Darksiders Review: Apocalyptic
While waiting for Darksiders 2 to be released in Europe I decided to finish the first game. I played Darksiders when it originally released in 2010 but never finished it, so I began a new game and experienced the entire game from the start. Darksiders puts you in the role of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It is a game that has been accused of borrowing heavily from many other titles, and this is largely true, though many of the aspects it borrows have a small impact and do not erode the identity of this game as its own thing. It has been likened to God of War by many, but Darksiders is very different from Sony's series. However, it is undeniable that it bares a striking list of similarities to the Legend of Zelda games. With this in mind I was interested to see if Darksiders could do enough differently from Nintendo's flagship series to make it worthy of time investment, or is it just a shameless rip off with nothing to offer.
The story of Darksiders begins by providing the set-up of the lore: Heaven and Hell are awaiting the end days and the final battle for supremacy, but both recognise the authority of an entity called the Charred Council to oversee the beginning of the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen are the enforcers of the Council, but the final war will not begin until the kingdom of man is ready to participate in this conflict. The game opens with the Apocalypse beginning as angels and demons fall to earth together locked in fierce battle. War arrives to take part in the battle but the Apocalypse has been started prematurely and humanity is quickly crushed. Things go badly for War and he is blamed for the extinction of the human race and the ruination of the balance between good and evil. War pleads his innocence and so begins a quest to get his revenge and redeem his reputation. The plot gets very creative with an interesting lore, providing some very fitting characters from both Heaven and Hell. The story is well written and the conspiracy surrounding the framing of War is great to unravel. The narrative is delivered with mixed pacing and much of the tale is delivered to the player via cutscenes that take place after fetch quests, but the mythos is strong enough to drive things forward and should compel most players to the climax of the game. Unfortunately Darksiders never really does much with its characters in terms of development, with a simplistic portrayal of War and nothing beyond the core revenge plot. This limited scope is disappointing considering how interesting the setup of the world is.
Visually Darksiders has a striking style and look. It is a colourful and almost graphic novel like in its art style, with an emphasise on exaggerating the physique of character models and making all the characters look extremely weighty and powerful. It is not unlike World of Warcraft at a glance, but it has improved upon that in many ways and manages to make Darksiders look very different from any game in the genre that I have played. War himself looks fantastic, with a plethora of details surrounding his clothing, armour and weaponry. Enemies are varied with widely different looks, from slimy grotesque monsters to glittering angels. Animations are fluid and the game moves nicely. The large landscape is broken up into distinct areas which have their own aesthetic look, from a desert to a jungle, and all things in between. There are plenty of crumbling buildings as War travels through the ruins of human civilization, and the whole thing looks very original and attractive. Unfortunately the world does feel lifeless and lacks activity, and the different areas are so visually opposed to each other that it can feel a bit disjointed at times. There is also some minor frame rate issues but the screen tearing that plagued the game when it released is now gone thanks to a patch. Vigil clearly brought a lot of imagination to the visual design and style of Darksiders, and they deserve a lot of credit for crafting such a great looking world, especially for the first game they have developed. It does lack the crisp visual polish that games like Uncharted 2 and God of War 3 possess but its bold design and gorgeous style make it stand out.
The music of Darksiders has plenty of gothic style chants that really blend well with the setting and aesthetics of the game, and the combat tracks are energetic and heavy to go along with the physical prowess and power of War. The voice acting is also very strong, with the entire cast all coming across very well. War himself is a decent protagonist, while you "guide" The Watcher is brilliantly voiced by Mark Hamill. My personal favourite was the demon Samael, who is voiced in a way that pervades his malice and strength in an intimidating fashion. Weapon and battle sounds as well as the overworld music are all solid and work well with the rest of the game.
The combat of Darksiders is robust, focusing on stringing together attacks and learning new moves as you upgrade throughout the story. Using attacks is fairly slow and forgiving, meaning that Darksiders is a much more ponderous combat system than games like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. It has been compared to God of War a lot, and while it certainly has similarities like button prompts appearing to finish an enemy off it is a slower and system than God of War and lacks the quick time events. The animations of enemies and War are fast and smooth in combat and there are a number of weapons that you will acquire throughout the game that give more options and strategies for combat. The good variety of enemies will stop the combat from becoming too repetitive as there are very different strategies for taking down these foes. Darksiders is very heavily loaded with challenges and puzzle sections, with entire dungeon areas that are extremely reminiscent of Zelda games. Dungeon maps, keys, chests, a hook shot, bombs that blow up walls and a boomerang are all present, and you will have to use the item that you acquired in a dungeon to defeat that areas boss at the end. It is extremely similar to Zelda, but Darksiders is very much the dark Zelda title that I never particularly wanted but am more than happy to play. I did find that the game has too many puzzles at times, leading to unsteady pacing in the story and artifically padding the games length. The items you acquire are great but the abundance of puzzles got in the way of the entertaining combat and I could definitely have used less of them, especially in a particularly taxing dungeon called the Black Throne.
Darksiders has plenty of clever layout in its dungeons, and the overworld is nicely linked together and made easier to traverse by the inclusion of warp locations and a horse in the late stages of the game. The map is poor though, failing to show the player their exact current location and being a chore to open up in the menu. Changing items can also be a pain thanks to the slow menu response time and a less than ideal layout that can result in some confusion while getting used to it. Also, for some reason the game defaults to having an inverted x- axis, even when I changed it and saved, it reverted to this after I turned it back on later. The game has largely overcome its technical issues thanks to patching but some niggling control issues remain. I felt it difficult to get the response I wanted out of War from my button prompts at times, and the detection of jumping over walls or onto ledges and ropes is very picky at times. There were several occasions when I was gliding towards a ledge and War would fail to grab it, resulting in some frustration for me. Darksiders also relies too much on backtracking, which is made worse by the sheer lack of life in the game world. These design issues are not game breaking, but they detracted from the experience enough to annoy me.
Darksiders borrows from many sources, predominantly Zelda, with some ideas from God of War and Portal of all things, but the game succeeds in being its own thing. It skillfully weaves very disparate game elements together in a cohesive manner and creates a great lore and mythos to its fresh world and setting. It has a lovely visual style and is very entertaining to play. It is a long game, taking me over 16 hours to complete, so you are getting your monies worth with this title in terms of time. Darksiders is one of the best adventure games I have played, and is packed with great ideas that put it on the cusp of being and exceptional game. Some annoying menu design and a wave of unnecessary padding and backtracking is all that holds this game back from its potential, but I would still easily recommend it.
- Fun fluid and purposeful combat
- Colourful graphics and attractive art style
- Well written story and background
- Large world to explore with plenty of game content
- Controls are unresponsive at times
- Poor menu system
- Too much backtracking and padding
- They got the Portal Gun
- 7/10 - Good