Darksiders isn’t a very original game. Take, for example, the Zelda-like dungeons and equipment, the God of War style finishers, the Soul Reaver-like wings, or the most blatant example a Portal gun that creates, well, portals… I could go on. But that’s really not the point of this review. Sure, the game borrows a lot from other titles, but it does so rather well. It won’t have you screaming “bloody rip-off!” every time you come across a familiar gameplay mechanic, instead it will have you thinking “how do I cross that bloody chasm over there so I can get to that treasure chest?”. Darksiders is the perfect example of why there is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas as long as you make a great game to go along with it. This first effort from developer Vigil Games is surely a promising one and is guaranteed to leave an impression.
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You are War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a typical brooding anti-hero archetype who doesn’t like to take sides and carries a rather large sword. While you don’t need to have the Book of Revelations memorised, some basic knowledge would help you understand the setting of the game. A premature war between the forces of heaven and hell causes the destruction of mankind. The Charred Council, which acts as a mediator of sorts, sends War to bring order and “restore the balance” between the two sides.
With the other Horsemen MIA, War somehow gets framed for causing the death of the archangel Abaddon during a battle with an elder demon and ultimately causing the apocalypse. He is then stripped of his powers and is about to be executed, but is given one last chance by his masters to return to the demon-infested Earth and find and punish the one actually responsible for the early arrival of the apocalypse. All of this forms the obligatory opening level where you start with all your powers and abilities and are then left with none, back at square one. Then it’s time for War to get it all back while killing anyone who stands in his way; angel or demon.
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For a game that lets you play as “War”, Darksiders is a surprisingly different game than you’d expect. Combat plays a large part in the proceedings, but it’s still more of an adventure game on the lines of Legend of Zelda than a simple hack-n-slash-fest. In fact, it’s very difficult to leave out the Zelda comparisons while describing the game considering the number of common gameplay elements. The game world is broken into a smaller areas (or dungeons in the traditional sense) which require a combination of exploration, puzzle-solving and combat in order to progress.
As expected, most areas are sealed off until you find the right equipment to get past them along with a lot of block-pushing, lever-pulling and switch-throwing. The level design is consistently good with each area getting progressively more challenging than the last. All major areas end with a massive boss fight that usually requires a specific strategy to beat and not simply combat prowess. Some of the boss fights are genuinely thrilling and are some of the high points of the game.
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Accompanying War on his quest is The Watcher, an annoying demonic bastard sent by the Council to keep War on a short leash. He often drops hints during some of the tougher puzzles and boss fights, much like Zelda’s Navi, only more annoying. But these hints are few and far between and most of the time the game lets you figure out the puzzles by yourself.
That’s one of the things that I really loved about Darksiders. It’s a nice throwback to games of the past. Most games these days tend to be overly friendly by dropping hints and tips around every corner, but not this game. It rarely ever tells you what you need to do. It can be considerably challenging at times and some of the more devious puzzles do require patience and some out-of-the-box thinking. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s by no means a difficult game. It’s simply one which encourages you to think instead of following a set path.
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Darksiders is largely a linear game, but much like any ‘metroidvania’-style action-adventure game (like the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum or Shadow Complex), the level design encourages you to backtrack to earlier levels in order to enter areas that you could not reach earlier. However, the game itself never really makes all of this obvious. It’s your job to recognise patterns in the level design and remember them. These hidden areas typically house treasure chests, which contain valuable collectibles ranging from items which can boost War’s health and wrath (which powers his magic gauge) and pieces of a special unlockable armour, among other things. Although these are entirely optional, backtracking and getting these items does come in handy later on in the game when the battles start getting tougher.
Next page: IVG Verdict