Here I am deciding to take a trip down memory lane, heading back to last month, to the beginning of January, which isn’t that long ago. The reason, of course, is to review Darksiders, a game I never got around to finishing, because Mass Effect 2 rather cruelly jumped out at me and used its addiction ray. Not to mention all of the TV series’, like Lost Season 6, have started up again, all creating a time sucking portal that nearly caused me to explode. My issues, as always, aside, here is Darksiders, a game which is incidentally the first game to be released by Vigil Games. This makes us all the more excited, because it’s always awesome in the gaming industry to welcome new games and new developers. However, the result isn’t what we’d hoped for, and if you want to know why, read on to find out.
[Note: For an in-depth explanation of my review system, go here: Tody's Review System]
Genre: Action Adventure
Platforms: PS3, Xbox360
Developers: Vigil Games
Publishers: Konami & THQ
Release Date: 5-8 January 2010
To give you an indication of what to expect from Darksiders, picture God of War going on a rampage and borrowing elements from many great games around the world, combining them into one package. Unfortunately, while this does sound like Darksiders is the be all and end all action game, the final result doesn’t deliver what it could have, ultimately resulting in a lacking experience. Darksiders is a perfect example of having a great premise and fantastic gameplay concepts and elements, but failing to bring them altogether into something spectacular or memorable. Now on my part it’s easy to say all these things about the game, but as we all know merely saying them isn’t enough, so let me clarify them with this review.
Darksiders has a rather interesting story concept, mainly because it’s a game that draws elements from mythology and the mystical, but it’s set in present day times, or more appropriately, a post apocalyptic version of it. Now, the gist of it is that there are three Kingdoms, or groups, currently in existence, namely Heaven, Hell and the Humans. To preserve a balance between Heaven and Hell, there is a group called the Charred Council, who command the power of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whose job is to maintain that balance and peace between the two parties. In Darksiders you’ll take on the role of War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who is a rather angry character to say the least. Now, the humans come in when the Charred Council foresees, in the distant future, that mankind will play some important role in the supposed final battle.
Enter the present day, where Earth and its inhabitants are under attack by a large hoard of demons who are hellbent on destroying everything in sight. During this massacre, War is summoned to Earth to return order, only to discover that the other Horsemen were not summoned and that the seal maintaining balance was not broken, which results in him violating some code. I won’t go into much more detail from here, but basically War is brought to the Council to be sentenced, but he suggests that it would be better to allow him to stop the threat, because if he died in the process that would be his punishment. From there, you venture off into the world to kill demons and save the world. As for the story itself, I can’t really say you’ll be interested in it much, because War has as much personality as a brick wrapped in tin foil and because the plot just doesn’t feel involved with the actual game until near the end. Partly because it’s a little silly and convoluted at times, but mostly because, regardless of anything, it just isn’t interesting and you know that as soon as you gain control of War again you’re going to be bashing everything in sight, paying no mind to what you’ve learned, story wise.
Gameplay wise, Darksiders is a third person, hack and slash action game, one that focuses on brutish and fluid combat. However, to up the variety, you’ll also see some intense puzzle solving and standard platforming sections throughout. I can open on a positive note, by saying that Darksiders really features fluid, flashy and fun combat – mostly. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. The combat, and ultimately the game itself, are both heavily flawed. Among the issues are repetitiveness, shallow gameplay, shameless idea theft and, ultimately, a lack of originality entirely. Hold the phone, you say. Understandable, but right now I’m just putting the issues out there, they will become clear momentarily. See, in Darksiders you’re basically going to be killing everything you see, solving puzzles when they come in your way, traversing the game world, in a linear fashion, when required and purchasing new skills and moves as you earn ‘souls’ by killing enemies. Alright, the game is open world in the sense that you can choose where to go and the environments are quite large which call for a little bit of exploration and backtracking, but when you’re doing levels you’ll always be following a linear path.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no issues with the fact that Darksiders draws key elements from the likes of God of War, Legend of Zelda and even Portal (I’ll explain later on), in fact it’s admirable that Vigil Games searched for the best and tried to combine it in one package, even more admirable that it’s their first game. However, the problem lies with some really poor choices, bad execution and no attempt whatsoever to create a unique identity for Darksiders – in other words, there is nothing original here at all and nothing new brought to the table. “Tody, you savage cave-dwelling beaver, why are you contradicting yourself now with games and originality?” you might be asking, those of you who know me. It’s true, I always say that a game doesn’t have to bring something new or be original, at the least it can take existing elements, execute them well and have solid polish – and, of course, have some incentive to make you want to play it. However, in the case of Darksiders, the game not only suffers with its execution, but it has absolutely no redeeming qualities of its own to make it worth playing. Games like God of War, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and the fairly recent Bayonetta do exactly what Darksiders does, except a whole lot better, so there isn’t much incentive to go for this game.
Now let me begin clearing up all of the issues with the gameplay, which I’ve been neglecting up to this point. To put it in perspective, for the first hour or so of the game (excluding the brief introduction level), depending on when you get to the first shop to purchase moves, the only thing you can do, combat wise, is one move, or, according to Darksiders, four moves. The move is square, followed by square, square again and one last square. I’m dead serious, aside from jumping, dashing and throwing objects, that’s all. The triangle button does nothing, not until you get a secondary weapon which is quite a bit later. Alright, you can launch enemies into the air by holding square and then press square some more to aerial combo them, but that’s not exactly what I call variety or a good start to any game. Similar to that of God of War, beating down enemies will reward you with souls, which serve as your currency to buy new weapons, moves and items. Get an enemy, or a boss, to low health and you will be able to instant kill it in a very brutal manner with the circle button. Although there are no quick time events, these brutal finishers are short cinematic scenes. I’m sure this is all beginning to sound very familiar to you.
Darksiders is a shallow game through and through. Sure once you begin getting more weapons, like the scythe, shruiken and gun it becomes more fun, but it just takes way too long to get to these sections in the game. The combat will bore you a long time before then, because there are hardly any attack buttons or moves, and because, like I mentioned earlier, there are just better combat systems out there in better games. Because of this completely boring and limited start to the game, where you practically have no moves or power ups, the beginning of Darksiders is actually difficult, purely because you lack the skills, health and moves to do much. Seriously, let it be mentioned that Darksiders is one of the few games I’ve seen in a while with a negative difficulty curve. Yes, most games are either consistently easy or challenging throughout or get progressively more challenging, but Darksiders starts off challenging and then gets incredibly easy. In fact the more you play and power up War, the easier everything in the game gets, until it gets to the point that the only time you’ll ever die is by randomly falling off of a cliff or getting cheaply killed by a boss. But even they’re all easy to conquer, as long as you just observe their few, repeated attack strings and dodge away at the right time.
It seemed to me like Darksiders merely took many concepts from awesome games, but failed to really expand on them or even attempt to alter them. Some of the things you’ll see, when you look at them altogether, will actually make you shake your head in dismay, if you have a fairly good gaming history. Let me put it like this, if Darksiders had to take all of these elements and make the effort to expand on them and create itself its own identity and original ideas, I’d have no problem, but since that isn’t the case, allow me to shock you a bit. Regarding the main weapons, which doesn’t include those you’ll pick up from enemies and the environment, aside from the standard sword and purchasable scythe, you’ll get your hands on a shruiken that hits multiple targets, a grappling hook that allows you to swing from and attach yourself to floating orbs (Legend of Zelda?), a slow-but-powerful thunder gauntlet (God of War?), a weakish pistol with unlimited ammo (Devil May Cry?) and, just wait until you hear this, a gun called “The Voidwalker” which fires blue and orange portals, allowing you to travel between them (Portal?). That was the point at which I realised that Darksiders was perhaps afraid to think for itself – or perhaps it just suffers from kleptomania.
To Darksiders’ favour, the game does make use of the Portal Gun Voidwalker very, very effectively, to create some really good puzzles, especially in combination with the grappling hook and shruiken. However, to throw some of this complement out the window, Darksiders is repetitive as hell in all areas. The part at which I nearly exploded with frustration was towards the end of the game, where there is, quite literally, a section that spans for over an hour, your first time around, in which you are required to do the same redundant, frustrating and boring puzzles. The first time these puzzles are interesting and good, but when you begin repeatedly doing them, you will begin to hate on them immensely. No surprises here, there are loads of puzzles in that painfully long section that require you to use mirrors to shine a beam of light onto a specific target in order to progress, which has only been done in about a million other games. At least none of those other games had the nerve to make you repeat those puzzles for over an hour. There are other good puzzles in the game, those that involve bombs, fire and moving objects, but sadly before the end of the game they will have lost a lot of their worth and will end up becoming a chore.
It seems to me like Darksiders is game that took the concept of “less is more” a little bit too literally. There are so many gameplay features in the game that will leave you feeling disappointed at the complete lack of variety, especially since these features will actually make you really excited the first time you see them. To give an example, in the introductory level you’ll be able to play around with War’s Chaos Form (and later in the game when you unlock it), which allows you to transform into a giant, awesome-looking flaming demon. However, just as excitement begins to build up, you discover that the only moves available, throughout the whole game, with the Chaos Form demon, is, you guessed it, the infamous square string. You can also jump or slam the ground with your sword by pressing triangle, but that’s the limit.
The same thing happens again when you get to ride War’s insanely cool-looking, flaming warhorse, Ruin. It feels great initially, especially in the boss fight you’ll engage in, which has you battle it out with a colossal sand worm, in a giant sand pit arena. Unfortunately, what would have been a spectacular boss fight and would have made for awesome “vehicle” sections, is greatly disappointing once again due to lack of variety. With Ruin, you’re only able to, you guessed it again, swing your sword with the square string. You can use the dodge button, which is also the dash button, to pick up speed, but that’s the limit. Oh and, before I forget, there are special moves in the game called “Wrath” abilities, which use up War’s wrath points. These are cool, but unfortunately aren’t worth using or talking about, because the main weapons, especially the sword, get the job done pretty easily.
With all the bad I’ve mentioned you’re probably wondering if there is any good to the game, and fortunately there is. The combat is fluid and entertaining, but only much later in the game when you actually have some moves. The game’s graphics and art direction are really good, the environments are large, varied and greatly designed and the game is technically solid, having barely any bugs and extremely short loading times. There is a welcome variety in enemy types, the boss fights are mostly good fun and there are some really interesting puzzle sections involved. Overall, the game is functional and it does get better as you play. The game has a very lengthy single player campaign, one which will take you around fifteen hours or more to complete, but I doubt you’ll be returning for a second play-through unless you’re in it for the trophies or achievements. Darksiders features great sound work and fluid animation, both from War and your enemies. There are many great sound tracks packed into the game, that give it a very apocalyptic and mystical feel, as intended.
Fundamentally, looking at Darksiders purely on its own, I can say that it’s a decent but shallow game, one that is functional consistently and entertaining when it wants to be. However, looking at the larger picture, there is just no incentive to choose this game over God of War, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta. Darksiders fails to make full use of the many great concepts it has and it unfortunately has no identity of its own and no originality whatsoever. If you’re interested in it, I can only recommend a rental, because you might find yourself enjoying it if you’re the casual gamer, but I’d still recommend the above mentioned games over this one. This game really could have been so much more had Vigil Games made the extra effort to expand their concepts, craft the game into something they can call theirs and provide a great deal more variety in all areas of the game. Ultimately, Darksiders is a lacking action game in a time of spectacular ones, and you would be safe giving this one a miss.
- The beginning of the game is far too slow and lacks variety, not only making the game difficult, because of your lack of moves and power ups, but making it get boring quickly. It takes way too long to get to the good parts.
- The game heavily lacks variety and has no originality of its own. There is nothing wrong with borrowing existing elements from other games, but with problematic execution, some poor choices and no redeeming qualities of its own to make it worth playing, Darksiders falls short.
- The game suffers from repetitiveness and contains some frustrating, dragged out puzzle sections that could really rile you up.
- Darksiders starts out challenging, and then becomes ridiculously easy, the more moves and power ups you unlock, which gives it a rather peculiar difficultly curve.
- Far too many of what would be awesome gameplay features are ruined because of a complete lack of variety and abilities.
[Credit to eurogamer for the screenshots]