Darksiders: A worthwhile Experience
Darksiders is an interesting game. It’s a game that doesn’t bring a lot to the table in its own right, but manages to beg, borrow, and steal enough from other games to feel fresh. In its simplest form, it could be said that Darksiders is a mash up of God of War’s combat, with adventure elements that are normally seen in The Legend of Zelda series. However, this description simply does not do the game justice.
The game starts you playing a fairly powerful War, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. War has been falsely called to the forefront of the Apocalypse, while the other three riders have not. There are all kinds of controversy, and War is the bearer of the blame. War claims innocence, and, in an effort to clear his name, agrees to work for the Council in order to restore the balance. From the start, the story feels more like an afterthought that justifies the satisfying exploration gameplay, rather than a full-fledged story. However, the story does pick up, and manages to end in a way that makes me excited for the imminent Darksiders 2.
At its core, Darksiders is the dark Zelda game that so many people have been asking for. You explore dungeons in order to find a key item; this item is then the eventual bane of the dungeon’s boss. It’s a familiar formula that holds up well enough, and it manages to add a few twists and turns of its own. The items are mostly familiar; you’ll use a boomerang, hook shot, and gauntlet to solve different puzzles throughout the game. The items mostly feel like they belong, using darker monikers and more thematically fitting models to keep them aligned with the game’s apocalypse feel. In one instance, however, it feels as if an item was shoehorned into the game in order to round out the number of items available. It feels like the developers ran out of ideas, and picked the first Zelda item they could think of to fill out the inventory. It ends up feeling like a cheap rip-off, as the item has only one use—one that could easily be replaced by a more creative aproach. It’s a small enough complaint, but one that stuck with me throughout the rest of the game.
The puzzle solving in the game hits just the right notes. Most of the dungeon puzzles are easy enough, but you will likely find yourself scratching your head once or twice throughout the game. In these circumstances, don’t expect the game’s Navi incarnate, The Watcher, to be of any help: he’s mostly useless, serving primarily as a plot device rather than the oft-helpful sense of direction Navi and her equivalents have provided in games past (Mark Hamil’s voice acting does, however, allow The Watcher to fit in with these companions in one way: he’s downright annoying). Thankfully, you don’t really need him to be too useful anyways. The game does a good job of giving you visual cues of what comes next and it’s difficult to get lost in the overworld when your next story-based objective is marked clearly on your map.
One of the biggest differentiators between Darksiders and the Legend of Zelda series is its combat. Darksiders attempts to bring more varied combat, complete with multiple upgradeable weapons, a wealth of enemies, a counter system, and combos. From an offensive standpoint, the combat flows very fluidly. It’s worth finding out what techniques work best for you, and emphasizing that in your upgrade purchases (I didn’t find the air combo system very useful, but used the dash/charge features routinely). I never felt like any single enemy was too tough for me too take down, which says just as much about the combat system as it does for War’s general level of badassery. As much as War’s offensive capabilities shine, his defensive ones feel underdeveloped. Most of the game’s combat scenarios involve multiple enemies, which invariably means you can’t concentrate on all of your enemies’ actions at once. Thankfully, War eventually accrues a large bank of health, enabling him to tank a good number of hits, normally allowing him to outlast his foes and find a nearby health chest. I died a number of times in my approximately 20 hour playthrough of Darksiders. Most of the time, I felt like there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it. To the game’s credit, the penalty for death is low, as checkpoints are routine—especially before large-scale combat scenarios. Even with its drawbacks, I found the varied combat to be a major selling point; it successfully made combat interesting in ways that Zelda never has. With a few tweaks (perhaps an Arkham Asylum style counter system), the combat could be even better. I expect the combat system will be even more fleshed out in Darksiders 2.
Darksiders goes a long way in creating a dark and brooding atmosphere for players to immerse themselves in. The Apocalypse is happening, and it’s reflected well in game. Buildings are destroyed, cars abandoned, and hellish demons roam around aimlessly. The art style is appropriately dark and gray, but the game finds enough ways to insert various bursts of color to prevent it from being too monotone. While the overworld has a number of areas that are thematically different (desert, aquatic, fire, etc.), most of the overworld consists of metropolitan disaster areas. As such, remembering where certain objects are for later backtracking sessions can be occasionally frustrating. Short of the already mentioned The Watcher, I found the characters to be voiced appropriately. War comes off as powerful and confident while Hellish demons have suitably deep and hoarse voices.
It’s hard not to compare Darksiders to games in the Legend of Zelda vein, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game takes some tropes of the genre and spins them in new and satisfying ways. If you’re looking for a game to scratch your Zelda itch, Darksiders will almost certainly satisfy, while simultaneously creating an interest in the game’s coming sequels.