A different blend of action-adventure
Make no mistake; Darksiders is born straight from the Zelda mold. Boomerang, hookshot, horse riding, block puzzles – all present and accounted for. Vigil has simply taken the formula several steps forward by adding a true combat system, something the Zelda series has always been desperately missing, and a healthy smattering of Metroid-like exploration. The world is spread out and interconnected between dungeons by series’ of tunnels and open areas. Think Metroid Prime’s Tallon over world and you get a very good idea of what to expect. Fast travel makes world traversal quick. The Metroid similarities don’t end there, though. As you move from dungeon to dungeon, if you explore, you’ll find nooks and crannies filled with upgrades, armor pieces, souls to be used for currency and many other secrets. Most of these places and prizes you won’t able to reach until you acquire a specific tool from inside one of Darksiders’ many dungeons.
The dungeons in Darksiders are filled with enemies and puzzles, although there’s a strong influence on the latter. Some of the puzzles are standard fare but for the most part Darksiders will have you thinking in ways you might not be used to. I was never stuck for more than a few minutes on any one puzzle but I consistently felt challenged – truly a testament to how much Vigil nailed the risk versus reward balance that most games fall flat on. War and the player are constantly rewarded in a few different ways. Within the dungeons there is always one big tool that you will acquire and use throughout the rest of the game. Darksiders manages to avoid the fire and forget mentality of giving you a cool new toy and then making it completely obsolete a small time later. Everything you get has multiple purposes and with a few exceptions, War’s arsenal is well balanced. Weapons, spells, and armor can be upgraded through either exploration or by bartering enemy souls with a particular slimy demon merchant named Volgrim.
Darksiders is a very nice looking game. The art style may not be your cup of tea, but there’s no doubting the technical skill of Vigil’s team. Much of Earth looks like your typical post-apocalyptic vistas but thankfully Darksiders manages to imbue many more colors than brown, gray, and black and most of the environments feel unique within the world. For that alone it deserves thanks. They are some minor screen tearing issues on the 360 and the frame rate dips in some spots but both are minor blemishes on an otherwise solid visual package. You won’t find yourself humming any Darksiders tunes as much of the soundtrack is forgettable, but the voice acting is above average and the sound palate really gives some punch to the action on screen.
War controls quite well. I almost never found myself on the losing end of a battle or falling to my death for faults other than my own. The camera behaves for the most part – only occasionally getting out of control when squeezed into a corner. Dodge and AOE are your best friend in combat. There are a lot of times where you'll either be dashing around like a madman evading attacks or spamming AOE because you're surrounded. You CAN button mash your way through the combat but if you really nail linking combos together you'll feel and play a lot better. As a plus, almost every dungeon tool you find has a use in combat, expanding War’s ability to smash, slash, and blast the hell out of anything he comes across.
So, why should you get Darksiders? The combat is good – but not great. The story is well thought out and acted – but nothing special. Really, it’s the puzzle nature of the dungeon crawling and the Metroid-like exploration of the over world that will allow you to look past those trifles and have you coming back for more. You’ll be spending hours scouring and backtracking to see what new paths open up for you as your skill set upgrades and grows. Darksiders may not be the most charming game ever made but it’s melding of hack ‘n slash and dungeon crawler give to a proper evolution of the action-adventure genre.