Darksiders: Wrath of War is an interesting game that I recently got some hands-on time with.
You play as War - one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The game starts off with the beginning of the Apocalypse, where War goes about dooming all of mankind. Suddenly, War is pulled in front of some divine neutral council that says "NO! You are doing it wrong!", to which War asks for a chance to track down his fellow horse-riding associates in order to set up the story.
So the council sends War back down to the planet a hundred years after its destruction. The demons won the war, by the way, but there are still some angels stranded on earth that will try to kill you too. War isn't very good at making friends, it seems. The council also sends some creature called The Watcher with you, and he'll basically follow you around, although he does have the power to kill War if he steps out of line. The awesome Mark Hamill voices him, and therefore he sounds a little bit like Batman's Arkham Asylum-inspired Joker from time to time, but there's no problem, it still totally works.
While War has been stripped of most of his powers he is still a total bad-ass, and more than capable of killing things well beyond his own size. This powerless situation also gives you the opportunity to upgrade War throughout the game, as you find better weapons and slowly gain access to his old powers, and things such as additional combos.
The gameplay might remind some of a God of War type game at first, but it really isn't. For me, this game actually reminded me a lot more of Legacy of Kain: Defiance. The combat is a lot of fun, simple enough to get into and yet deep enough to be more satisfying for players willing to explore it a bit more. This opens up even more as you gain access to some of the cooler weapons in the game.
The level/world design of the game is also more like a Zelda game, in the sense that there is an open world that slowly opens up for you to explore, with the addition of dungeon-type levels too. The dungeon I played, which is early in the game, had me going through a tower in order to kill this big ugly bat type demon.
Unfortunately there were a few issues with gameplay. In fact, I did not get to finish this level, and the reason for that is I got stuck - twice. There were a few puzzles that had to be solved in order for me to proceed and twice through my demo I got to a point where I just had no clue how to get past where I was. Either I could not figure out the puzzle before me or I simply did not know where I was meant to go next. This can put a game demo dead in its tracks, as it is never fun running around the same area five or ten times without any sign of how to progress. I will admit that at the event I was playing I could not hear any of the sounds from the game, so perhaps there was a dialogue I missed that explained something, but to me that is still poor design. There should be some "help" option that can show me where to go next or give me a better idea of what to do, because otherwise the only other tragic option remaining is to stop playing. And I am sure that nobody wants that right?
To be fair though, the game is not due out until Jan 2010 so there is still plenty of time for them to work on this and balance all of their puzzles, as obviously this was early code. From the parts that I did play the game was great. The enemies were interesting and varied enough that I was required to be a little smart during some fights. The extra weapons you get add new features to the gameplay and you can just tell this is one of those games where this demo only scratched the surface of its depth.
The story is definitely an interesting and cool concept. From what I have seen there is a big conspiracy element to it and I would imagine that there will be a lot of twists and betrayals. The art design is also pretty polished, as you can see elements of our world not only destroyed but also how this blends in with the new demonic rulers inhabiting the earth.
Darksiders: Wrath of War is a game I have had my eye on for a while now. What I got to play has definitely kept me interested, however I am nervous about when the final game gets here. What if I get stuck again and cannot figure out how to proceed? It is damn frustrating when that happens and I am not a big fan of using walkthroughs to help me through games.
So for me, the challenge to the developers is to make their level design and puzzles clever but easy enough to understand how to progress forward (or add a “help/guide” button). If they can do this, Darksiders might be the first must-play game of 2010 - not that it will have much competition around its supposed release date of 01/01/10