Darksiders: War is good for: Portals, Hookshots & Razors
Darksiders, a game that can compared to Zelda is every way, shape and form, which is a complement. Yet it is able to stand on its own merits, despite some considerable faults in the mechanics of the game. So is this more mature Zelda? In a way, yes it is, because it manages to go that extra mile that Zelda never really did, showing the blood and gore, and apocalyptic world that could so easily happen for no foreseeable reason.
The story opens with the Horseman; War, coming to earth on what we can assume to be judgement day, in order to kill the legions of hell. After a tutorial walkthrough of the game, War meets with a group of Angels, led by Abaddon, the Nick Fury of Heaven…who is quickly killed off so the game wouldn’t really have to voice or focus on him for too long…ah well, we still have his hot second in command, whose name I forget. Abaddon mutters something about the seventh seal being protected, and that War should not, in fact, be there. Following this event, War is quickly Samus Aran’d by the boss of this level, and loses all his powers, only to be awakened by the Council, a group of stone heads, who proceed over hell. They tell him he has been unconscious for one hundred years, and that for his crimes of breaking the natural law, appearing on earth and being blamed for the chaos and total genocide of humanity, he will be tried. War is suitably pissed with these accusations, telling the council that he didn’t cause this, and swears that he will hunt down and kill those responsible. Thus, they attach an annoying shadow spirit, The Watcher, to him to keep him under control, give him a sword, and send the Horseman to Earth in order to bring about balance once again. There is a whole backstory about the origins of the council, and the roll of Heaven, Hell and everything in between, but seeing as it’s never really used, I’ll just skip on ahead. Besides, it’s all explained at the opening of the game, and isn’t that hard to follow.
This story is solid, and places the stakes in a whole different place compared to most other games. There is no world to save, all humans are dead, and so your goal is to simply kill Angels, Demons and everything in between to prove your innocence. The desolate world you enter really shows off just how blunt the game’s story wishes to be with the player, they have lost, the only path is that of vengeance.
Along the way, War will meet several interesting characters, including Vulgrim, a creepy, pervy, skeletal creature that runs a series of ‘shops’ throughout the game world. Trading souls with Vulgrim allows War to buy new weapons, moves and items that can be used throughout the game. Along with this, we are introduced to a number of other characters, such as Samael, who you have to aid in order to gain access to The Tower, where The Destroyer, the creature that, in fulfillment of its name, destroyed everything, resides. This again cements the ideals behind the game’s storyline, with introductions of important, long term characters, who are fully voiced and voiced very well, showing just how low War will have to go, on a moral plain, in order to achieve revenge.
Combat in Darksiders is involving and fun, while keeping with a hectic motif that really never allows the player to take their heads out of the game. Each button can be assigned a weapon or a piece of equipment that war can use without having to enter the menu. Two buttons are assigned for equipment, two for weapons. This is, unfortunately, not an efficient system, as more often than not, multiple equipment slots, i.e. more than two, are needed to complete the game’s biggest bane, and negative point…the puzzles. But we’ll get to them later. Aiming takes place by pressing the Right Thumbstick, and can be a little too oversensitive at times. This makes some of the more intricate sections of the game an ironically hellish experience. The Right Trigger controls the equipment, while the Left Trigger is used to lock-on to specific enemies. It is a simple system, perhaps too simple, because in some sections of the game, there simply isn’t enough of a hot-key interface, rendering the whole idea almost null and void when the player has to pause the game, scroll through the different screens, select the item they were after, then assign the item to a slot. This takes time, and draws the player out of the game, having them wonder why, oh why; they have to go through this crap just to assign a health shard to a button.
The soundtrack to Darksiders, along with the voice acting, is simply stunning. It takes the quirky style it is dealt and utilises it in every aspect of the game. Music is dark, gritty, and orchestral, while voice-acting consists of some of the most convincing portrayals of characters I’ve seen in years. It is an incredible feat to see such a great use of sound, even though, at times, the balance can be off…and subtitles are a must. Which is the only real downside to the sound of the game.
The graphics in Darksiders are top-notch. Off the bat, the game’s independent art-style suck the player in the world of War, and every frame looks as hauntingly apocalyptic and desolate as the next, on earth that is. The hellish areas have a blood, fire and spike style that looks perfect for those areas, and the Angel inhabited areas look idyllic and pristine. The combat system only serves to compliment this more, as blood and insanely fast sword swings leave trails through the air and on the ground. The levels are designed in a fairly nice, and individual, fashion, with no same idea being used twice. Unfortunately, this also shows how little there is to offer in terms of the overall gameplay and length.
Darksiders suffers one of the most crippling diseases known in modern videogames: it attempts to ramp up the scale of its rather narrow narrative to apocalyptic (see what I did there) levels. The story is fairly straight forward in terms of its narrative, go to ‘X’, kill ‘Y’, solve puzzle, repeat, and in all the time the game tries to convince the player that it is doing more than it seems, it is working against itself. Despite what I said about the story content at the beginning of the review, I’m actually focusing on a wholly different aspect of how the storyline itself combines with the gameplay and level designs. Darksiders setting and story may be pretty amazing, with some nice, original takes on some tired out ideas, but how it utilises the story leaves a lot to be desired. We don’t really see much of the ‘story’ elements used within the levels; they all seem to be based around the puzzles that break the story up. The plot points are separated by long, arduous platforming sections, which really disrupt the progression the overall plot, and can often lead the player to forget important characters or plot elements that are involved later in the story. These sections are just out of place, shoehorned into the game to put in a few more hours worth of content that separates the player from the boss fights, which are, by the way, hit and miss. The puzzles aren’t really that difficult, but can be taxing, as they are long and large in number. They are, for the most part, the least fun element in this game, which is a pity, seeing as the game is roughly split into the formula mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph at least five times.The whole experience just seems to be trying too hard, and it never really pays off, in this case, less could have meant more.
The whole world is based around a hub system, where the player will continually have to return to Samael, following the killing of the bosses of the game, in order to gain access to the next area and boss. It’s a nice touch, and as the game progresses, and the player gains more powerful abilities and new gadgets, exploration opens up in this area, allowing the player to travel and find new collectibles, which are split into Health, Chaos and Wrath.
The interface of Darksiders is far from innovative, but it does have a nice change of pace from previous titles like it. Health is measured by the usual health bars, which are extended over time, while Wrath is used to activate abilities that can be bought from Vulgrim. Chaos is a more abstract, and overall awesome, ability. Over time, this gauge will fill up as War slices his way through his enemies. When full, it can be activated to reveal War’s Chaos form, a demonic, winged, flaming demon creature that the player can control for as long as the Chaos gauge still has energy. Though this mode is really only used in tight scrapes, it’s still nice to whip it out and tear peon-demons and angels apart, and is one of the highlights of the game. Passive abilities can be placed on weapons, which give War bonus’ for using said weapons to kill, though these are collectibles for the better part of the game, and some are a lot less useful in later areas than others. Weapons gain experience and grow in power the more they are used, and this allows more potent and powerful abilities to be purchased for them.
However, despite all of these positive points, Darksiders just cannot seem to get to grips with what its trying to achieve. The platforming sections are simply awful, and the combat sections aren’t really that challenging; the player just has to survive waves of enemies whose designs only ever change in terms of colour. Enemies in general never seem to differentiate much in the progression of the game, and are really only placed there to be slaughtered as messily as possible by the player.
The boss fights are, as stated before, a hit and miss affair. They are difficult at times, other times they can be deceptively easy, but they all revolve around the same mechanic: Dodge, Dodge, attack with long range weapons, hit with sword when they fall down, activate Quick Time Event to finish them. This wouldn’t be such a bother if there weren’t so many different types of bosses within the game. There are mini-bosses, mini-mini-bosses and a whole array of enemies who aren’t really bosses, but feel like they should have their own section of the game. The difficulty curve is non-existent, and the only reason a player has a health bar with so many possible upgrades is because they’ll need it from the constant stream of unblockable attacks that come their way later in the game. Dying in this game doesn’t seem like the game is attempting to punish the player for doing something wrong, it feels like the game didn’t plan for some of these sections to be so hard. Enemies lack diversity, but their power levels increase and throw off the player sense of difficulty. Its an almost paradoxical system, where the player nearly has to die so they know what they’re up against, just to have a strategy for beating said enemies. It has a feeling of being a more alienating, if not accidently so, experience, that sucks the fun out of a game that, without the negative sections, surely would have been Zelda’s mature, younger, overall badass, sibling.
Darksiders was a nice attempt as bringing a new formula to the table, and while not terrible, it lacks some of the polish that should have made the game amazing. Graphically, the game holds its own, the same can be said for the combat mechanics, but overall, the confused use of narrative plot to drive the story, the heavy-handed platforming and puzzle sections, and the lack of any real benefits to exploration, throw the game into light as a title that wanted to do so much, it simply lost the thread it was gingerly walking on. If Darksiders 2 learns from these mistakes, learns to make platforming and puzzle sections less of a chore and more part of the overall game world, and allows for more plot development, then we’re looking at one hell of a new contender.
The Verdict: 3/5
- Excellent use of graphics
- Combat is fun and involving
- Storyline, for what it is, has an interesting take on the game world
- Characters are fun and diverse
- Character design is over-the-top, and is distinct
- Music is dark and voice-acting is well matched to characters
- Platforming sections are out of place
- Enemy design is fairly standard and lacks any real definition
- Puzzles only serve as a blatant attempt to make story progression slow
- Inventory interface is poorly executed and needlessly complicated
- Collectibles aren’t really necessary or useful
- Sound-balance issues require the use of subtitles
- Harder battles can become an exercise in monotony
In the battle to contend for platform and puzzle king, Darksiders has a good chance of making heads turn, with its excellent story, original art design, and fun combat mechanics. However, many platform and puzzle sections lack the same definition that the main game is allowed to shine with, and this in turn, drags the game down to above average territories. A must buy for anyone looking to play a title that has all its own ideas about a genre we’ve seen before. Not necessarily done better, but still interesting and fun.
WTF? Moment: I’m a freaking fire-demon, this is so cool and awesome to be this…wait…you just Samus Aran’d me? NOOOOO! Also...Portal Gun? Really?