Darksiders is an attempt at being a jack of all trades, thrusting the player into various styles of gameplay and shamelessly borrowing the tried and true mechanics found in other successful franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Devil May Cry, and even the likes of Panzer Dragoon Saga. While ambitious at heart, Darksiders never quite reaches the lofty goals set by its designers. But, in aiming so high even falling short of such a mark leaves the game in a rather comfortable position. What we have here is an excellent freshman effort by a new development team that establishes a rich foundation in which to build upon in future iterations.
Considering that comic icon Joe Madureira, who has worked on the X-men comics in the past, is the creative designer for the project it’s no surprise that the game knocks the ball out of the park in the style department. The protagonist, War, who is one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, is a commanding character both in cosmetic terms and substance alike. He’s like a mysterious, brooding version of Marcus Fenix from Gears of War. The cast of characters that War exchanges words and blows with are also appropriately menacing and diabolical, each significant both in personality and relevance to War’s mission.
The world itself offers an assortment of unique locations, in one area you’re traversing through a Tim Burton-esque graveyard and in another a vast, expansive desert with huge demon worms slithering amongst you. While the art direction never fails to shine, the technical shortcomings place an unbecoming stain on an otherwise beautiful game. There is more tears in Darksiders visuals than in a punk rocker’s jeans, screen-tearing is constantly popping up and a severe lack of anti-aliasing turns most of the game’s edges into a mini staircase. Nonetheless, the level of detail and care put into the art style itself is impossible to overlook and you’ll find yourself forgiving the engine’s imperfections.
I mentioned earlier that Darksiders is a bit of an unabashed borrower, indeed during your stroll through Darksider park you may find yourself in familiar territory. The combat system revolves around killing enemies and collecting three types of orbs: health regeneration, wrath regeneration (basically the game’s version of mana for spells), and soul orbs which act as currency towards purchasing new attacks and spells. If Dante were playing this game right now he might feel a sense of deja vu.
At the beginning of the game, for reasons pertaining to the story, War is stripped of the bulk of his powers. Throughout the course of your quest you will gradually regain your former strength and rebuild your arsenal of weapons through mercantile exchange and story progression. Battling enemies is a satisfying endeavor as you utilize a mix of melee, ranged, and spell-like attacks to dispose of the opposition. More importantly, the combat system never stands in the way of slicing, impaling, and dismembering your foes limb by limb and proves to be thoroughly satisfying.
My biggest gripe with the combat is that the sheer number of weapons and attacks at your disposal is far too staggering. It’s like when you dine at a restaurant you’ve never been to and the menu is like a short novel, on one hand it’s pleasing to have options but on the other you find yourself wishing for a focus on less items but with a broader appeal. Limiting this gripe to the combat is actually selling the issue short seeing as how your weapons play an integral role in other aspects of the game as well.
The flip side of Darksider’s gameplay is the dungeons, now would be Link’s turn to witness flashbacks. These dungeons are essentially one big, elaborate puzzle sprinkled with platforming and enemies galore. These dungeons will prove to be the most challenging obstacles in the game. Combat and puzzle-solving are intertwined in that often times solving puzzles revolves around figuring out how to use your array of weapons to assist you with the puzzles themselves.
At some point War acquires a ninja star/boomerang type weapon which allows you to target multiple enemies creating its path which eventually leads back to your hands. Not just a another way to attack enemies from a distance, a puzzle involving a locked door may require you to light the two torches on either side of it. Of course, there happens to be a lit torch nearby and your weapon can be temporarily ignited by fire. You target the lit torch, then the unlit ones… You get the picture. This is probably the easiest type of puzzle you’ll face in Darksider’s occasionally relentless efforts to halt your progress.
While the dungeons can play host to some fun trials, and generally they do provide a fun and stimulating challenge, they can also be an exercise in frustration, a fact that reaches its epitome in the final dungeon. This is primarily due to particular areas of the dungeons being convoluted in design and a map that doesn’t go a long way in helping guide you through. There was more than one occasion where I found myself feeling exacerbated by a puzzle to the point that I did not want to return. For a game carrying such a strong narrative on its shoulders, it’s tragic that some may find the dungeons to be a barrier to completion.