I don’t know if I should be admitting this, but I’ve never played the original Darksiders. For me, it was one of those games that approaches your radar as a small blip, never really getting close enough to catch your attention, before slinking away into the annuls of history. I thought everyone else felt the same, but it was very well-received when first released back in January of 2010. So well received in fact that a sequel soon followed; a game I also largely ignored. So, knowing absolutely nothing about the franchise, I feel that this review of Darksiders Warmastered Edition will be for those who missed this game the first time around.
So, War. What is it good for? Well, slicing and dicing your way through legions of demonic angels, angelic demons and everything in between. War, fabled horsemen of the apocalypse, is the protagonist of this story. Through the machinations of certain characters, the good name of War is dragged through the mud. He is tasked with restoring order to the world after some ancient set of laws are violated, and rectifying all the damage done in his name. All in all, a strange premise. I had expected one of the harbingers of the end times to be an unrelenting turbo-villain. Even demigods have to respect the rules.
In War’s second, remastered outing, the only improvements made over the initial release are graphical. Darksiders Warmastered Edition renders in 1080p at 60fps, and the game’s textures have double in resolution. Unfortunately, there is no new content. This is somewhat disappointing, but understandable considering both the publisher THQ and developer Vigil Games have been consumed by the underworld. Knowing this, I had hoped that the opening cut scene would be a reflection upon the rest of the game. The introductory cinematic is incredibly impressive, showing the conflict, truce, and renewed conflict between heaven and hell. Demons roar, angels sing, and both act with major disregard towards the people of Earth. Why fight on your own ground when you can blow up humanity’s domain?
The cinematic ends, and suddenly the design aesthetic changes. I had been expecting the same gritty, dark, apocalyptic vibe from the intro, especially since Darksiders is from the era of brown on brown color schemes in most other video games. Instead, everything is almost cartoony. In itself, this isn’t a negative, but the game takes itself so seriously that this graphical style is at odds with the overall tone. Darksiders Warmastered Edition wants to be this epic, brutal kill ’em up in the same vein as God of War, but it comes off like a Nordic death metal band’s wet dream. Every character sounds like they’re gargling gravel when they speak, and it’s not menacing, it’s just silly.
My first two hours with Darksiders Warmastered Edition wasn’t enjoyable: the combat is initially flat and unimpressive, getting from place to place is tedious, and the character’s voices never matched up with their mouth movements during cut scenes. That is, if I ever got to watch a cut scene; sometimes they would skip of their own accord. Neither was I particularly challenged, even on the highest difficulty. Considering this game acts like a distant cousin of Devil May Cry, I had been expecting to have to perform attacking combos that required timing to within a hairsbreadth of failure. Instead, most encounters turn into a one-button mash-athon. At this point I was starting to wonder why the reception for Darksiders was so positive.
After 3 hours of gameplay, I was jolted from my stupor. Following a rousing flying section on some kind of over sized heavenly eagle, I was traipsing through the Twilight Cathedral with War, when something finally clicked. This sprawling, multi-leveled labyrinth is a Legend of Zelda style dungeon! The layout of the game world, the puzzling elements, and gradual acquisition of new tools and weaponry started making sense. It was at this point that I spotted a whole world of similarities. The lifestone shards/heart pieces, end of dungeon boss, and the never helpful side-kick Navi/The Watcher. Somehow, knowing that Darksiders was drawing inspiration from such an established series renewed my hope. It wasn’t just this though. Gaining access to a wider array of weapons and moves improved the combat. Solving the puzzles and working through the Twilight Cathedral gave the gameplay greater depth. Even the visual style started to grow on me.
Though Darksiders is basically a patchwork quilt of other game’s mechanics, they’re all stitched together in such a way as to make something unrecognizable and fresh. You may spot a patch that looks a lot like Devil May Cry, or a rather large patch of Legend of Zelda, but if you stand far enough away, the whole quilt is it’s own creation. My enjoyment peaked with the first proper boss, Tiamat. As with Zelda titles, each boss battle presents it’s own little puzzle to solve, usually overcome by whatever piece of equipment you acquired in the preceding dungeon. Tiamat presented her own challenge; flying low and hard over the arena doling out huge damage. This is where Darksiders Warmastered Edition was at it’s best.
Unfortunately, the proceeding locations, dungeons and boss fights, instead of getting more intricate and challenging, became somewhat easy. This trend is often pockmarked by areas where the exact opposite is the case. Darksiders Warmastered Edition has a slight issue with difficulty. Where most enemies can be dispatched quite comfortably, there are some areas where the difficulty spikes, and you’re presented with towering odds. There’s a section where you’re working in tandem with Ulthane, a hammer-toting giant, to fight through a horde of heavenly adversaries. I hadn’t died until this point, and then I died here a lot. Angels wielding lightning cannons don’t hesitate to spray you with bolts from all directions, and you can be forgiven for channeling some of War’s prolific rage. This spike in difficulty happens a few too many times during the course of the game, and it breaks the rhythm of the progression, as well as causing undue frustration.
On the plus side, War is given the opportunity to use the angelic legion’s lightning cannons against their former owners. Darksiders keeps giving you new toys like this, nearly every hour, and you’re never left wanting for new and interesting ways to decimate the next wave of enemies. The downside of this is that the complexity of the combos go from one extreme to the other. Where at the beginning of the game, you’re pressing one button during combat, you now have to press a series of buttons in a particular combination for a set period of time for the right moves to occur. The expansive armory of weapons and skills can also become a burden to manage, considering the limited space for button mapping on a controller. Changing weapons, changing gear and using special moves can sometimes get confusing in the heat of battle.
What was excellent though is that Darksiders Warmastered Edition, even whilst fighting legions of foes, ran as smooth as silk. There were some issues in the original release with frame stuttering and screen tearing, but none of that is experienced here. It allows the game to be enjoyed free of the problems that are often experienced with newer titles. If you liked Darksiders when it was first released, this remaster may enhance your enjoyment with such improvements.
If you missed this the first time around like myself, you may have inferred from this review that Darksiders isn’t wholly original. It unashamedly borrows from a wide spectrum of other video games – even Portal, but brings a lot of it’s own ideas and character to the table to differentiate itself just enough. This fusion with what has been borrowed creates an experience that feels familiar, yet distinct. I think a lot of my gripes are personal. Darksiders is definitely fun, but it tries far too hard to create a moody, epic, hardcore atmosphere, and as a result my face was contorted in a constant sneer. The aforementioned giant Ulthane says, as War holds a gun to his face, that he isn’t afraid of death, to which War replies: “It isn’t Death who you should be afraid of.” Please excuse me while I run to my mother.