RELEASED: January 5, 2010
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Vigil Games, Mass Media
In the last 15 years, hack 'n' slash action-adventure games have become - largely thanks to the success of the original Devil May Cry and the God of War series - what platformers were in the early 90's thanks to the success of Nintendo's Mario and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. Every publisher needs to have one to their credit - at least nowadays they realize they've got to have a gimmick or two to survive. THQ slapped their paws on a game originally called Darksiders: Wrath of War - the debut of Vigil Games, founded by comic book artist Joe Madureira and game designer David L. Adams. Initially planned as a franchise of at least three games, Darksiders was a fair critical success, praised for its fine mixture of fine elements and an exciting post-apocalyptic setting which placed us in the boots of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And now, four years after its release, the game lies on the operating table of the hack 'n' slash master for a requested review.
Epic of War
Liam O'Brien : War
Mark Hamill : The Watcher
Troy Baker : Abaddon / Straga / Tormented Gate
Moon Bloodgood : Uriel
Vernon Wells : Samael
Keith Szarabajka : Azrael
Phil LaMarr : Vulgrim
J.B. Blanc : Ulthane
Fred Tatasciore : The Charred Council
Lani Minella : Tiamat / Silitha
In the dawn of time, the Charred Council was created to preserve law and order between the Kingdoms of Heaven and Hell. They named four enforcers, dubbed the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Death, Strife and Fury. In time, a third kingdom emerged - the Kingdom of Man. The council decreed that the Endwar for dominance would be settled within the third kingdom, when man was ready for it, and the Four Horsemen would arrive to punish the guilty. When the Seventh Seal is broken, the apocalypse will begin. In the present day, the armies of Heaven and Hell collide. War arrives on Earth believing he was summoned and that the Endwar has begun, but is confused by the absence of his brothers. Just after learning that the Seventh Seal was not broken and that his presence on Earth is forbidden, War is killed by the demon Straga and is taken in by the Charred Council, who accuse him of treachery and interference with the balance, which has now resulted in the utter, premature destruction of the Kingdom of Man. Pleading to the Council for a chance to investigate into the devastating trickery, War sets out to bring the ones responsible for Earth's destruction to justice.
|One fine day in the city.|
I've been requested a look into the Darksiders franchise for a few months due to my apparent fascination with dark, brutal hack 'n' slash action, and good stories. Sadly none of these elements really stand out when it comes to Darksiders. Before the arrival of God of War, it'd been a whole different story, and God of War is without question the strongest influence here, in terms of gameplay and a bit in terms of storytelling as well, but when it comes to darkness and brutality, and the high impact of the action, God of War swipes the much longer straw. Darksiders is presented in a comic book style, which I thought was where it hit its first snag, although I should've guessed it considering that the creative director drew X-Men for three years (what a way to tie this in to the marathon at hand). I feel somewhat cut off from the tension. The story... well, as fresh and interesting as it is to play as a God damn Horseman of the Apocalypse, some plot twists could use a bit more elaboration, especially when the lengthy dungeons keep you off from the story for hours at a time; at least a recap once in a while would be courteous. I played the game from the beginning to the end in just a couple of days of time and I still found myself to have fallen off the wagon almost completely two hours towards the end credits. It was like, "there's some demon I have to kill". Hooray, it's dead. End credits, preceded by some strange babble about how "they're coming" after my character. OK... straight into Darksiders II and to my perfect relief, it isn't a direct sequel. Maybe they'll handle things a bit differently right off the bat, 'cause this just didn't work right.
|The boss fights are some of the best bits.|
It sounds all right, though. Good enough music to meet genre demands, better voice acting; Mark Hamill pulls the Joker gag as the Watcher, who's like War's reverse guardian angel, and provides us with tips throughout the game. Hamill's replacement as the Joker in the Batman series, Troy Baker, also makes a notable appearance as three different characters. The gorgeous Moon Bloodgood who you might remember from Terminator: Salvation or the short-lived sci-fi show Journeyman appears as one angry bitch from Heaven, Vernon Wells of Commando and Mad Max 2 cult fame impresses as the demon Samael, Keith Szarabajka makes a key appearance near the end of the game, Phil LaMarr plays the part of the demon merchant Vulgrim - sounds almost identical to Mark Hamill's performance, though - and Fred Tatasciore once again turns up whenever there's a search for some monstrous, booming, effect-laden voice. The most memorable thing about War himself is that he sounds like an asshole, but I guess that's the thing with Liam O'Brien's characters.
Enough jibjab, Darksiders is a very standard third-person hack 'n' slash game with some very mild Metroidvania element that indeed doesn't really present itself 'til the very end; there's one certain upgrade to War's arsenal that reveals (the paths to) most secrets of the game. But, everyone's got to have a gimmick and I guess that Darksiders' gimmick is the level design which is just as influenced by The Legend of Zelda than it is by any other hack 'n' slash. The dungeons in the game are lengthy puzzle-ridden labyrinths. The puzzles are very good, at that, though occasionally one single puzzle is rubbed in your face a bit too heavily. It's like "ooh, this idea is so fantastic that we need to repeat it a few times". You either need to solve the exact same puzzle from a different entry point several times, or an extremely similar puzzle with some light variable three or four times at ten minute intervals. I guess I'll stick this on the beginner's tab - let's be fair, there have been worse debut offerings than Darksiders. Much worse - if your mind's set on beating Darksiders, and you're not expecting miracles on perfect par with your genre favourites, you will very likely enjoy this game.
|Of course there's a godmode, what'd you|
War's special Wrath attacks are few in numbers, and even fewer in terms of true benefit. I actually used just two out of four during the whole game. The Wrath meter is normally a bitch to replenish, and none of the Wrath abilities are THAT effective, good last resorts though; I saved my ass a couple of times with a well-placed special attack. Once again, all you need to beat this game on normal difficulty is Chaoseater and a series of very basic combos, and your dodge ability. If you're not planning to take this game beyond the normal-level playthrough, my advice is don't even bother with trying to learn the combos on top of the already confusing advanced control scheme. Just to show Vigil knew they were making a simple game - I guess - there are no optional trials or challenges, but a series of challenges within the storyline, that require you to use certain combat tactics and weapons against some waves of random enemies. Of course these challenges are quite damn easy, most of them at least - something along the lines of Challenge of the Gods from God of War would've killed this game instantly, if forced upon the player.
|Finally the horseman actually gets a horse.|
Finally, what's a horseman without a horse? That's a question you might be asking yourself for way beyond the first half of the game's duration. When War's trusty steed finally does turn up, he has true purpose for one single part of one single level. Of course he makes navigation for those useless chests a little easier in other levels as well, if you're still interested in those. With all these little gimmicks and general imbalance in just about everything, I think Vigil weren't quite sure what they wanted to do, except for just another hack 'n' slash game that hits most of the right notes to please genre maniacs.
That's what it is. It's definitely not from the worst end of hack 'n' slash games, it's got a lot of potential laid wide open for the sequel to exploit, in itself it does fail to live up to nearly all of it. The developers had all that feedback to learn from, and I'm hoping that they did. In these senses, I might find myself comparing the game to the first Assassin's Creed game in the future - can't do that yet since I don't rightly know what Darksiders II contains. But I'm hoping for the best. Darksiders is a good game in itself, but somewhat generic and unbalanced, and the story doesn't play out as well as it could.
+ Terrific voiceover work
+ Good level design
+ Smart, albeit repetitive puzzles
+ Occasionally little glitchy, but generally good controls and combat mechanics
+ Entertaining boss fights
- Generic all the way
- The simplest and most default ways in combat get you a bit too far, not past the bosses though
- The indoor combat/puzzle ratio is perhaps the most standout point when it comes to imbalance
- Dull secrets
- Good characters and voiceover work alone do not make a great, captivating story, it seems
- Personally, I don't dig the bulky comic book style
< 7.3 >