All who wage war, know my name.
Release Date: January 05, 2010
Developer: Vigil Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a huge sword. - Revelation 6:3-4
War, one of the fabled Four Horsemen, finds himself summoned to Earth to fulfill his destiny and by bringing order to the chaos that is the Apocalypse. The only problem is that this is not Armageddon after all, something he finds out from Abaddon, the angel that holds the key to the Abyss. During his conversation with War, Abaddon was ambushed and defeated by the demon Straga. War battles Straga, but his powers were stripped from him before he could finish his foe. War did not die, his life was spared by the Charred Council, overseers of the Balance between good and evil. The Charred Council is holding him accountable for triggering the Apocalypse prematurely, tipping the balance in favour of Hell and the destruction of humanity in the process. War is sentenced to death. Before the sentence can be carried out, War strikes a deal with the Charred Council to allow him to return to Earth and make things right again. The council agrees, but offers no assistance other than Chaoseater, War’s trusty sword that has also been stripped of its former glory. They also send along the Watcher to keep a close eye on him. War’s adventure now begins.
Playing as War is an empowering experience. Even in his weakened form, War is still a very formidable opponent that demands respect. Demons and angels, while wanting to kill him, respect and even fear him.
Darksiders looks great. Some players may be put off by the cartoonish characters, but I found them to be quite appealing. They reminded me of the Gargoyles and Batman animated series. Too many games go for the super realistic look that just does not work. The character model and animation for War is superbly done. Likewise are the enemies and bosses who are huge but not overly humongous, making them a bit more believable as opponents. Some games (looking at you Bayonetta and God of War) provide such enormous enemies that they are no longer believable or impressive as the player knows that only a small portion of that enormous beast will actually pose a real threat. The great visuals also extend out to the game levels who are quite large and diverse.
A game can look as great as it wants, but if the audio is not up to snuff, the game will suffer. No worries here though as the developers did great with with the audio portion of the game as well. The various sound effects give impact to every hit delivered by War. The musical score has that epic quality to it. The voice-overs are well done, but not exceptionally spectacular with all voices in a predictably gruff and menacing tone. The sole standout would be the amazing work by Mark Hamill as the Watcher (which sounded very much like Hamill’s Joker from the Batman Animated series).
Darksiders is an action/adventure game. The action part is filled with monsters, demons, ghouls and other nasties that beg to be chopped limb from limb with War is all too eager to please. The fighting is well implemented in that the combat can be achieved by simply mashing either the X or Y buttons. Sure War will suffer many defeats utilizing this method, but it can be done. A more effective combat method will involve the use of combos and blocks to disperse of enemies. Also blocking at the last possible second will enable a counter attack. Finally War can also unleash his wrath to lay down some extremely powerful attacks. This is basically the equivalent to magic in other games. If this all sounds a bit familiar, bringing back fond memories of either Ninja Gaiden II or Bayonetta, be warned that this game is not in the same really in the same category. The action is not as frenetic and the combat system is a lot more forgiving than either of these titles.
Striking down an enemy will release any souls held captive by the creature. Souls come in three flavours; yellow souls that fill War’s wrath (think magic), green souls that will replenish his life and blue souls that serve as currency to purchase new items, weapons, power-ups and combos. While War is powerful, he will still need an entire collection of items to assist him in his quest to restored the balance. Needless to say that War can never collect too many souls. There are numerous ways to gain extra souls or a specific type of soul. One such method is to perform a kill animation. Once War has sufficiently weakened an enemy, a red B will appear over their head. Pressing the B button at this time will trigger a kill animation. Kill animation are great to watch as each creature gets their own kill animation. This is not really a QTE (quick timed event) as the game does give you a generous 10+ seconds to walk up to the enemy and press the B button. Souls can also be found trapped in various worldly objects that must be demolished to be released.
The game does a great job at balancing the overall difficulty level. At no point did was the game so easy that I felt I could mow down anything in my path with little sense of danger, but nor did it get so hard that I felt completely overwhelmed. At all times, I felt that I could beat a particular nasty section if only I changed my tactic a bit. This did not change as War increased in power, as the enemies kept pace. The difficulty ramping just enough to keep the game interesting. This combined with the forgiving combat system makes the game accessible to players of all ages and skill level.
The adventure portion of the game is provided by having a world filled with locations to visit and explore with plenty to secret to unlock. Hidden around every corner are chests filled with souls or items waiting to be found. Some of these items are required to advance the story, some simply to enhance War’s power. Many of the areas and items are not directly accessible to War, forcing him to perform a specific action or series of actions before he can gain access. These puzzles are quite numerous in this apocalyptical world, but none of them are extremely difficult to figure out if the player remembers that everything needed to solve a particular puzzle will always be close at hand. On the other hand some locations will be completely inaccessible to War, at least at the start of the game. These areas will become available only once War acquires the proper item or power needed to unlock these locations. The good news is that the developers opted to save the player a lot of backtracking time by implementing a quick transport system with the serpent holes. These holes located all over the game world (thanks to the game’s shop keeper) are all interconnected via a path that resides in an alternate dimension, but in reality this dimension is simply a sophisticated loading screen. Still it’s better than watching an inactive picture on the screen for thirty seconds.
As I am famous for saying, no game is perfect. Darksiders does have its share of problems. The game offers so many weapons/magic/item choices that it must makes heavy use of the Xbox 360's flawed D-pad, causing unnecessary frustration. Time and time again I would press left or right on the D-pad only to have the wrong item selected. This is not really the games fault, but until MS releases a controller with a perfectly working D-pad, developers should refrain from using it for any critical functions.
Enemies in the game could have used some immunities to particular attacks. Indifferent of the demon or angel that is the target of War's vengeance, the exact same attack pattern from War would bring justice and a quick demise to all of them. Sure some enemies required a hit and run approach, but none appeared to be immune to any particular attack method. On the same front, the game’s many bosses could have enjoyed more variety as well. Each boss only has a few attack that it will use over and over again in a very predictable pattern. Sure a boss will deliver a great deal of damage to War if it manages to hit him with one of these attacks, but it will only require the average gamer a few minutes to realise the attack pattern and what is needed to defeat the overgrown critter. The relative ease of the boss battles kind of takes away from the feeling of accomplishment gained from achieving victory. To be honest, it is much more difficult to simply reach each boss than actually defeating it.
My final complaint is that the game could have used a bit more character and comic relief moments. The best part of my experience with the game was interacting (not fighting) with Ulthane, a giant with a Scottish accent. He was a very enjoyable character that was quite funny. The game could have used more encounters with memorable characters such as Ulthane.
There are a lot of comparisons made between Darksiders and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I am here to call bull on the comparisons. Just because a game features some adventuring does not make it an “Ocarina of Time” clone. Legend of Zelda did not invent adventure games. Many great titles such as System Shock came long before our fairy loving boy. That being said, there is nothing really new in Darksiders that has not been seen before in other titles, including the Ocarina of Time. This is not really an issue or a flaw with the game as it is not any one particular element that makes Darksiders a joy to play; it is the seamless blending of all these borrowed elements that elevates the game above other similar titles. I strongly recommend this game to anyone that loves a good adventure game.