Armageddon is coming and it's pretty great. My DarkZero Review
Imagine a scenario in your head. There’s Legend of Zelda in one hand and God of War in another. If you put those two in bed together (Zelda and Kratos sex, ewww), what would you spawn out? The answer is Darksiders, created from a rather new studio called Vigil Games.
Taking control of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you are summoned to the final battle on Earth between the race of Men, Hell and Heaven. There’s a slight problem with War’s arrival; he’s early as the Four Horsemen were supposed to arrive when all of the Seven Sacred Seals are broken.
Armageddon on Earth begins and War finds himself fighting one of the leaders of Hell’s chosen, a demon named Straga. War ends up getting killed and is forced to visit the Charred Council to be judged on his bringing of the early Apocalypse. After being sentenced to death, he talks the council into letting him return to Earth to find out exactly how he was summoned without all the seals being broken. The Charred Council agree to this and send War to Earth, with a watcher to keep a eye on him.
War's only got one thing in mind...Dishing out pain
Before Darksiders had been released I had heard from stories that the game was like a violent Legend of Zelda, which for me is all good because the Zelda series has a great structure behind it, it’s why most people want more of Link and his Hyrule adventures. My initial impression with the start of the game was that it felt more like God of War because as the first couple of hours are very action-oriented.
Once everything is set up and you visit the hub area and are given your main objective of the game, which is to collect four hearts from the Destroyer’s chosen demons, then the Zelda vibe arrives and the hybrid of Zelda exploration met with God of War type combat is evident. It’s not a bad thing that Darksiders borrows heavily from these two games because the people at Vigil Games have produced an exciting action adventure experience.
You have a plenty of ways to pummel pain into your opponent. Chaos Eater, a huge sword, is your main weapon. By simply tapping one button you can stream out a sequence of combos, and by combining these with directional motion you perform different types of attacks with the Chaos Eater. Up will slice someone into the air, and you can follow this up with a jump to carry on hacking at them. Holding down the attack button allows you to do a spin with the sword in the air as if you were trying to impersonate Sonic’s spin dash.
A secondary weapon can be equipped – either a giant scythe or a pair of huge metal gauntlets. These open up possibilities for more combos as you can link between the Chaos Eater and your secondary weapon during combat.
Go Epo.....I mean Ruin!
The inclusion of a lock-on system takes inspiration from the Legend of Zelda series, even utilising the effect with black boarders descending to simulate that you are focused onto an enemy. It helps a lot when surrounded by a large group of demons, so you can centre your attention on getting your combo onto the right opponent or dashing around to the back of an enemy.
The action button allows you to interact with surroundings or grab enemies. It also allows you to initiate a finishing blow on the enemy. It starts like the quick time events you get in God of War, except without the quick time button pressing. Instead in Darksiders they have opted to have you just pressing the action button to initiate the scene, then you can simply sit and watch as War jabs his huge Chaoseater sword into someone’s throat and then pulls down to split the demon in half. As a QTE lover I kind of miss the interaction you get with scenes like this, but the fatality scenes don’t usually last that long unless it’s a boss, so it’s not too bad that you don’t get any interaction with the death animations.
There are plenty of other features for the combat system. War can also have items equipped to a quick use button. There’s a huge shrunken type boomerang, a pistol, a spear type grappling device and a funky portal gun that allows War to teleport from one location to another using certain highlighted panels. Ironically these are orange and blue, just like another game on that came out a couple of years ago.
Overall the weapons in Darksiders are a good mixture, both in aesthetics and abilities. Each one has their advantages and disadvantages in combat. A good example is how you have to use your grappling dagger to pull yourself towards a teleporting boss, as she’s too fast to simply run towards. The fighting system, while not quite as deep as a game that is dedicated to combat, is solid, fast and entertaining in its own way.
These darkwings allow you to hover
Coming straight from Devil May Cry, War can collect souls from fallen foes. These come in different colour varieties: blue to buy extra move sets and upgrades, yellow to refill your magic metre and green to replenish health. One thing that happens in the background while in combat is how your weapons level up. Simply using one to damage enemies will help fill a metre for your weapon. When filled, the weapon levels up and becomes stronger.
Fighting also charges up your Chaos form ability. This can change War into a huge walking fiery beast that is pretty much invincible while it lasts. It’s very powerful and because you can earn it quickly by simply hammering a lot of enemies, it takes away some of the challenge towards the end of the game. It’s like the difficulty is going in reverse – starting off challenging and getting easier as you delve further in.
Enough about combat and more about the Zelda aspect of the game, well for starters there’s an overworld that links you to the different areas to explore. There’s dungeons that have bosses that give you a new piece of health when defeated (rather than a heart it’s a whole new life bar). You get maps that reveal chest locations, and you will find items in to use within the dungeon you’re in at the time. Oh, did I mention you get a horse called Ruin that can do five dashes before it has to replenish them? Instead of carrots, it’s five yellow bars. Yeah I could have plenty of fun matching what Vigil Games took from Miyamoto’s masterpiece of a series, but to be fair to them they have put these gameplay mechanics to great use.
Without spoiling too much, one example is how you have to use the teleporting device to teleport a beam from one end of a map to another, through multiple pathways to charge up a stone to release a hostage. There’s plenty of ingenious ways to put these dungeon-specific weapons to use. The only problem is that each item seems to be discarded once the dungeon you found it in has been completed. It comes across as the items having their 15 minutes of fame before they are pushed aside for the next item. It’s a shame they couldn’t work ways to reuse items more effectively.
This is Mark Hamill, you better believe!
Apart from that though the dungeons themselves are tremendously designed and well paced. When you are about to get tired of one, it ups itself by adding something different into the mix, just to say to you “don’t go to sleep yet boy, this adventure isn’t done” and they never drag on to the point that the dungeon feels too long.
Ruin, Darksiders’ version of Epona (sorry, just can’t help myself matching it to Zelda), is a great inclusion that I feel isn’t introduced fast enough. Ruin the horse arrives about just over half way through the game, when he comes vital to the boss of the desert area. He’s summoned by simply tapping both the shoulder buttons and he pops up out of the ground ready for you to jump on. After the boss fight you’ll mainly use Ruin for faster transport in the open areas of the game.
I would have been much happier if they replaced the earlier Panzer Dragoon inspired scene near the start of the game with Ruin. That scene is probably the weakest of the game’s solid adventure. It just feels so uninspired, like nothing exciting happens. You’re there to just hold A to charge and lock onto the enemies.
From the Darksiders cover artwork you’d expect the game to be quite serious looking with a colour scale of brown and grey. It is in fact a colourful game – this is down to famous comic book artist Joe Madureira, who was the creative director. Areas for each of the game’s main locations all shine through their different colour art styles. They glow with colours that you’d probably not expect from such a gore-infested mature title. It even does the gore in an artistic way without feeling too over the top; the blood isn’t bright red, instead it’s a dark red substance resembling ink, that adds to the comic book appeal of the game.
Even the characters, ok so War looks like a World of Warcraft character jacked up on steroids, still feel lively due to the art direction. It displays like a comic traced onto 3d polygons. It’s just a shame that all the art and graphics are spoilt by some very common screen tearing. It’s so common at the start of the game that you can expect to see it every few minutes. It’s a shame that the game, that runs so smoothly (most of the time), is suffering from some awful screen tearing.
Link never had a pistol!
Mark Hamill is the star of the show when it comes to voice acting. He voices the Watcher, a character that is the Navi of Darksiders (damn… did it again). He lives in your armour and comes out to give advice, just plain insult you or tell you what you need to get done. At least he doesn’t keep saying “Hey, listen!” The rest of the cast are passable. There are a couple memorable parts that involve a huge giant Scottish blacksmith called Ulthane, but most will be forgotten.
It’s a shame that Darksiders came out at the same time Bayonetta. If people haven’t done their research they may expect it to be in the same genre as Platinum Game’s action witch. Please don’t think that because Darksiders is a great release for the start of 2010, certainly for people who like the action adventure genre. Even if it takes ideas from other games, it mashes them together to make a complete game that plays well and does its inspirations proud. Darksiders is a nice surprise that is well worth 15+ hours of your life to complete it.