A lot of people tend to pick on Darksiders by claiming it to be derivative and not worth the time. It's derided as a Legend of Zelda clone that rips off as many games as possible. As my boss said in his original review of Darksiders for the consoles, originality is overrated. If not for companies taking other game ideas and building on them we'd never have our Halo or Call of Duty games. By taking an established formula and expanding upon it greatly we can get some truly great games, something that's exemplified by Darksiders itself.
Darksiders is a third-person action-adventure game that tells an alternative story of the Book of Revelations. In a tale of the apocalypse, you play War, one of the Four Horsemen, and a defender of the Charred Council. With the battle of the three kingdoms bound by seven seals, the final battle to determine the ultimate fate is to be decided when the seals are broken and the horsemen are summoned. This is where the story begins.
When War is summoned, he arrives to find the apocalypse in full assault, humanity crushed by the overpowering forces of demons and the Hellguard, the defenders of heaven. After an encounter with Abaddon, leader of the Hellguard, it is brought to light that the seventh seal was never broken, and War should never have been summoned. Blamed for the destruction of humanity and death of Abaddon during the conflict, War is sent before the Charred Council to face punishment. War is banished back to Earth to restore the balance, and stripped of his power. As a final shame, War is assigned a "Watcher", an overseer that will ensure he follows the council's instructions, and a demon to act as a guide through the game.
War's arrival back to Earth is an unwelcome one. A century has passed, humanity has been decimated and landscape devoid of all but a few remains of what once was. This is now the land of the Destroyer, the powerful leader of the demons. To restore the balance and clear his name, War will need to embark on a quest to take down the Destroyer, battling through demons and the remnants of the Hellguard along the way.
Contrary to first impressions which seemed to label the game as a combat-centric title, Darksiders is very much an action-adventure game. While combat is a major element, the game is heavily puzzle-oriented using a variety of weapons and items acquired throughout the quest to solve the challenges. The combat is primarily melee, and War can combine powerful combos to deliver a punishing attack with his massive Chaoseater sword. When an enemy is nearing its last breath, War can engage a gruesome finisher to deliver that fatal blow. Masterfully animated, these finishers are particularly entertaining, be it hacking off the wings of a Hellguard, impaling a demon between the eyes, or gutting a boss from the inside out. The most important element of the combat system is that it simply feels natural and the controls are extremely well polished. This is one of the key elements that make Darksiders such an enjoyable experience.
The only real problem with the combat system is more of a consequence of how the game is designed. Playing it on the PC is an almost painfully excruciating affair thanks to the finger gymnastics you must engage in. Your average fight only requires little but harder monsters, and especially boss fights, routinely require that you move around, hold one button to lock on foes, use another to dodge attacks, use another to jump to avoid attacks and then attack using up to three different weapons. We're looking at five different buttons being pressed as well as using the mouse to look around and your mouse buttons to use your weapons. It's ridiculously hard to do with any reliability and it is necessary in this game where bosses can take your multiple health bars in just a few hits. Luckily all of this can be solved by using a gamepad, notably the Xbox 360 controller, to make this easy to do.
As you progress through the story, you'll be forced to solve a variety of puzzles using items acquired on your journey. Among these items are the crossblade, a boomerang that's capable of slicing through enemies and hitting switches from a distance, a portal-gun (voidwalker), hookshot (abyssal chain), and the mask of shadows which can uncover hidden bridges and chests when worn. A great example of one of these puzzles is demonstrated later in the game, when you're required to traverse a series of chambers and defeat a guardian to uncover a power source. Once revealed, you need to guide that power source back through the original chambers using a series of portals and reflectors back to the central chamber of the dungeon, a puzzle that requires the use of pretty much every item in your repertoire. Defeating bosses isn't a simple hack-and-slash affair either. Each boss is a mini-puzzle, be it striking a weak spot, using environmental objects to paralyze them, or a combination of the two. While the items used to solve the puzzles may not be original, the variety of challenges keeps Darksiders interesting through to the end.
Visually, Darksiders isn't the prettiest game we've seen in terms of technical prowess, but the creative direction is spectacular. Lead by comic-book artist Joe Madureira, the game offers a very unique animation style that never makes the game feel over-the-top gory, even when unleashing the most devastating finishers. The demons in particular are exceptionally well-crafted and the art direction is second to none. The exceptional ambient soundtrack and superb voice acting of both Liam O'Brian (War) and Mark Hamill (The Watcher) really help bring the world and story of Darksiders to life.
Darksiders doesn't have much in the ways of visual options so those PC gamers who like to 100% customize their experience may be annoyed. One thing to also be very mindful of is that the requirements for this game are very stringent. Even if you meet most of the recommended settings it's still possible to have a fairly laggy game experience. It's recommended that your computer at least meet all of the recommended settings or the lag may make boss fights, as well as some late game platforming and puzzles, unreasonably hard. Be very careful about this when purchasing the game or you might find yourself getting quite frustrated.
Given Darksiders is the first release from developer Vigil Games, it's an impressive debut. Masterfully crafted, Darksiders is clearly a work of passion, and though it borrows a lot of elements from other games, they come together in such a way that will keep you entertained from start to finish. While you'll get between fifteen to twenty hours of play, you'll find yourself exploring the open-ended world and seeking out all of the hidden secrets long after you've completed the main story. A twist ending to the game is also a nice surprise that leaves the game open to a possible sequel. 2010 is off to a great start with Darksiders, and if it's any indication we're in for a great year of games. Highly recommended.