The combat itself plays out like any other hack-n-slash title. War is armed with his trusty sword Chaoseater and can also use a couple of secondary weapons such as a gauntlet, a scythe and even a handgun. Each weapon can be levelled up and fitted with enchantments that you’ll find throughout the game. Some of the combat moves are quite reminiscent of Devil May Cry (complete with a temporary ‘demon’ mode) with God of War style finishing moves thrown into the mix. Enemies show a button prompt on their head once you’ve done enough damage. Hitting the button triggers a gory finisher where War mercilessly finishes off the enemy. It’s quite a lot of fun watching him chop off a giant demon’s head after climbing onto its back or vertically slitting a worm-like mini-boss from top to bottom.
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In addition to the basic combat moves, War can also use four types of “wrath” powers, which are essentially the game’s magical abilities. There’s a decent amount of variation in the enemies and mini-bosses, both big and small, that you’ll face throughout the game. Some of them require you to evade attacks effectively as a single hit can take a significant chunk of War’s health bar. Yet the combat always remains accessible and never gets overwhelming enough to cause frustration.
Killing enemies, opening chests and breaking objects nets you various types of souls. These range from green healing souls, yellow souls which boost your magic meter and finally blue souls which are the game’s currency. In almost every major area of the game you’ll find the demon Vulgrim, who in addition to providing fast travel services via inter-dimensional “serpent holes”, also doubles up as the game’s merchant. Much like every other hack-n-slash game, you can buy new moves and abilities and also upgrade your existing ones. New weapons, enchantments and other supporting items can also be purchased at the cost of a few blue souls. You’ll generally find souls in plenty (especially if you keep an eye out for chests) and will be able to buy pretty much all that you would need throughout the game.
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As the story progresses, War eventually reunites with his fiery steed Ruin. In some of the game’s larger areas, Ruin can be summoned at any time to cover long distances quickly, and I don’t think at this point I even need to bring up Zelda again. War can fight on horseback and his attacks do far more damage while riding. There are a couple of sequences that involve fighting on horseback that are quite memorable and a lot of fun to play through. There are also a few instances where War gets a chance to wield a heavy gun-like weapon dropped by certain enemies. At this point the game effectively turns into a third-person shooter. Using these guns and blasting through hordes of enemies is genuinely fun. Throw in an on-rails flying section (reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon) where you ride a gryphon-like creature and you can see the gameplay has a great amount of variety in it. It rarely ever gets monotonous or repetitive.
Darksiders is penned by comic book artist Joe Madureira (a.k.a. Joe Mad), and it’s quite evident from the game’s larger than life comic book-style art direction and dialog. The visuals look like a cross between World of Warcraft and Fable and the environments are quite varied, from post-apocalyptic urban areas to lush green valleys with shimmering waterfalls to dusty desert wastelands. While the graphics are commendable in an artistic way, the game engine unfortunately does not hold up well enough. The frame rates are somewhat inconsistent, even when there isn’t much happening on screen and the general lack of anti-aliasing is quite noticeable in certain areas. The game is still quite playable though and the thankfully the engaging nature of the gameplay will make you look past most of the technical inconsistencies. The voice acting is pretty good and deserves special mention. It may come off as cheesy initially but it suits the over-the-top nature of the story. Almost all characters in the game are either angels or demons and sound appropriately menacing.
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Apart from the minor technical issues, I honestly did not find any faults with Darksiders. I had heard some complaints about the obtuse nature of the puzzles prior to playing the game. But that is surely not the case. If you have been playing video games for a long time, you should have no trouble getting past most of the areas in the game. On the game’s Normal difficulty setting, it should take an average player around 15 to 20 hours (or more if you choose to backtrack and find every single treasure) to finish the game. There are no side quests in the game apart from finding all treasure chests, so those expecting a more freeform game with lots of stuff to do will be slightly disappointed.
I personally felt that the gameplay length is quite right as the quality more or less makes up for the lack of any side quests. The replay value is a little stilted though. Due to the nature of the gameplay and level design, there is no New Game+ mode. So apart from trying the game on a harder difficulty, there isn’t much incentive to go through it again. Also, being a game that’s primarily focused on puzzles, it may not be as enjoyable on a second playthrough. That aside, it’s worth recommending the game for its intelligent level design, clever puzzles and a well-designed combat system.
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Despite some minor technical issues, it’s very difficult for a video game enthusiast to not enjoy Darksiders. Yes, the gameplay is mostly based on borrowed ideas, but it eventually culminates into an engaging experience that will have you clearing level after level even when it’s way past bedtime. If you love action games that require more than just finesse with the controller, look no further, Darksiders could very well be the beginning of an excellent action-adventure franchise.
(+) Great mix of combat, exploration and puzzle solving
(+) Intelligent level design
(+) Appropriately challenging without being cheap
(+) Decent story and voice acting
(-) Some technical inconsistencies in the game engine
(-) Limited replay value
Developer/Publisher: Vigil Games/THQ
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Rs 2,499), PS3 (Rs 2,499)
Reviewed on: PS3