Darksiders Review

Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2017. Please disregard this original review.

Way back in January 2010, while I was building up excitement for Mass Effect 2, I was introduced to two little known games.  One being Bayonetta, what happens when you make a Devil May Cry title about a witch with guns on her feet, and is technically naked.  And the other one was Darksiders, which I originally confused with Darkstalkers, a fighting game series that I thought Capcom was trying to reboot through a single player action title.  But my interest rose when the comparisons to the Legend of Zelda began popping up.  I planned to get the title for quite a while, but since I try to thrift when I can, I waited until I could get it for less than $15, which didn’t happen, but $16.50 off of Glyde isn’t all that bad.  

Darksiders Review
Release Date: 05/1/2010
Platforms: Xbox 360(Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Price I Paid: $16.50

Darksiders centers around a false biblical apocalypse that happens in the early 21st century.  You play as War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse who was summoned to bring forth the end of the world, but the other three horsemen, Death, Strife, and Fury, do not show up.  As a result, the angels and demon who rose and decided to wage war on earth ended up breaking their truce ahead of schedule, because of a reason that War needs to uncover.  War is then forced to find and punish those who set him up, and any other angel or demon who stares at his glowing white eyes.

That loose understanding was pretty much all that I could leach into, because the game suffers from having a plot that features a bunch of confusing terms that they highlight, but never provide a definition for it.  And that is a shame, because they could easily have provided with some tangential learning, and educated people who were unfamiliar with the mythology that the developer was researching to make this world.  However, there really doesn’t need to be much of a connection, you are War, a man made of bricks with a sword, scythe, and a sonic glove, and you need to get 4 demon hearts, a horse, save some angel, and kick satan in his bum.  That good enough for you?  Yeah, I thought so.

I think I could have forgiven this if there was some levity in the tone, but everything is so serious that it nearly puts me to sleep.  If you have levity, the serious moments are all the more impactful.  Well, that may not be true, there is a British zombie who hits you with his cane and throws his top hat at you if you can find one of his easter egg locations.  But that’s the thing, easter eggs are just the designers having some fun, the actual story is as serious as you can get.  Hell, if the companion that War was being dragged along by, who serve the same purpose as Navi or Fi from the Zelda games, joked around a bit, that would have helped immensely.  You have Mark Hamill, who voiced one of the most entertaining iterations of the Joker, playing this unlikable and boring character.  War himself is almost devoid of personality, only doing what he is ordered to or follow his path of vengeance.  

Or maybe they could have just played some Metal or Rock during the combat to provide something showing that the designers are not 14-year-olds from the 1990’s who think that war, blood, and death are badass.  Hell, the visuals are very nice and well designed, but the blood that comes out just seems a little bit off, and this is a game that counts blood spilled by the gallons.  Colorful comic book visuals do not mix well with a man who is built like a wall with a coconut on top of it, who tearing off the head of some indescribable demonic entity.  They do look nice, but the decision to have them bleed out seems unneeded who you consider that they just burst into souls.  I understand that you want to feel like you are hitting enemies and causing damage, but staggering and a flash do it just as well.  I am not against the use of serious stories, or just being bloody, but show some damn constraint.

But the gameplay is sadly not enough to cause me to overlook these problems, because there are just as many.  The game is a combo focused action game that is kind of like what you would get if you added the weapon system and puzzles from Legend of Zelda, simplify God of War’s combat, stole the base element from Portal for a bit, add a few Prince of Persia wall-running moves, and a semi-open world based off of a destroyed modern city, from more games than I can name.  Yes, Darksiders is not above copying from a bunch of other titles, and while the method is not a bad one for a studio’s debut, it just seems very sloppy.  The Zelda puzzles are simple things like block pushing, while the weapons include a Gale Boomerang clone, and a simplified Clawshot, because Twilight Princess was the newest console game at the time.  However, they are actually used well due to their dual purposes with the boomerang being able to stunlock some foes, but it can also do puzzles that involve making a trail for explosives that you can toss.  While the Clawshot can be uses to grab enemies and swing War around like he is Spiderman.  Oh, and it also takes the horse that you get halfway through the game, like in Ocarina of Time.

From God of War, they take the base combat at its most simplistic form, but let you use two weapons at a time, which sadly do not always go well together.  And after 22 out of hours, I was unbelievably sick of using the same combos with all three of the weapons in the game.  They also take the chests that contain health, which can often be placed either too close together, like in one section where you are given a gun that fires infinite explosive needles, or are placed around an arena that has about 3 waves of soldiers, and a two phase boss battle.  In fact, there is a really big problem with obtaining health in this game, sure you can buy first-aid kits.  But getting currency, in this case Souls, can be very difficult when you are just fighting respawning baddies, and the game already is pressuring you to buy weapon upgrades and wrath abilities,  The Wrath abilities were completely useless when I tried to use them, maybe that is due to the fact that they were level 1, but upgrades for them  were too expensive for me to buy, and I went the first 7 hours without even knowing what they were, it was just a little yellow bar under my multi-layered health bar.

But Portal.  The final dungeon introduces an item that allows War to create vortexes on designated points that can preserve him momentum, in theory.  The entire final dungeon is based on this concept, and the reflection of light.  Now, I assumed that being War, meant that all he did was break things and take take the lives of things.  I did not expect him to do puzzles for about 3 hours.  But what kills me is how you can fire a vortex through another, and it will pop up on another vortex-able surface, which blew my mind, because that is completely impossible in Portal.  So at the very least, they want to mess with the minds of those who bothered to play one of the most beloved game in the past decade.

All of this is fine, if it were executed properly, but the combat suffers from a camera that zooms in too damn close, when you are up against one foe, a close camera is fine, but a dozen?  I cannot even count how many times that I was blindsided by some bloke, while I was trying to air juggle his mate with the rather large gun.  I understand why the artists would want you to see their animations up close, but the artist’s pride is worth nothing, as long as the game works properly.  

I also have one of the prettiest gripes with the game, the fast travel mini-sections that only take a few seconds to get past.  Now, it is nice how it looks like the prototype version of Bastion, but I would rather just wait for a loading screen then watch War walk at his decent speed that cannot get upgraded.  But what kills me is how there are upgrades hidden in two of these passageways, and every single connecting fast travel path has a different room assigned to it.  Meaning that if you do not use an FAQ, you will need to try every combination of waypoints to get it right.

But you will want to get all the collectables, because it makes you a god by the end,  by having weapons that drain health, 10 health bars, a quickly charging super mode that makes everything dead, a horse that does not give a shit, and boosts your attack power, and double the defense you started with.  But here is the thing, I still felt weak 5 hours leading up to that when fighting some ghost women who threw scythes that still took down most of one of my eight health bars.  And they vanished when you did not stun lock them, or they are not throwing things at you.  But in sharp contrast, nearly every boss is piss easy, and I never dropped past 50% health, with the exception of a boss who I got to after a gauntlet, who would just not take hits.  I understand keeping things ambiguous, but I like knowing how far I am with a boss, and knowing how much I have left to go.  And don’t even get me started on the collectible armor, which is grants reduced damage and health absorption, but does not work until you get all 10 pieces.  But get this, the armor does not appear in cutscenes, which indicated to me that they are either pre-rendered, or FMVs.  In-game cutscenes have been the norm for years, and this just looks shoddy, like they could not figure out how to use in-game model outside of gameplay.

I could go on, but I think that I have provided enough rage towards this game.  It is just very sloppy in nearly every area.  Difficult to follow narrative, overly serious plot that just feels boring at the end.  A world that is pretty much dead, and feels like it.  Gameplay that is either heavily inspired, or just poorly done.  And a complete flop in terms of creating a sense of empowerment.  I want to love Darksiders, but it is just not very well made, and what was done well has been done better in several other titles. 

A batch of good ideas that are hampered by poor execution.  It is not good or bad, it’s just middle of the road and can only serve as a learning tool for other, better games.

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