Game Review: Darksiders – This Time, It’s War

Besides God of War 3, Darksiders was my next ‘most anticipated’ brawler game of 2010. The trailer showed awesome scenes of War, Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, taking on the massive enemies that had invaded Earth. Gigantic worms, flying Demons, legions of holy Angels… nothing seemed to tough for him. The world had ended: it was time to kick ass.

 

Review Highlights

(For the TLDR crowd)

Pros:

* Solid fighting, not reliant on twitch skills
* Main weapons really deliver a punch
* Fantastic looking character models
* Huge open world to explore
* Some great dungeon designs and puzzles
* Interesting characters, some good story moments
* Mark Hamill

Cons:

* Few combat moves, even fewer effective ones towards the end
* Weapon levelling system slightly broken
* Environment graphics a little underwhelming
* Open world has to be explored on foot (or occasionally horse), meaning a LOT of walking
* Dungeons and side-weapons all blatantly ripped off from other games like Zelda and Portal
* Overall story uninteresting
* Terrible final boss and ending

Concept – Hell on Earth

The concept behind Darksiders is fairly simple: the Apocalypse has come to Earth. Demons and Angels fight freely in the streets, destroying all in their way. Humanity is on the verge of extinction… when out of the chaos a glimmer of hope appears: War, Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, has awoken. He is the man that will set things straight. He will stop the forces of Heaven and Hell turning Earth into their personal playground. He marches forward to face the biggest demon in his path…

And then he dies.

Awakening millennia later, War is charged with returning to Earth and setting things right. Again. Except now it’s a wasteland with no humans to save. Little remains for him to do bar getting revenge against the Demons that defeated him. And to make sure he does so, an evil creature is bound to his wrist, called “The Watcher”, that will kill him if he changes his mind.

It sounds pretty decent, but that’s really where the coolness sort of ends. The rest of the story devolves into a simple case of “kill these big bad demons, get stuff, win”, with little extra depth. Oh, there is some subplot regarding the Angels intentions not being entirely holy, with traitors lurking on both sides. Yeah. No surprises there, though it does make for some nice confrontational moments.

Combat – Fighting in the Post-Apocalypse

When it comes to brawlers, there appears to be three types:
* “Power” brawlers rely on slower combat, letting you deliver heavy, killing blows and defend yourself via blocking or limited dodges. Many western made brawlers use this style, and it’s probably the easiest one to master.
* “Twitch” brawlers rely on cat-like reflexes, requiring you to think, dodge and attack within the space of a second. These are most common in Japanese brawlers, such as Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta. They’re considered a much more hardcore style of game, and are bane for beginner gamers to master.
* “Scratch” brawlers are a mix of the two. Attacks in these games look insanely fast and brutal, but do little damage to the enemies you fight. Most of this style is spent whittling down large slow enemies, or shredding huge groups of small ones. God of War is an example of this type of brawler.

A solid “power” brawler, Darksiders sees you wading through hordes of assorted Demons and Angels like a chainsaw on legs. With three main weapons at his disposal: an enormous sword, a wicked scythe, and a gauntlet big enough to crush a small village, War has little trouble carving up the enemies in his way. Fighting is bone-crunchingly heavy, with many attacks packing enough punch to split enemies in half. It’s bloody and satisfying, and takes a long time to get boring.

The battle system does come with its fair share of problems however. The amount of useful attacks and combos are limited, as many of the ones you earn through the RPG-like levelling system are ineffective against later enemies. This means that in the final few hours, you’ll be stuck repeating the same move over and over, simply because it kills the quickest. The learnable spells aren’t much better.

There’s also an upgrade feature for each weapon, that relies on the amount of kills you achieve while wielding them. Unfortunately, there’s little to no grinding areas in the game, meaning by the end at least one or two weapons won’t have reached max (depending on how well you planned ahead). Not a big concern for the average gamer, but for those who want to get the attached Achievement, it’ll mean another four or five hours fighting against the few low level baddies that DO actually respawn, for no beneficial in-game reason.

Finally, the side-weapons you receive along the way are next to useless for anything but the dungeon puzzles: a missed oppurtunity given how many there are. Had they done more then just irritate enemies, they would have added some much needed variety to combat. What the heck was a tiny pistol going to do against a heavily armoured Demonspawn anyway?

Homage or Hack: It’s a Thin Line

Darksiders “homages” a lot of different games through its design choices. And by homage, I mean copies exactly. And by different games, I mean mostly Zelda.

Almost everything in the game has been ripped from another popular series, especially that of our favourite green hero. Its huge open world map, filled with places you can’t access until you’ve completed this dungeon and earned that piece equipment, is sure to dredge up more then a few Ocarina of Time memories among old school players.

The developers don’t even attempt to be different with the side-weapons, unashamedly using the hook shot, boomerang, and bombs in the same kind of puzzles we played back on the Nintendo 64. In one of the last dungeons, you even get the Portal Gun. No joke. Complete with orange and blue exit/entry colours. Most disappointingly, even the dungeon settings are familiar, taking place in spider infested sewers, Geruda-like sand cities and giant Ganondorf castles.

While many will argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (more Zelda in any form is good, right?), and I’d be inclined to agree, it still left a dry taste in my mouth. When you’re struggling to find something in a game that ISN’T ripped from somewhere else, you can’t help but feel the developers were just getting lazy/being unimaginative/desperately scrambling for sales/all of the above.

It’s a shame, since they could have easily made Darksiders its own game with just a little more effort (or time or money?). What’s there is fairly well polished, and many of the unique dungeons and puzzles you do encounter are quite good. It just needed a few more to make it stand out from the crowd. Oh well. Maybe the four player co-op sequel weill rectify that?

Graphics – Only the Big and Chunky Will Survive

 

Graphics in Darksiders are a mixed bag. For a next gen game, it just doesn’t quite reach the visuals we’ve come to expect. This is mainly seen in the environments, which often feel sparse and poorly textured. The opening scene is one of the worst, taking place along some long, empty city streets, surrounded by giant cardboard buildings. A poor way to start the game, especially if you want to hook people in.

It doesn’t help that we’re forcibly exposed and re-exposed to areas for much of the game, since in most cases where we need to go can only be reached by foot. If you want to explore everything and find all the collectables, be prepared to spend quite a few extra hours loping across the world at War’s somewhat-casual jogging pace. After all, who needs to run during an Apocalypse? Even the few moments where you can ride War’s horse, Ruin, doesn’t speed things up much. And a required “collect the pieces” treasure hunt towards the end will ensure you see everything twice, even if you don’t want to.

But it’s not all bad. The sub-par environments do make the fantastic character models stand out more. War and much of the Angel Legion he fights are covered in mountains of intricately designed armour. Coupled with their stocky stature, it gives them a very square, chunky feel, which fits in well with the cartoony colour scheme. The artist they hired for the game is quite famous for his comic books that feature similar designs.

The Demon models are just as interesting, ranging from simple zombies to enormous balrogs. Some of them are truly grotesque, and die in gloriously bloody ways. My overall favourite would have to be the traitor Samael; a gigantic red winged demon with undertones of Diablo. Though only appearing in cutscenes, he’s done superbly, and really exudes a sense of hellish power. (Do I smell a boss in the sequels?)

Other minor characters, like The Watcher, Vulgrim the Vendor, Ulthane the Smith, and Uriel the Angel Lieutenant all stand out as being well designed and memorable. And don’t worry, the bosses are all suitably enormous as well. The sand worm especially will not disappoint.

Sound – Grunt, Roar and Mark Hamill

Sound in the game is adequate. You have a little music, which picks up during battles or important cutscenes. Demons gurgle and growl. Angels threaten and accuse. War himself is so laden with weapons and armour that for much of the game all you’ll be hearing is the ‘clunk clunk clunk’ of him gallivanting down corridors. And of course there’s enough grunting and roaring during battles to make you think War might actually be a tennis player under all that gear.

Voice acting is largely unmemorable, since nearly everyone is doing a fake vocal, or “Christian Bale Batman Voice”, for their characters. The only noteworthy one would be The Watcher, who is fantastically voiced by Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker aka The Joker). That alone makes the game worth a playthrough.

The End – Where A Decent Experience Came to Die

 

Despite all Darksiders problems, I really did enjoy it. It was entertaining during its high points; tedious at its low. I was able to overlook nearly all the issues I’ve pointed out so far… right up until the end.

Sadly, the final boss is so pathetically easy you can beat him with your stock character. You have no idea what a let down that turned out to be. I wasted hours upon hours, finding all the health upgrades, searching for the Abyssal Armour pieces, fully expecting the end battle to be a hardcore struggle. And what do I get? A five minute fight, topped off with enough story clichés to make Infinity Ward cringe, and a TO BE CONTINUED ending. Wow. Low blow if I’ve ever been dealt one. It tainted my whole experience, and made the extra effort I put in feel like a waste of time. Why even bother going above and beyond when the pay off is so unrewarding?

It’s sad to think how drastically the final scenes affected my entire view of it. But that’s just me. Other people may see the cliffhanger as a source of excitement for the next game, and a chance to research what’s to come. I just wish developers these days would focus more on endings that make games feel like a complete experience, rather then a stepping stone for the inevitable sequels.

Final Verdict?

Look, the game isn’t bad. It just contains some bad decisions. If you were to pick it up in a bargain bin, baring all the problems in mind, you’d probably enjoy it. Even if it’s just for the Zelda nostalgia. I’d recommend getting rid of it straight after though, since replayability is next to nil unless you’re an achievement chaser.

As always, it’s too hard to sum up all the parts of a game with a single number, so I’ll just base it on my enjoyment level on the game as a whole:

Enjoyment Rating: 7/10

Darksiders – A decent, though ultimately unrewarding romp through a Zelda like world of Demons and Angels. Pick it up for the nostagia and a glimpse into developing world, take it back when done.

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