Review – Darksiders

Heaven and Hell are waging a massive war in another dimension, and among the chaos, something triggers the rapture here on Earth. Literally all hell breaks loose, one of the four horses of the apocalypse is summoned forward by mistake, humanity is wiped out and the world is completely destroyed. War, the horsemen in question, barely has time to wonder where the other three are, when he is brutally destroyed by a giant demon. And this all happens within the first ten minutes. Welcome to Darksiders.

It’s safe to say that Darksiders’ story is pretty epic in its scope. To experience the apocalypse as one of the legendary horsemen in the opening chapter is truly spectacular and gives a fantastic first impression of what evolves into a superbly designed and well-paced adventure. Upon being awoken about a century after the event itself, War is stripped of his power and sent back to Earth to fix what he supposedly caused. Blamed for the end of the world, the omnipotent and questionably neutral-standing Charred Council (who are represented as a group of fiery rock formations living in purgatory) cast you back to Earth with a simple task: kill the Destroyer. And thus the game begins proper.

What follows is a lengthy campaign of exploring an intricately designed post-apocalyptic earth full of demons, angels, and huge beasts – humanity has been reduced to nothing but the occasional zombie, serving no purpose other than to give a bit of a health boost if you put them out of their misery. It’s very dark stuff, but presented with a host of amusingly creepy characters and excellent voice acting which gives everything a sense of eerie fun, as opposed to being depressingly bleak. Mark Hamil plays the role of The Watcher, an annoying spirit who accompanies you (mostly out of sight, mind) and offers the occasional bit of advice. He’s reminiscent of Navi from Ocarina of Time, and that’s certainly not the only reminder of a certain Nintendo franchise…

Darksiders was clearly inspired by the Legend of Zelda series. Everything from the way your character progresses by unlocking new weapons as you go, to the design of its puzzles, to the concept of navigating dungeons all the way to its final boss fight is similarly structured to those games. It also borrows a few other ideas here and then from numerous other games, but its to Vigil Games’ credit that they’ve managed to produce a game that feels so polished, so clear in its vision, that these comparisons are all favourable and not negative points. If you ever found Link’s world of faeries and pointy-ears a bit too cutesy, or if you’re simply looking for a similar gameplay experience on the PC (with all the advantages that brings such as HD graphics and whatnot) with a dark, gory twist to proceedings, then this game should appeal.

This is definitely not a kids game. Combat is simple, brutal, and satisfying, and you spend a good chunk of the game using War’s huge sword to deal out pain and carnage to the game’s demonic enemies. You also get a side weapon, and can switch between a huge scythe capable of hitting multiple enemies, and later something else which doubles up as a puzzle solver as well as a weapon. Every enemy you meet has his own unqiue ‘finishing’ death animation tied to it – get a creature down to a near-dead state, and you’ll be able to hit B (when using a gamepad – the best way to play) to finish them off. Cue decapitations and acrobatic slashes with gushes of blood, all of which are hugely satisfying, very gory and entertainingly violent. Every boss fight has one of these too, and each one gets more and more imaginatively executed as the game goes on.

I was really impressed with many of the technical aspects of Vigil Games’ debut title. Everything from the art direction, to the animation, to the tight controls made it feel extremely robust and it was clear that a lot of care and attention went into every design decision. Vigil, who have apparantly made no previous games before this had me fooled into thinking it was built in the Unreal Engine, mostly because of the huge open areas with vast backdrops and simply because of how polished everything feels. I experienced no significant bugs and an impressive lack of loading screens – you can literally walk right across the entire game world and not see a single loading bar, which is quite a feat.

There isn’t much to stop me recommending this game as the few flaws it does have are rather subjective. I was hoping for a slightly more drawn out climax, but I didn’t feel shortchanged by any means. I’m not sure some of the backtracking will appeal to everyone, but even when the game does ask you to trek through a previously explored zone, there’s usually a secret item to find which was previously inaccessible to you, so there is still some incentive to explore if you’re willing. The game is paced excellently, the balance between challenge and reward is finely tuned and the game is so well polished that I still can’t believe that this is the studio’s first title. It’s been out for a while now, so if you see it cheap anywhere just grab it. The apocalypse has never been this much fun.

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