Ok, how many of you, at some stage, have dreamt of taking the role of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
It's somewhat surprising that these epic characters in the war between Heaven and Hell have not been turned into a game franchise previously. Fortunately however, developers Vigil Games have now taken the characters and environments by the horns, and let their fantasies run wild, much to the benefit of gamers around the world. Darksiders is an all-new title following in the enormous footsteps of games such as God Of War, as well as drawing inspiration from the legendary Zelda series too. This combination alone piqued our interest, and we were very excited to find out what Darksiders had to offer.
Darksiders has you taking the role of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the early stages of the game, War comes out of the underworld to find the Apocalypse has taken place before it should have and mankind has been destroyed. Due to this rather monumental mistake, War has been stripped of his former power, as he is the prime suspect.
War escapes with his life due to his bargaining abilities, and his desire to discover the true cause. He's tasked with the intention of annihilating the Destroyer, who is the ruler of Hell, by The Charred Council, which are a kind of group which attempts to mediate in the war between heaven and hell. They also chain War to the Watcher, a demon that has the power to kill War if he sets a foot wrong. Fortunately for the player, the Watcher actually acts as an indication of where to go at times, or what objectives to complete, rather than simply destroying War for tripping over a ledge.
The game focuses largely on gameplay mechanics that have been tried and proven in other franchises. As alluded to previously, Zelda is a big influence here, and the way you collect pieces to level your character, as well as the at-times puzzle-heavy gameplay harks back to this. It's by no means bad, as the setting and characters are so vastly different. Another very big influence is God of War, and it certainly seems that while gamers wait until God of War 3 is released, Darksiders makes for an incredibly close experience. The controls and attacks could all be ripped directly from God of War, particularly the ability to do finishing moves on all enemies once dazed.
On top of this, orbs (or in this case "souls") are collected firstly as currency, secondly as life-force, and thirdly as a form of mana allowing you to perform special magical attacks. This works extremely well though, and in some ways it feels like a large improvement on God of War, particularly in that there is less button-mashing and much more in the way of fluid attacks and movement. The balance has been struck extremely well between the puzzle and platforming action genres, and it is refreshing that exploration and puzzles take precedence over combat. They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Combat is still a very important part of the game. Ripping the heads off demons clearly is something that we can all enjoy, and Darksiders makes it difficult not to. The stunning gore effects and the fast-paced action and combo attacks are implemented wonderfully, making them for the most part easy to engage. It's made more interesting by the wonderful character models and character animations. The models are all done in an exaggerated comic book style. Enormous swords, giant armour plating, out of this world weaponry (well, it is an epic struggle between Heaven and Hell so we’re not limited to earthly means) and of course dark, brooding environments.
The graphic style works very well to bring the apocalypse to our living rooms by making blood spray, and the action is highly stylised and totally befitting of the character models - in particular the giant swords. The graphics themselves look fantastic and it would be hard to wish for anything more at this stage. The movements are fluid and the attacks hit home hard. As you upgrade your weapons and find more you gain access to an additional range of combo attacks that make for even more spectacular gameplay.
The range of weapons and items in Darksiders helps to prevent things from becoming "same-old" too fast. As you roam the open-world landscape on foot or on your trusty steed you will come across item modifications which can be attached to your various weapons. These give a range of effects that will significantly help you fight your way to the deepest corner of Hell, and also allow you to customise the gameplay experience to an extent. War can always choose between a secondary and a primary weapon, both of which he can attack with at any given time. On top of this War has access to magical attacks which he can engage provided he has enough mana souls. These are generally powerful and particularly helpful when in a bind, or surrounded by a mass of enemies. This is pretty common as the combat generally pits you against a large number of similar strength enemies, or one enormous enemy.
Exploring the world is made easier through the use of a steed later on in the game, and the worlds are diverse enough to keep them interesting. It's not all dreary depressing depths of hell material, with some lush forests amongst other things thrown in to keep it all interesting. The maps also allow you to experience some incredible action, for example in one of the earlier stages we got to witness an amazing battle between a dragon and a griffon, and as they battled they blasted through the ceiling of an enormous cathedral. This sort of spectacular action is largely the norm in Darksiders, and fortunately doesn’t become dull.
The open-world gameplay is certainly a big improvement over the constrained gameplay that is evident in the likes of God of War, and the increased sense of freedom makes the game fun and interesting.
The ability to save at any point in the game also helps considerably over the frustration that we often experienced in God of War when traipsing to a save point, only to die just short of it. This makes the game very functional and doesn’t overly punish the player for jumping off the edge of a cliff. In fact so long as your health is high enough falling into a lava pit will simply see you respawn with some of your life reduced.
What is a shame however is that the developers didn’t find the time to include any sort of multiplayer, and have also recently announced that DLC is off the menu. This is almost unforgivable these days, however they do redeem themselves somewhat by including some pretty in-depth gameplay statistics, even including the litres of demon blood that you have spilled. Certainly an entertaining stat to check up on every now and again.
Darksiders is plagued somewhat by its copy-cat style. Fortunately the necessary improvements have been made to the known gameplay mechanics, and the context of the apocalypse certainly makes it feel all new, which is the main thing. The gameplay, environments, story and graphics are all implemented very well, and on top of this the story will last you around at least fifteen hours.
It's a sure thing that if you are a fan of Zelda or God of War you will find an incredible amount to love in Darksiders. If you aren’t a fan of platforming hack'n'slash style titles, it'd best to leave Darksiders alone.