Ordinarily I would be reluctant to start a review by comparing the game in question to any other game. I firmly believe that each game should be judged on its own merits and to instantly start comparing it to others isn’t always helpful. However, it is going to be impossible for me to discuss Darksiders without invoking the names of some classics, so overt are its inspirations.
Structurally Darksiders most resembles a Legend of Zelda game; its combat is akin to God of War; you deal in an Onimusha-like currency of souls and there’s even a strong nod to Portal. While great swathes of the game are directly referencing other titles, it would be wrong to chastise Darksiders for it. Rather than appearing as a poor imitator it somehow manages to bring all of these elements together into one cohesive experience.
You play as War – one of the four horsemen – who is summoned when the armies of Heaven and Hell start having a go at each other. There’s a bit of fisticuffs and it all spills out onto the streets of Earth. A horseman’s role is to maintain the fragile balance between the realms of Heaven, Earth and Hell until such a time that they might all be equally matched and they can engage in a fair scrap for control of the universe.
So, the arrival of demon hordes and flocks of angels on modern day Earth really peeves War. Some unpleasant things are said, there’s a bit of a misunderstanding and somehow War is implicated in this premature Armageddon. War – as his name might imply – is not the docile sort and, intent on clearing his name, he returns to Earth to sort this mess out.
While the destruction of Earth and the collapse of all human civilsation might seem a bit gloomy it allows for some fantastic locales in the aftermath. Earth is now a smoldering ruin where the angels and demons continue to wage war. As well as the charred remains of a metropolitan city – strewn with debris, cars and corpses – your travels will take you across a sand-worm infested desert, a Gothic cathedral, a submerged railway station and a luscious garden blooming among the ruins.
The Legend of Zelda formula is aped to great effect: there’s a moderately open world to explore with hidden locations, chests and Temple-like areas scattered around which afford new items as reward for conquering them. Even in the combat there are touches of Zelda, in the setup if not the execution, as doors lock behind you, sealing the room until all opponents are vanquished. Each Temple segment offers a fine balance of action combat and brain scratching puzzles. There might be simple navigational challenges to start with but soon enough you will be required to utilise the equipment you have been amassing.
A spinning crossblade replaces Link’s boomerang but essentially they serve the same purpose: being hurled at switches to complete puzzles. There’s a hookshot-like item later in the game to reach previously unreachable areas, a pistol in place of a crossbow and a wealth of other gadgets it would be uncouth of me to spoil. Of course, these items are the main focus of the puzzles in the dungeons in which you find them: after collecting the hook-shot it’s no great surprise to find that you will be running a gamut of grappling hook related puzzles not long after. Later you’ll have to combine multiple skills and items to pass multi-stage tasks but many items serve their specific purpose and are rarely used again. Even the scythe, purchasable as a secondary weapon, is mostly an optional extra. Once you upgrade your signature sword it can effectively be used against any enemy and in any situation. The scythe has its own set of upgradeable abilities but at no point is it required or even beneficial to use over your regular weapon.
Just as Link had Navi, War is lumbered with The Watcher – excellently voiced by Mark Hamill – who oversees your quest. While Navi’s chirping became irritating she did occasionally point you in the right direction. The Watcher on the other hand is a less helpful companion offering little useful advice. But then, you shouldn’t need his help all too often anyway as puzzles are well integrated and offer a nice change of pace from the chaos of combat but shouldn’t prove to be too taxing. There’s a few tricky sections which will require a bit of pondering but nothing extraordinarily obtuse. Just one weight distribution puzzle stands out as being a little obnoxious but even then it is clear what you have to achieve, just going about it is a chore.
Combat follows the free-flowing style of God of War or Devil May Cry with rhythmic button presses stringing attacks together. More powerful attacks can be unlocked with souls acquired through killing things and it won’t take long before you have a nice variety of assault options open to you. It’s possible to put together lengthy combos, combining attacks and juggling enemies before finishing them off with vicious killing blows. As much as it is personally rewarding to chain attacks together and pull out all the stylish abilities there’s no great technical skill required to get by. As long as you can evade incoming onslaughts and mash the attack button at the right time you’ll probably make it through most encounters without too many problems. Combat is deep enough to be rewarding if you want to master all of your abilities but forgiving enough that you don’t need to memorise a command list to tear your enemies apart and enjoy yourself.
War’s adventure rushes along at a brisk pace and there’s always something new on the horizon. You’re frequently playing with a new toy, combating a new enemy or mulling over a puzzle and there are huge demon bosses, a Panzer Dragoon style aerial combat set piece and even third person shooter sections in between. The final dungeon-like area overstays its welcome slightly, with a series of repetitive mini-bosses and some of the more obscure puzzles, but even then it is only a slight blemish on an otherwise enthralling adventure.
Bringing together so many different elements might seem a big risk but Vigil have pulled it off expertly. Darksiders won’t win any awards for innovation but it works very well, everything fits together perfectly to form one extremely entertaining whole.