Darksiders has seemingly been in development forever. Once I heard about the title, I was immediately interested in it thanks in large part to my adoration of one of the Darksiders’ creators, Joe Madureira. As more and more information about the game was released, I was confident that his decision to leave comics to work in video games was going to pay off. Combining a fantastic design aesthetic with a solid story and engaging adventure gameplay, Darksiders entered the new year as a frontrunner for the first must buy title of 2010.
Darksiders pits you in the role of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. You were wrongly summoned to the Earthly realm, bringing the apocalypse on early, thus removing humanity from existence. War faces judgment for his transgression, but claims innocence. Stripped of his powers, and sent back out into the world, it’s up to War to take down the real monster responsible for ravaging the world, the Destroyer. By your side will be the Watcher, a Navi-like guide of sorts that chaperones your quest. The story of a fallen hero on a path towards redemption isn’t terribly new, but Darksiders’ plot is compelling enough to keep you playing in order to find out what happens next. There’s also good deal of variety in the places you’ll go and the demons you’ll encounter, which helps keep things fresh over the 20 or so hours you’ll be playing the game. Unfortunately, there are often long action-intensive gaps where the plot is not moved forward, and when you are finally given more information, it’s in small doses. Luckily, the mythos of Darksiders is rich, if at times a bit convoluted, and manages to keep you intrigued.
Developer Vigil Games has put a lot of work into paying tribute to the classic adventure games of years past, while still trying to put their own twist on the gameplay. Swordplay is fairly basic, and makes use of easy one or two-button attacks you can chain into lengthy combos with ease. There’s a blocking and countering system that works, but takes a bit of getting used to since the block command is mapped to the same button as your dash. You’ll hardly ever find yourself standing perfectly still when surrounded by multiple enemies, so War will sometimes not block when you want him to. As you progress, you’ll earn new weapons to help dispose of demons like the crossblade (a boomerang-like bladed projectile), a scythe, or the Redeemer, a massive Angelic cannon. You’ll also earn abilities that will aid you in your fight like shadow flight, which allows you to glide for a brief time, or Blade Geyser, a power that summons huge blades from beneath the ground. Eventually, you’ll unlock your Chaos form, which turns the already larger than life War into a massive fiery demon that can dole out huge damage for a limited time. Near the midpoint of the game, you gain the ability to summon your steed, Ruin, to aid you in battle. It’s an interesting way to break up the monotony of hand-to-hand, but isn’t as freeing as you would have thought.
Darksiders borrows almost unapologetically from God of War when it comes to leveling, buying new abilities, and restoring your health and magic. Instead of a world full of orbs, Darksiders’ dystopic future is full of souls. Souls can be earned by finding chests, killing enemies, or by completing challenge rooms. Several times throughout the game, you’ll have to complete a handful of inescapable rooms to proceed. Challenges range from killing X amount of enemies in a time limit, to protecting a small group of unarmed demons, to killing demons using certain types of finishers. They’re not terribly difficult, but there were times I just wanted to get on with the story, and not have to trudge through another series of challenges in order to find out what happened next, and I wish you didn't have to complete each one to proceed. When you have enough souls, you can visit the merchant, Vulgrim, who has new combos, weapons, powers, and additional upgrades available for purchase. With the sheer amount of enemies in the world, you’ll never be at a loss for souls, but purchasing every possible option will take more than one playthrough.
The game’s dungeons are varied and interesting, but Darksiders pits you against waves of enemies as a way to increase difficulty, rather than including challenging puzzles or complex platforming sections. While the game’s platforming isn’t quite perfect, it’s passable. Perhaps if the game had been developed to follow one genre more closely, rather than try to implement aspects of adventure games and platformers, the gameplay would be stronger and more focused. It’s still highly enjoyable, but the game’s indecision as to what genre it wants to be makes some sections rougher around the edges than they needed to be. The game’s boss fights are pretty epic, combining both challenge and fun, and provide a great deal of satisfaction when completed. Even though Darksiders may not bring anything completely new to adventure or platformer gameplay, the elements used come together well enough to provide an engaging experience.
One would think that a game about a post-apocalyptic world would be dark and gloomy, with a color palette consisting of over-saturated grays and browns, but Darksiders doesn’t follow the convention, and presents a world full of vibrant colors. Even in darker segments of the world, like caverns and tunnels, the varying hues of demon spawn pop off the screen. Darksiders feels very much like a comic come to life, and features wonderfully designed characters with huge, bulging muscles and elaborate costuming. There isn’t much of a score to speak about, as the soundtrack is very subdued for most of the game. Unlocking a previously locked door will sound a familiar musical cue, but aside from that, there’s not much to differentiate Darksiders’ music from any number of adventure titles. The voice work is one of the highlights of the game, featuring voiceover vets Mark Hamill (Watcher) and Liam O’Brien (War). The performances definitely draw you in; particularly since the actors make the most of every second they’ve got something to contribute. You’ll find a handful of animations repeat quite a bit, and some of the game’s textures aren’t as strong in some areas as they are in others, but Darksiders is a well-polished title that’s made good use of lengthier development time.
Darksiders doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to adventure games, but that’s not a bad thing. Though it’s not without its issues, and the elements inspired by classic adventure titles don’t always hit their mark, there’s actually quite a bit to like about the game. From the solid story and non-stop action, to the impressive character and level design, the combined aspects present an impressive package. Darksiders starts 2010 off on the right foot, and sets the bar for the rest of the year in gaming.