There are many things developers and games can do to set off the gaming community and get them up in arms, but for some odd reason when developers start naming off titles that they look at as sources of inspiration gamers get berserk and start grabbing their torches and pitchforks. It’s practically an unspoken rule that developers must never openly admit to taking certain elements of other games and implementing those features into their product. So when a developer like Vigil Games openly admits to taking elements and design features from not just the Legend of Zelda games, but also of the God of War, Metroid, Panzer Dragoon, Portal, and Halo series’ the truthfulness is almost refreshing and welcoming to hear. And while you can sum up Darksiders basically by listing off its sources of inspiration and what it “stole” from them, it does the unthinkable and meshes these different elements into one cohesive package while still creating a strong identity of its own.
Darksiders starts off with humanity getting stuck in the middle of the true biblical apocalypse between Heaven and Hell as they war against each other to decided who rules Earth. You play as War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who arrives in the battle wondering why the rest of his brothers did not answer the call and why he was the only one called to war.After being recalled by his masters, The Charred Council whose duty it is to keep the balance between Heaven, Hell, and Man, War gets burdened with the crime of starting the apocalypse too early and single-handedly spelling the doom of the human race. Instead of being executed War convinces his masters to let him go and find the ones responsible for this treason and punish them.
The story is slow to take off after you arrive back on Earth to find it completely stripped clean of all human life, but like any good story the game keeps a strong and steady pace, building more and more on it before the epic climax. The game ends well with an incredibly satisfactory ending that got me pumped up for a Darksiders 2.
Taking its Zelda inspirations to heart, you’ll enter dungeons during your quest where you’ll gain a certain tool that’s key to solving that dungeon and to defeating the boss of the level. The game dives even deeper into Zelda, outright taking gear items from it like the Boomerang and Hookshot (It even has the portal gun from Portal), using a similar health system from it, and even gives you a horse (You are one of the horsemen of the apocalypse after all). Though what Darksiders ultimately takes it also makes its own. Almost every gear item you get has a purpose beyond puzzle solving and ties into combat. The boomerang is great for tying up enemies, and the hookshot allows you to attach to enemies and drag them closer to you or jump over to them.
The world of Darksider is a sort of pseudo Metroid-vania world where you can run around an open enviroment to enter dungeons. At first the world is greatly closed off to you, but as you get items from dungeons you can open up the world more-and-more. There’s a ton of hidden items around the world to collect, and many places to see that really drags you back even after you experience the ending. It’s a lengthy adventure that will take you about 15-20 hours to complete, and that’s just beating the main story.On the combat side of things, the combat system has a very strong button mash-esque vibe similar to that of the God of War games. You deal out familiar combos, and even slam your sword down on the ground to throw enemies into the air so you can start air combos. Darksiders adds to that combat system by not only adding the gear you gain from dungeons into the mix, but also a secondary weapon that you don’t have to switch to. The main attack button uses your sword, while at the same time you can have a second button tied to a secondary weapon that you can tie in seamlessly with you combos. So you can dance around the battlefield throwing your boomerang around while hacking enemies with you sword then tie your secondary scythe attacks into the mix. This all together creates one of the most fluid and entertaining combat systems I’ve ever played.
The combat system, though, does indeed have faults. Your primary means of defence is the dash button which you can use to escape out of dangerous situations since your block is actually tied to the same button as dash, but can only be activated by standing completely still while pressing it. Which immediately puts a break on the flow of combat and can sometimes leaves you in a dangerous place. And sometimes the dash couldn’t get me out of certain situations quick enough, so I had to just take some hits.
Artistically Darksiders is an incredibly interesting game. Instead of taking the easy road and just creating another brown and grey apocalypse, Darksiders has color and style practically exploding out of the disc. The characters are extremely thick and heavy and have a certain fantasy element to them that reminds me strongly of Warhammer characters. We can thank comic book writer/artist Joe Madureira who served as the game’s creative director for this unique art style in the world of games which ultimately sets Darksiders out from the crowd the same way that Borderlands art style change separated it.Style aside Darksiders does have some technical issues. The most obvious one is the screen-tearing that happens on at least the Xbox 360 version which occurs frequently and comes to the point that it threatens to rip your TV in two. Though according to Vigil they’re working on a patch for the 360, and it should fix the screen tearing issues. Another issue is that sometimes the frame rate will come to a complete halt when a lot of special effects are flying around the screen, but this only happened to me a couple times during the game and ever during boss battles.
In the end Darksiders might be easily labeled and written off as a “rip-off” of other, more popular games. And I might not necessarily disagree. But it successful takes elements of these other games and creates a great looking, fantastic package that is a pure joy to play with, including a fun story that takes you in some of the most interesting places in the apocalypse, and a memorable ending that leaves you hungering for a sequel. If you simply write Darksiders off you’ll miss one of the most well-designed and entertaining games to date.