Another remastered review for a remastered rerelease.
Developer: Vigil Games Publisher: THQ Nordic Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One Released: November 29, 2016 Copy purchased
The story goes that Heaven and Hell agreed not to wage war until the third kingdom, that of mankind, was strong enough to hold its own against the other two powers. However, due to an administrative error and more than a little betrayal, Armageddon was triggered and War manages to get the blame for killing off the human race.
He must now clear his name before the Charred Council and find the one responsible for kick-starting the apocalypse, tethered to a snarky spirit that watches his every move and holds back his powers.
It’s an inane story, but it carries itself with just enough seriousness to get away with all the seething angst that drips from every line. A cast of terrific vocal performers – including the delightful Mark Hamill – sell the game’s ludicrous premise with confidence and create some fantastic characters while they’re at it.
Darksiders is a classic action-adventure game through and through. Heavy, meaty combat mixed with exploration and dungeon-based puzzles are all on the menu and showcase some terrific design work.
Character customization and RPG elements take a back seat, but they are present. Souls are earned in-game and traded with demon merchant Vulgrim for more weapons, new attacks, and all manner of items. Gear can be attached to weaponry, bestowing extra attributes like fire elemental damage or increased power from thrown objects.
As War clears dungeons on his rampage of justice, he’ll gain new items that can be used to access previously inaccessible areas. When I first reviewed this game, I took great pains to say it wasn’t an edgier Zelda, but in hindsight I think I was just trying to be different. As War gets his own version of the hookshot and boomerang, it’s incontrovertible that Vigil was exactly aiming at being Zelda for angry people.
Zelda isn’t the only game Darksiders liberally borrows from. He’ll be able to stop time for certain puzzles, indulge in God of War QTE executions, and even gain access to his version of Portal‘s Portal Gun, the Voidwalker. Darksiders pinches successful ideas from a bevy of popular games, but puts them all to fine use in a well polished adventure.
Combat begins life as little more than a button masher,but simple combos are soon augmented with sub-weapons and skills that can be used on the fly. Vulgrim has a ton of ability expansions on offer, and they give War a lot of viable options during a scrap. It’s a flexible game with close and ranged weaponry that work together to rack up hefty hit streaks.
Wrath abilities are special moves that require yellow souls to use. These powers can summon blades from the ground, poison enemies, or buff War’s defenses. By dealing damage, War accrues enough power to temporarily switch to Chaos Form, becoming a monstrous creature that can cleave opponents apart with ease.
War’s huge and lumbering build perfectly comes across in the hacking and slashing action. Every swing feels like it has power behind it, and his various unlockable maneuvers are suitably brutal.
Sadly the hooded grumbler’s defensive moves aren’t quite so hot. Despite the ability to block and parry, too many enemy attacks are flagged as unblockable and there’s very little in the way of telegraphing to warn players. His dash move, a tiny little skip if anything, is often worthless when attempting to escape damage thanks to the huge reach some opponents possess.
It also has to be said that the amount of debris in the game is troublesome. War can both grab enemies for finishing moves and various environmental weapons with the same button. This inevitably leads to War picking up a chair or a car instead of finishing an enemy, leaving him prone to some free attacks. A bit less clutter in some of the game’s indoor areas would have been welcome.
Boss battles – also inspired thoroughly by Zelda – rarely feel conventional and nearly always provide a thrilling, climactic finale to each dungeon. Whether you’re using portals to jump on a giant demon’s back or riding a mighty horse while shooting a giant worm in the mouth, Darksiders is full of memorable fights.
Vigil already did great visual work with this game back in the day, and plenty of attention has been poured into the Warmastered Edition. Aside from an improved resolution with 4K support, the textures have been overhauled and cutscenes are re-rendered. Being from an age when downloadable content was not quite so ubiquitous, there’s no real extra content to speak of.
One thing that bears mentioning is just how well Darksiders has aged. Despite being a six-year-old game, the simple combat and great environmental design make for an adventure that’s aged incredibly well. Picking it up again was just as enjoyable as it was in 2010, and the extra visual spitshine makes it feel right at home among modern titles.
I’ve always adored Vigil’s derivative-but-not-in-a-bad-way action title, and I hate this neither this game nor its sequel ever achieved much success. There’s a suggestion that the owners of what’s now THQ Nordic are using this and the Darksiders II rerelease to gauge interest in a possible sequel, and I hope that interest is apparent. I’m not holding out much hope, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
At any rate, I’m glad we got two wonderful action games out of the Darksiders property, even if that’s all we ever get, and I’m really glad I played them again, because they’re not lost a step.