By Gaetano Prestia
Obviously influenced by the likes of God of War and Devil May Cry, Darksiders is a surprisingly challenging and thoroughly entertaining first-round effort from developer Vigil. Not only have they created a game with an engaging and intriguing plot, but the gameplay itself borrows all of the best aspects of the hack-and-slash genre, taking influence from both Japanese and Westernized titles of a similar flavour. While the game as a whole is nothing new, Darksiders doesn’t attempt to be overly unique or original, instead quite openly taking refuge under the reputation that Kratos and Dante have helped generate for the genre.
Darksiders follows War, one of the four Horsemen of the apocalypse. The apocalypse has just taken place prematurely, and War is given the task of finding out who is behind it. Without any of his many powers, he must trek through a post-apocalyptic world and find the remaining horsemen to discover who led them into battle.
The post-apocalyptic world in Darksiders is quite superb; with a wide range of environments that each has an incredibly high about of detail and plenty of challenging puzzles and problem solving objectives. Comic artist Joe Madureira had a lot of influence on the look of the title and it’s most obvious through the design of the some of the enourmous beasts War will encounter throughout his adventure.
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Considering the game takes place after the end of the world, it’s great to see that so much detail has gone into making the areas look so gritty and “dead”. Whether you’re moving through the ruins of a large city or trekking the sand of a dry desert, you’ll notice how much effort has gone into the environments. As you progress through the title the areas seem to become even more terrifying and gritty and you could even say that the world is a character in itself.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t borrow too much from similar Japanese-developed games. While the idea itself is nothing new, the execution is undoubtedly “Western”, with great action scenes, cool dialogue and likable characters. That’s not to say Japanese action games don’t have those things, but it’s obvious enough in games like Devil May Cry that some of the cheesy lines have simply gotten lost in translation.
Going into Darksiders, there are a few things you should expect. Firstly, the game often moves away from the traditional hack-and-slash gameplay, focusing on puzzles and the occasional platforming elements. While a majority of the gameplay is your typical button-bashing action, it strays off often enough to offer some variety and not feel overly repetitive. There are plenty of memorable moments throughout the game (a horseback battle comes to mind), and when you couple some of the epic boss battles with the spectacular “heaven vs. hell” story, you have a game of epic proportions.
The platforming elements work really well thanks to War’s mobility, which improves throughout the game. The battle areas normally have you taking down a hoard of enemies and the occasional mini-boss in order to unlock a door and progress through.
The combat controls work well for the most part, although it might take a while to get used to the button mapping. There’s a lot to take in, especially if you’ve got a Gear weapon assigned to War. The basic attack, Gear item use and grabbing finishing move are probably what you’ll end up using the most, as they’re the most accessible and easiest moves to pull off. But you can also block, use a secondary move (which is only accessible if you’ve filled up the Tremor Gauntlet meter), and even transform into Chaos Mode, which turns War into a flaming monster that is near indestructible.
There’s a hell of a lot of room to move in when it comes to the combat, and while you’ll use specific controls more so than others, the sheer variety and overall accessibility is quite impressive. Once you’ve memorized the button mapping, you’ll be able to turn into Chaos Mode or pull off a secondary move without any issues.
However, a downside is that you can essentially finish the game by simply button mashing. There’s the infrequent quick-time event (to finish off an enemy you have to quickly push a button within a small time-frame), but you can move through an area using just War’s basic attack and his assigned Gear item. Still, you can work up some insane combos and you’ll probably want to mix things up a bit anyway, purely because Chaos Mode and some of the special moves are so awesome and devastating that they’ll deserve your attention.
The great thing about the gameplay is that it flows from one specific form to another really well. One second you’ll be taking on a whole bunch of bad guys, but then once you progress you’ll find yourself taking on one of the many puzzles throughout the game. Furthermore, Gear items are used to unlock new areas and take down enemies. There are plenty to discover and each have their own specific use, some more devastating and fun than others. A lot of effort has been put into making the weaponry and items very distinctive and useful, as each Gear’s initial use is to unlock parts of the world, but they can also be used as weapons quite effectively.
You’ll be able to shape your attacks by exchanging souls (the game’s currency) with Vulgrim, a demon who is located throughout the world and acts as the vendor. You’ll be able to use him as a transport to other areas, but you’ll mainly use him to purchase weapon and skill upgrades. Combat moves can be purchased and then upgraded as you progress, and there’s plenty on offer to really add a whole new level of depth to the experience. Had Vulgrim not been included, you’d still have a lengthy and fairly deep experience, but his inclusion and the sheer amount of upgrades available for purchase only expand the experience even more. The upgrading system works automatically as well, as you’ll earn XP as you take down enemies and move through areas, which is then used to upgrade weapons automatically.
The Final Verdict
Darksiders is a welcomed addition to the hack-and-slash action genre. There’s great variety in the gameplay, moving between action, puzzle and platforming elements. The upgrading system is great and there’s plenty to buy. The combat is great, although it might take an hour or so to get used to the button mapping. Once you’ve mastered the controls, you’ll quickly realize how much there is to take in and get through. Thankfully, the gameplay doesn’t get overly repetitive, mainly thanks to a great story and some awesome enemies.