Throughout my years of reviewing video games, I've covered a lot of titles across nearly every perceivable genre. And through those years, I've come to value a few key elements: ability to entertain, creativity, and originality. Having played Darksiders from beginning to end, I'm starting to agree with a statement I once strongly opposed.
Originality is overrated.
Why make such a bold statement? Because, having finished Darksiders I've come to better appreciate the entertainment factor of a game as opposed to dismissing it as "more of the same". Darksiders borrows a lot of elements from other games, but it does so selectively. By lifting the most entertaining aspects from other franchises and combining them in a way that's both familiar and new at the same time, Darksiders is a highly entertaining experience from start to finish.
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.
War's arsenal contains several ranged attacks, such as a crossblade, pistol, and a powerful rocket launcher which unleashes a devastating assault. War is also able to engage wrath attacks to drive spikes from the ground into unsuspecting enemies, or harden his skin to deflect enemy barrages. Later in the story, War is reunited with his trusty steed Ruin. Once mounted, he is able to unleash a forceful attack with the Chaoseater, one of the most entertaining combat maneuvers in the game. 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 makes Darksiders such an enjoyable experience.
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.
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.