels dissipated rapidly. Efforts to encourage Microprose to release the source code or the game to public domain continue.