Allow me to begin this review by addressing two crucial audiences. The first would be the open minded gamer that isn’t out to crucify a game because it borrows successful elements from titles that have come before it. If you fall into this category, simply skip the rest of this paragraph and move on to the next. You could perhaps use the time you saved at the end to make yourself a nice ham and cheese sandwich. And now for the second group. A congregation that believes something must be ground breaking and original in order to be good. Pushing the envelope may sound nice on paper, but I implore you to ask George Lucas how he feels about a certain Jar Jar Binks right about now. In the end, I’d much rather a game that figures out what it wants to do, and proceeds to do those things at a level worthy of my hard earned cash.
So without further delay, I will attempt to explain why I believe Darksiders is one of the best action platformers on the market, and more importantly, why the title is worthy of a spot in your precious videogame collection.
Darksiders is a twisted plot of power and deception that spans from the depths of Hell to the gates of Heaven and beyond. You play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and your power is at the disposal of a group called the Charred Council. The Council is tasked with the responsibility of maintaining order between the angels of Heaven and the demons of Hell, who would otherwise use Earth as their battlefield and destroy an outmatched human race in the process. Seven Sacred Seals serve as a security measure, put in place by the Council, to prevent such an event from occurring until Earth is in a position to defend itself.
When a premature Armageddon breaks out, you rush in to facilitate a truce between the armies of Heaven and Hell and determine the cause. Unsuccessful in your attempt, mankind is destroyed, and Hells horde defeats the army of Heaven. Upon realizing that only six of the Seven Sacred Seals had been broken, the Council holds War responsible and sentences you to death. As a last ditch effort, you convince the Council to grant you the opportunity to clear your name, and bring the true individuals behind the deception to justice.
Your journey of redemption is monitored by “The Watcher” (voiced by Mark Hamill), a Council issued sidekick, or “leash holder” as he regularly refers to himself. In addition to keeping you in line, The Watcher also serves as a means to update you on your mission objective in the event you forget what it is you are supposed to be doing. He remains hidden from view during the game, with a few exceptions, and you can summon his presence by holding down the select button for a few seconds.
War is a shadow of his former self when you begin your mission, and you’ll be tasked with strengthening him along the way. There are essentially four aspects you will monitor and build upon during your play, though the fourth doesn’t enter the picture until later in the game.
The first, and most important gameplay element is your life meter, a string of green colored cores that each act as their own depletable life bar. The second meter is based on wrath, a yellow segmented bar that you spend portions of in order to perform more powerful abilities. The third is a blueish colored numerical value that tracks the number of souls you’ve captured and acts as a form of currency in the game. Last but not least is the red swirl that is chaos, a form of rage that builds up as you deal damage to others, ultimately allowing you to transform War into an insanely powerful “Chaos Form” for a brief period of time once the meter is filled.
With the exception of chaos, the other three elements (life,wrath, and souls) can be replenished in various ways throughout the game. Killing things is the most simple and straight forward means, though color coded treasure chests hidden throughout the world offer a more concentrated form of collection.
You’ll start the game with a modest amount of life and wrath cores, and you’ll be given the opportunity to build upon them as you go. One way you’ll accomplish this is through the collection of special treasure chests that contain either a life or wrath shard fragment. Collecting four shards of one kind will combine into a new core unit. In addition to hunting down chests, you can also obtain shards, complete cores, and a slew of other upgrades from a demon by the name of Vulgrim who will be more than happy to exchange his goods with you in return for the souls of those you slay. Vulgrim is accessible via a string of various locations throughout the world that you will need to discover and unlock. Once revealed, these locations will also serve as portals you can use to travel from one area to another quickly.
War’s trusty flame covered steed, “Ruin”, also serves as a means to travel large distances on ground with blazing speed, though you won’t be reunited with him until later in your journey. In addition to his quickness, Ruin also improves combat effectiveness and is crucial to completing some of the games more epic boss encounters. The damage dealt by your sword blows while mounted is increased dramatically on Ruin, and for this reason alone, you’ll likely want to utilize him whenever possible as the game reaches its conclusion in order to make the collection of any chests you may have passed up the first time around much easier. Plus, he just looks so freaking cool.
The post apocalyptic world created by the talented team at Vigil Games is colorful and void of human life at the same time. Anyone looking for an example of how to add splashes of color to a storyline based on doom and decay should use Darksiders as an baseline. The title features its fair share of run down buildings covered in ash, but it also transports you to parallel dimensions, brightly colored dungeons, barren desserts, and lush green plateaus. The changes in scenery are welcome and give the story a sense of magnitude that extends far beyond the decimated surface of Earth.
Attention to detail and a stylized flare are two things you will learn to love in this game. Darksiders succeeds at piecing together one visually stunning setting after another, and the “graffiti meets Manga” artistic style of Joe Madureira is apparent in every character you encounter.
The music, sound effects, and voice acting in Darksiders are among the best I’ve experienced in a game. Tone wise, the soundtrack is heavy with chorus type chants — much like something you’d expect to hear in the World of Warcraft. It’s fitting and helps set the mood for the game. Sound effects are impactful and believable. Everything from a subtle gush of wind to the thunderous collapse of a giant dessert worm add their own unique layer of richness. The voice acting and dialogue in game starts off a little slow but picks up as you begin to meet new faces. Overall, the work of Mark Hamil as the Watcher, Liam O’Brian as War, and the rest of the cast is full of character and fitting of the world Vigil Games has created.
Gameplay is rich with platforming puzzles that challenge your mental toughness and increase in difficulty as you progress. A slick combination of grappling, portal hopping, wall climbing, and terrain shifting efforts make each dungeon you explore feel as if it were truly designed to keep unwelcome guests out. So when you finally reach the boss encounter within, you already feel like you’ve accomplished a monumental task worthy of praise. For me, the boss fights were more like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae — assuming you eat the cherry last.
Combat in Darksiders consists of various obtainable and upgradable weapons that double as both killing devices and puzzle solving apparatuses. The Chaoseater is a mammoth sword that serves as War’s primary weapon, with secondary and tertiary weapons added to your arsenal as you discover them. Combos and special moves are initiated through the use of various button combination and these feel fluid and responsive for the most part. However, some moves are so similar in their execution that you’ll sometimes shoot for one and pull off another by accident. When an enemy is primed for defeat, you’ll get a visual button queue that prompts you to finish them off. This starts a canned animation that varies depends on what you are killing. For the most part these finishers are very satisfying and bloody though a little more variety when dealing with a large quantity of identical creatures would have been nice.
The mob variety in Darksiders is pretty diverse as it spans an assortment of angels, demons, and zombified humans. The zombies are pretty much cannon fodder, but the angels and demons come in various forms, offering different degrees of difficulty, and requiring you to employ specific strategies to counter their moves and take them down.
Boss fights, though I referred to them as the cherry on an ice cream sundae above, are diverse and flat out fun to take part in. Mechanics vary from horse mounted combat on your trusty steed “Ruin”, to gimmicky gameplans that bring the environment into play. The bosses themselves are well designed and interesting to admire, though staring at them in awe is not recommended.
The embrace of pop culture and the freedom to creatively interpret religious beliefs are key attributes behind what makes Darksiders so successful. From the super hero comic book roots and the implementation of tried-and-true gaming elements to the inclusion of movie quotes like “Are you not entertained?”, Vigil Games delivers an action packed experience fit for a gaming gladiator.
Darksiders is like the Olympics of gaming. It’s got a little bit of everything for everyone, and it’s nearly flawless in its execution. Though the title lacks a multiplayer component that nearly every game seems to come standard with these days, the campaign length more than makes up for it.
In all honesty, I knew little about the title prior to its release, yet walked away from the experience as a huge War fan eagerly awaiting a hopeful sequel. If ever you wanted a visual example of the saying “speak softly and carry a big stick”, War would be it. He’s a soft spoken bad ass that lets his actions do all the talking, and he always manages to get the last word.
Those on the lookout for a new action based platformer, should add this to their collection without reservation. It’s quite simply the most fun I’ve had playing a game since Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum. In an era where so many gamers complain about a shifting focus to casual games, Darksiders, much like its protagonist, answers the call.
In the spirit of Darksider’s itself, I’ll leave you with the following parting shot inspired by an Edwin Starr tune …War, huh, good God! What is he good for? Absolutely everything. Say it again, y’aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall!
Darksiders was developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the PC. The game released in the United States on January 5, 2010 with a retail price of $59.99 USD. The copy used in this review was purchased by Ripten for review purposes. The game was played to completion for the purpose of this review.