Rated Mature; Reviewed on PS3
Darksiders is one of the crop of bad-ass, third person adventures that glutted the market after “God of War 3” took the entire industry to school. While I enjoyed Darksiders it falls far short of “God of War” in nearly every area. It may not be completely fair to compare the two games so directly but it’s more difficult to ignore the similarities.
The story of Darksiders is simple enough, but hurt by the concepts introduced and a failure to fully embrace them. We’re told that the “Charred Council”, and their servants, the four horsemen of the apocalypse mediate the uneasy between Heaven and Hell. But while the game adopts many aspects of Christian mythology it stops short of committing and never engages God or Satan. This leaves an intellectual power-gap that’s never sufficiently explained and leaves the player unsatisfied.
In any case into this war you are flung as, well, War – the second horseman. You are called to modern Earth and are attacked by the forces of Hell. You discover that the seventh seal which signals the apocalypse was not, in fact broken, and are charged with willfully siding with Heaven against the balance. A century later, now (of course!) stripped of your powers, you are given a oppurtunity to return to the demon-controlled Earth to search out the truth.
The environments of Darksiders are expansive and intricate. This is good because (especially if you plan to finish the various collection trophies) you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking (both within the environments and between them). Many items are only accessible after gaining special powers or equipment later in the game and (again, especially if you’re a trophy collector) you’ll be doing a significant amount of grinding before you’re done.
The length of the game was surprising and honestly a bit off-putting. The main game was perhaps 15-18 hours with another (optional) 9 to 12 hours to complete all of the trophies and gather all the available items and upgrades. Even then there are several missable trophies as the game has no “new game plus” or chapter select options. If you happened to miss something you may have to start an entirely new game to obtain it. The game could have been much shorter and, I think, would have been better for it.
Enemies in the game were fairly standard for the genre with no real standouts. Enemy A.I. was non-existent: if they see you, they come straight at you, period. Combat also, was par for the course but complicated by the sheer number of options and some very odd controls. For the most part, even on the hardest difficulty (on which I played) then game supports simple button-mashing with the sword and dodging for almost all battles. However boss battles were an annoying exception. Nearly every one required a combat “puzzle” to be solved with the newly acquired gear and repeated (you guessed it!) three times.
It was also odd that the bosses were actually easier later in the game. This was partially due to the amount of upgrading and grinding that I completed but also due to the complexity of the puzzles. Some of the early bosses were downright frustrating; forcing you to take advantage of environmental objects, switching modes and weapons in exact configurations multiple times before success could be achieved. Later in the game however most of the bosses follow the same “smack and dodge” button mashing as most of the regular enemies.
The number of upgrades and items and control scheme also seemed to fight against one-another. You have a primary weapon (your sword) and two major secondary weapons that you discover (the scythe and gauntlet,both upgradable). In addition you eventually have six alternate weapons and several consumable objects but these can only be assigned to the directional buttons and the R2 trigger in a completely obtuse way. Some of these are absolutely essential and could, like in other games, be contextually activated – but they’re not. So you’ll often leap off a cliff towards a grapple point only to realize that you hadn’t properly equipped the grappling hook. There’s also a complex “aiming mode” with target selection that’s required for many puzzles and bosses. This was just painful to use.
As annoying as some of the bosses were they were also among the most interesting characters. There were also many mini-bosses that were very well done. The game does fall into the trap of repeating some things well beyond their welcome. In one case a mini-boss is repeated four times; in another case three times. There’s also liberal use of rooms getting magically locked until waves of enemies are defeated which is expected for the genre but serves no purpose but to inflate playtime.
As noted trophy hunters may throw up their hands in frustration on this one – I know I nearly did. One trophy in particular, awarded for riding your horse over 100 miles, is completely asinine. There simply isn’t much of a reason to ride your horse (which you don’t even get until late in the game) very much – I doubt I had ridden him more than 6 or 7 miles in the whole game. As there’s no actual reason to ride the horse the only reasonable way to actually get the trophy to ride in circles for over two HOURS leading most people to “cheat” by simply tying off their controller with a rubber band and letting it sit. It’s just plain anti-player design in my opinion.
It may sound like I didn’t like Darksiders – and that would be wrong. There’s a lot of interesting ideas at play here and the game, while average in most respects, is well worth the value price it’s currently fetching. However the tedium and frustration of the end-of-game trophy work definately left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure it’s colored my opinion negatively. If you’re not a trophy hunter and you simply play through the game you may find it more enjoyable than I did.