Fight Like a God, Explore Like a Boy.
Though its intro sequence is the biblical apocalypse, Darksiders doesn't make a good first impression; the beginning areas of the game don't differ much from the standard God of War levels, the combat feels much too simple, there's all of one combo to dispatch enemies, and the story sounds like something a fourteen-year-old has been kicking around in his head until he had the chance to apply it to some form of media. The character models look nice and stylized, but look a bit too much like Warcraft characters. Had I reviewed the game after playing it for only an hour, I would've called it derivative and uninspired, and been done with it.
The game's Zelda-inspired aspects don't reveal themselves until an hour or two later; you'll be in a large, multi-floored complex, get stuck on opening a door, look at your map, and realize you're playing that sort of game. Calling it knockoff would be accurate, but ultimately demeaning for two reasons: first, it successfully emulates what makes those games fun -- puzzle-solving, humongous, multi-staged bosses and creative use of various gadgets -- and second, it knows when to deviate from that established formula; the collectibles, while plentiful, have a direct impact on your character, it doesn't rely on a gimmick to make the game seem new, and not every dungeon uses the same tired setup.
The combat also reveals its depth after a couple of hours. You'll buy more moves for your main sword, unlock weapons to use with the secondary attack button, use your gadgets in battle, and learn to dodge and counter at the correct times. And by the time you learn to use all of these things in battle, you'll juggle enemies in combos, dodge an enemy attack, pull yourself towards them with your grappling hook, and knock them back some fifteen feet with another attack. The combos remain simple, but it's how you use the weapons and gadgets at your disposal that make the combat fun, not in what order you press one of two attack buttons.
Though its combat is very much like like Devil May Cry, in terms of difficulty it ranks somewhat higher, just under the likes of Ninja Gaiden. You can pull off some pretty cool-looking attacks, but if you don't know when to dodge and when to counter, the enemies are going to be difficult to slog through. This is compounded by the fact that in the later parts of the game, it sees fit to throw wave after wave of enemies in areas where you can't escape combat, and gives one chest to refill your health. Seems fair, except that some of the later enemies can take about two health bars (the equivalent of about four hearts) with one attack.
The difficulty compounded by some small control issues. There are so many options available to you that you'll often have to press multiple buttons at once to be able to use some of the gadgets and powers, and there are a number of places where you'll have to switch out weapons and gadgets. Boss battles suffer the most due to this, and it can make some of them a bit challenging for the wrong reasons. Though on the bright side, the quick-time events involve only one button press, which is something I'd like implemented in every game like this from now on.
Yes, Darksiders is a mimic of more than one style, but it's such a skilled mimic that it creates a great game in its own right. It doesn't necessarily rise above its inspirations, but it addresses God of War's lack of creativity and Zelda's lack of variety enough that there are points in the game where you could see it being better than both of those games. Perhaps the most telling thing is that I'm more interested in what the sequel to Darksiders does than I am either of its inspirations.