Launching a new IP can be a bit daunting, with safety most often or not in sequels or publishers looking for an IP that will translate well into three or more games, launching a brand new product in a New Year is pretty bold. This is exactly what Vigil and THQ have done though and it's a good one. Darksiders, once known as Darksiders: Wrath of War is a definite hardcore gamer's game, mixing God of War-esque combat with Zelda-like massive dogleg hub-driven exploration and puzzles.
Without going into spoiler-alley and wandering towards spoiler-park, you play as one of the Four Horsemen, War. You discover that the Apocalypse has been triggered, ride out and find that things are not as they first appear. Over the course of the game you'll uncover a bigger plot and encounter angels and demons alike, all in an epic biblically destroyed Earth.
If you've played Zelda: Twilight Princess and God of War, you'll be right at home here with Darksiders. The game takes a bunch of established concepts and gameplay mechanics, mixes them in a pot and the result is a tasty stew indeed, full of chunky battles and epic set pieces that tax your skill as a gamer to the limit with some truly epic boss fights against massive creatures. For the most part you'll be tromping around on foot, crossing seemingly impossible terrain and battling with a massive sword that makes Cloud Strife's blade look like a butter knife.
There are physical puzzles, ones that require a little more ingenuity and some downright evil puzzles that require you to switch from one piece of gear to the next, solving things with multiple pieces of equipment. Fortunately War sports a rather slick arsenal of toys for you to play with, the Cross-Blade will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Zelda game, it can lock onto up to 5 enemies and in a rather Dark Sector manner, it can also transfer the element of fire onto other objects.
There's a chain-like weapon later on that can be used to cross massive gaps, a pair of shadowy wings that War can sprout when gliding (think Soul Reaver) and even a gauntlet that harkens to Valve's awesome Portal, having very similar mechanics to the Portal Device but restricted to certain surfaces only. War also gains access to his mount, Ruin, a demonic war horse that has several functions, Ruin is a mighty steed but he can also run at high speeds, cross certain gaps as if he were running on air and basically serves to solve some of the later puzzles.
He can also be summoned at most times even when War is falling towards the ground from a great height, as long as the ground is soft enough. Ruin can't break through thick lava-like ground, nor can he actually appear in areas where he wouldn't be able to get.
War can fight from the back of Ruin, using his sword and a pretty badass gun that he gains later. Coupled with the lock-on system and the controls, this is a cinch and never leads to problems in combat.
Talking of combat, War has a few weapons he can unlock new combinations for and to do that, you need to battle demons, angels, other foulness, killing them and taking their souls for you to imbue your arsenal with power. This is done with a visit to a kind of demonic shop-alchemist; here you can buy new items, new weapons, and new combos for your current arsenal to upgrade War's combat ability.
Your key weapons also gain experience as time goes on, allowing new bonuses and sometimes abilities to manifest. There are items you can slot into these weapons as well giving them new powers, they can collect more souls, burn with demonic fire and so forth. Perhaps they do more damage, but at the cost of fewer souls reaped. War also has a Chaos Form that transforms him for a short time into a demonic wrecking machine; he gains far more power and can break most monsters in a few blows, it doesn't last long and you have to power it up by killing a bunch of things, but it's useful against bigger meanies.
The combat system in Darksiders is brutal, fast, frenetic and most of all good fun. It can take some time to learn the combat controls but by the time you master the game you can use one gear item like the Cross-Blade to lift your enemy high and then lay into them with your sword as they're helpless. There are dismemberment moves available as well for most bad guys; a single button press triggers this cinematic-style brutal sequence eschewing the quick-time events that are rife in God of War and other games that mimic that style. War also has several Wrath Attacks that dish out a massive chunk of damage in a fairly spectacular way.
The button combinations are nowhere as complex as Devil May Cry but the combat system still has depth to it, you can learn to exploit a particular enemy's weakness once you find it out (usually trial and error) and then master the moves that deal out as much damage as possible. There's a lock on system, there's a quick-target tag from target to target and the camera does a good job keeping the action focussed for the most part, it did slip a couple of times that required manual adjustment but since the view is freely moveable it wasn't a major concern.
There are various icons to look out for, special objects to collect in the world and of course God of War style chests, giving you souls, wrath power, extra life portions and more Wrath bar. There's Abyssal Armour and a few other bits to find, you can do this during the main story or at the end of the game where you can go back and revisit all the places that you explored before, even the one that the game told me I wasn't able to get back to, it lies!
There are other elements to Darksiders that deserve a mention, certain puzzles, and sequences and so on. I'm not going to spoil them here at all however, because I always feel that gamers should experience the game for themselves and not have someone reveal every nuance. All in all, Darksiders has a great balance of action and adventure that pulls you along the story path nicely and you're never really stuck where to go thanks to the mini-map and other hints or at least, I wasn't.
Also kudos to the developers for making War swim underwater without the need for air, I'd have been peeved if War needed to breathe considering who he is.
It's big, it's bold and it's colourful, just like the artist responsible (Joe Madureira - also the Creative Director on the game). Many people have compared War with Prince Arthas from World of Warcraft and indeed, I can see some kind of resemblance. The art direction in the game harkens back to simpler graphics and ones that eschew the dirty brown palette of the Next Gen game (see Gears of War 1 and 2 for instance) and replace it with vibrant colours. Don't be put off by the art style though, it's great and Darksiders feels like an epic comic book come to life. It has captured the design and image of a world post Apocalypse and feels desolate, lonely and dangerous. From the Ashlands to the Crossroads, the level of detail is superb.
War is well animated, his combat moves look fluid and he swims really well. He has a variety of cool dismemberment moves and he appears just as powerful as he looks once you get past the brutal difficultly even on Easy. The star of the show is Ruin though, that horse is an incredible piece of work, from the graphics to the animation and the appearance as he comes burning up out of the ground. He's easily my favourite character in the whole of the game, sorry Watcher, but you got shoved out by a horse. A flaming demonic, psycho steed though.
Good quality AI, the various bad guys all have different attack patterns and push you relentlessly, some are just brawlers, others are sneaky and will line up un-blockable attacks, some work better in packs and so on. It does what it says on the tin and that's all we could ask for. Boss AI is great, it's very rarely stuck on the same pattern and since there are no health bars to let you know how you've done against the foe, you'll have to see if you've changed its attack patterns or not.
Darksiders has a good audio suite; the game is packed with lovely ambient sound effects, striking battle noises and epic combat.
It has an epic score, each area has a musical theme that picks up and flows along with the game. The battle music is suitably blood pumping and there are some really nice touches in the soundtrack later on, personally, I'd love this on a CD.
Voice and Dialogue
It's great to hear the voice of Liam O'Brien (Gaara from Naruto) as War alongside the dulcet tones of Mark (the Joker) Hamill and a cast of colourful characters, voiced by other solid VO actors. The voice work in the game is top notch and War is a brooding sulky bringer of destruction, whilst Hamill's Watcher character sounds similar to the Joker, he's darker and even edgier in this game. The Dialogue is well written and fits well with the story, it's full of posturing and combat talk from War since he has very little time for discourse, and he prefers to beat down his enemies rather than woo them with words, it fits perfectly with his character.
None, there's no multiplayer at all. Though it's been hinted that it was originally planned, the developers cut it and they may add it for a sequel.
Darksiders does have some issues, whilst I've experienced some camera troubles; the game is a mix of a few game types, nothing really innovative. That said, it deserves a good score since what is there comes together nicely, even the part that some reviewers have had trouble with, I found enjoyable and it's not the first time I've played a similar kind of sequence either, I remember God of War 2 for instance. The game is hard, I'll warn you now, the final achievement for playing on Easy is something like: So THAT was Easy?.
The game offers a big challenge, and whilst the story is relatively short, just shy of around 20 or so hours for me...there's enough to keep you going back as you level War up again and again, hunt for more powerful items and reap the rewards of a harder difficulty. The future looks bright for War and the other three Horsemen.
We'll just have to wait and see.