We first got an opportunity to check out Darksiders at E3 earlier this year, and from the initial demo we witnessed, the game was initially to be simply a God of War clone. After sitting down in-depth with the game recently, we'll be the first to acknowledge that statement couldn't be any further from the truth.
Developed by newcomer Vigil Games, Darksiders paints a dark future for humanity. It tells the tale of the Charred Council and their defenders, the four horsemen. During the war between heaven and hell, a new kingdom was forged, humanity. A truce was formed and seven seals were bound, until such a day that the seals are broken, and the three kingdoms would settle the power struggle once and for all.
For reasons unknown, the seals have not been broken, but the apocalypse has begun. Upon War's arrival, the battle between Hellgates and Demons is in full assault, and Abaddon, leader of the Hellgates is killed. Blamed for starting the apocalypse and the death of Abaddon, War is punished by the council and held for a century. Stripped of his power, War is sent back to Earth to restore the balance, and clear his name.
Darksiders is a third-person action-adventure game set in a post apocalyptic world. Humanity has been abolished, and the Destroyer now heads the kingdom ruled by demons. The former Hellgates roam the land cut off from heaven, and bent on revenge for the death of their leader. Early on, you're introduced to a demon called Vulgrim, a selfish individual who trades secrets and items for souls, the in-game currency. Soon after you'll encounter Samael, a once-powerful demon that has fallen out the Destroyers favor and imprisoned for eternity. He sends you on a journey to claim four hearts of the chosen ones, battling across the open world to seek the dungeons and capture the beating hearts of the powerful allies of the Destroyer on a path to the Black Throne.
After sitting down with the game for a few hours, it's obvious that Darksiders gets a lot of inspiration from both the God of War and Zelda series, with a hint of Portal thrown in. In terms of combat, the game both looks and feels like the legendary God of War series. Combat feels both fluid and very "player-friendly", for an action-adventure game its level-design tends to be quite forgiving and doesn't require picture perfect jumps. On the adventure side, Darksiders really takes a lot of inspiration from the Zelda series, offering similar style puzzles, cinematic camera movements when entering a room or dungeon to highlight important elements, and even a familiar chime when you solve a puzzle. Elements such as the abyssal chain (hookshot), chronomancer (slows down time), and the mask of shadows lend themselves to being Zelda-esque, and while it may not be original, that doesn't mean it's not a lot of fun. The most obvious reference is that of the Watcher, a spirit bound to you by the Charred Council that will offer you advice and note you to points of interest. It's like a mean-spirited and more heartless version of Navi. One of the later items you'll encounter is a portal-esque gun called the voidwalker, which is used to solve some of the more challenging puzzles in the game. While it's clear that Darksiders borrows a lot of ideas, it's the execution that really makes it all come together.
The game can really be broken down into a few key areas, open-world combat, dungeon puzzles, exploration, and bosses. It's an open-world game that allows you to explore different areas of the world, gaining access to new parts of the map as you acquire new equipment (such as the abyssal chain). As you traverse the apocalyptic landscape, you'll engage in combat fighting off waves of demons and insurgent hellgates bent on revenge. The dungeons on the other hand are more puzzle-oriented and really highlightthe adventure elements to the game. As you solve the puzzles, eventually you'll encounter a boss, whom defeating isn't simply a hack and slash affair. Each boss is a puzzle themselves, you'll find yourself working through different strategies and trying to discover and exploit their weakness.
Combat-wise, Darksiders offers a mix of melee and ranged combat, although most of the time you'll be in close quarters with your trusty Chaoseter. As the game progresses, you'll be able to purchase a variety of upgrades, weapon combos, and new weapons from Vulgrum. Most dungeons will offer a new piece of equipment essential to solving puzzles and accessing new areas of the open-world, such as a crossblade for reaching distant crystals to unlock doors or a powerful hammer for smashing ice blocks. Through the adventure, you'll also meet up with a familiar friend, your trusty horse Ruin, with whom you can summon and unleash a powerful and deathly-quick assault.
The most impressive element though is just how natural the combat feels. The controls have been mapped towards a fairly simple combat model, where a few button combos can deliver powerful and impressive attacks. From what I've seen thus far, the camera flows with the action naturally and rarely gets in the way as is prevalent in many third-person combat games. That isn't to say the game is easy, in fact quite the opposite. From my time with the game, I've been able to dispense most enemies with few problems, but some of the boss battles (even early on) are challenging. Even on the easier difficulty levels, you'll encounter a few areas where you'll feel very overwhelmed with enemies; thankfully the game allows you to repeat those battles with virtually no punishment for death.
In terms of graphical prowess, Darksiders isn't going to win any awards for its technical aspects; it isn't the best looking game we've seen. However, in terms of artistic direction, Darksiders is a masterpiece. Lead by comic-book artist Joe Madureira, the game offers a really unique style of animation, notably in its dark characters and creatures. Combined with the superb voice acting (of which Mark Hamil does an amazing job as the Watcher), the artistic direction of Darksiders really helps bring the characters and the world to life. Well scripted, and one of the highlights from what I've seen thus far.
Its obvious Darksiders is a work of passion by the folks at Vigil, it's really a game designed to be fun. It may borrow a lot of inspiration from other games, but it does so in a way that doesn't feel repetitive, and combines the best elements into a game that is enjoyable. Set to ship on January 5th on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Darksiders is definitely a game I'm looking forward to exploring further. Expect to see our full review in the coming weeks.