Darksiders 4-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: March 18, 2014
At the end of days, it is said four riders will come as harbingers of the destruction, but what if only one were to arrive and not at the appointed time? Summoned to Earth where the war between Heaven and Hell is raging, War, Horseman of the Apocalypse, fights the forces before him and is struck down. Brought before his masters, he must answer for the destruction of humanity and strikes a bargain with them. Instead of killing him, let him return to Earth to seek out those who broke the law and brought about the Apocalypse before its time. Either he will prove his innocence, or be killed in his weakened state.
This is the premise behind Darksiders, an action-adventure game that gives players control of War on his quest of vengeance. This will take you through a ruined Earth where demons reign, angels are hunted, and humans are extinct. Armed with your blade, Chaoseater, you will hunt down those responsible for what has transpired and grow in power to match the Destroyer.
Considering you are playing as a personification of War, it should not be surprising that this game received an M rating for Blood and Gore, and Violence. It also contains some suggestive material, specifically the somewhat revealing outfits of the female demonic enemies. If this content is not appropriate for you, then chances are this review is not either, as the media it contains has not been censored.
Released four years ago, shall we ride with War again, or leave the horseman to his fate? Read on to find out.
Before I get into the graphics of the gameplay, I want to mention the pre-rendered videos you will see. I do not know why, but these videos actually look worse than the graphics being rendered as you play. Part of this is because the videos are being scaled up, but that does not explain all of the graphical differences. Just want to mention that because if you play the game, this will likely jump out at you.
Despite being four years old, the graphics of Darksiders remain quite sharp and detailed, if you look in the right places. The character models are among these with War and Chaoseater looking very good, with many enemies also being of good quality.
Unfortunately, not all of the environments are equally detailed. Indoors a room may be about as detailed as the characters that occupy it, but outside the details disappear. Often there are just large, empty expanses. Even if it is a century since the end of humanity, it would still be nice to see something. Still, these areas do not look bad; they just look empty. Smaller areas may also be of lower detail, but then how much detail should a subway tunnel have?
The graphics that really catch your attention in the game are the execution animations. After War does enough damage, a prompt will appear to allow him to execute an enemy in whatever gruesome way is fitting. This could be by crushing their chest in, decapitation, bifurcation at the waist, or simply ripping them in half. No matter the enemy or the animation, these are all satisfying rewards for defeating an enemy. Although it would be nice if there were more animations, as you may run through them all pretty soon after meeting a new enemy type.
The blood spurts that come with each successful strike are also satisfying, but it is probably a good thing they do not last long. As the screenshots capture, the blood particles do not look that good when static. Flying through the air though, the blood looks real and good enough to go in for another attack.
Shadows are little mixed due to an apparently short detail-draw-distance. At times you can see the lower resolution shadows almost in the foreground when they should be restricted to just the background. This is not always the case at least, but it is sometimes.
War will encounter water in a number of places throughout the game. Its disturbed surface does reflect some of its environment, but it is hardly a mirror. It does interact with War pretty well though, as he walks and swims through it, or stands on it. The interactions are definitely canned animations, but they actually do look pretty good, unless you are going to just sit and stare at them. Even then, they do look well designed, if pre-rendered and repeated.
Fire is actually not quite as common in the game as water, at least from what I can recall, but it can also be summoned at will. Mostly you will find it with torches and burning gas pipes in the world, but when you enter your Chaos form, your body will be covered in flames and Ruin, your horse, leaves a trail of fire behind him. Like the water, looking at it closely will bring out its pre-rendered and repeated nature, but again, it still looks pretty good. The flames move rapidly and are dense enough to almost completely hide any flaw, and give them an appearance of vigorous life. (That is appropriate considering the sources of the fire.)
With that covered, time to turn to performance, so here are my computer's specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
I was able to run Darksiders at its maximum settings without almost any issue (will get to that soon) and at a full 60 FPS the entire time. Of course 'maximum settings' just means my monitor's native resolution and vertical sync is enabled. Darksiders does not give you much in the way of graphics settings, and at the least an anti-aliasing option would have been appreciated.
The one performance issue I had was with it occasionally stuttering when loading new areas. I do not know why this was happening though, and the files did not appear to be fragmented. Perhaps there was some process running in the background that was pulling away resources. Curiously my PC has been acting up recently as well, and I am unsure why. Since completing the game I have run a disk check, which did report that it had fixed some errors. After that I returned to the game and played a little, and did not experience any of this stutter. As I had no solid repro case for the stuttering, this does not mean it has indeed been fixed. However, as I cannot remember any similar issues when I first played it some years ago, and considering what these issues are, I am comfortable with dismissing these instances of stutter as something unique to myself and this moment in time.
Altogether the graphics of Darksiders do show their age in some areas, but in others are still graphics to be proud of. Anti-aliasing would be nice, as well as some better shadows and more options, but as it sits, there is little else to complain about.
Inspired by multiple religious writings, Darksiders contains many references to prophesized events and supernatural characters. Obviously the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are discussed, along with Archangels of Heaven, and some Greater Demons of Hell. Without a great knowledge of the various allegories, chances are much of it will pass you by, but the characters of Darksiders are all well introduced and described, so you will not be missing out on anything.
As described earlier, the game begins at the end of days, with War arriving at Earth to fulfill his duty as a horseman. He is alone though and is eventually defeated. Before that happens, Abbadon, the Archangel leading Heaven's forces, makes a comment that piques War's curiosity.
After his defeat, War is brought before the Charred Council, a group of beings that have been acting as arbiters between Heaven and Hell. The Horsemen are in service to them, but now War is being accused of breaking ancient law by going to Earth and initiating the battle. He asserts his claim that the battle was raging when he arrived, but the Council ignores this. Only because War suggests he is returned to Earth to find the truth or be destroyed by the demons ther, is he not executed. The Council does not trust him though, so they bind to him a being named the Watcher. This being effectively has War on a leash and can even kill him if War refuses any commands.
Once on Earth, War has little choice but to deal with certain demons, including Vulgrim, the merchant, and Samael, the Blood Prince. As both characters are introduced fairly early in the game, I will share some information that may be considered spoilerish.
Samael is described as a being with power to rival that of the Dark Prince, and is a primary source of knowledge for War. The demon knows where to find the great demons War will have to defeat to advance, and provides War with certain tools to aid him on the quest. Samael also encourages War to unleash his inner power, which he will need to challenge the Destroyer.
All of these characters, and some more I cannot mention without getting into spoilers, are very well introduced, described, and explored throughout the game. It may take some time into the game to reveal the many facets and connections of these characters, but I for one find it all to have been done very well.
The story itself is also very well told and is an interesting tale that could hold a player's attention even with less of the nuance you can find throughout. Truly this is an exceptional story, in my opinion, and it supports the action-adventure gameplay very well, leading you to explore and return to places. Darksiders may also have one of my favorite endings for a video game, as it both concludes one chapter and implies the beginning of another, greater chapter.
Darksiders follows the formulae of many classic action-adventure games before it by providing a straight path, but with many nooks and crannies along the way to find secrets. Some of these secrets can be accessed immediately, while others will require you return with some new tool. Among these secrets are pieces of Abyssal Armor. These are worth searching for as the complete set not only increases your damage resistance appreciably, but just looks cool, too.
The multiple dungeons feature a variety of puzzles, including classics such as pushing blocks to the right places to moving bombs around. Some puzzles require manipulating time to a degree and juggling portals to advance. All of them are approachable though, if not immediately obvious.
The meat of the game is its combat, and much of it will rely on your use of Chaoseater, War's sword. With each swing the massive blade will cleave through as many enemies as are in its way. This includes swings during execution moves, which may be worth keeping in mind. Another aspect of executions to consider is that when you are performing one, enemies will not interrupt you, and at times it appeared they will not damage you either. This may be useful as a way to manipulate the action of a battle.
Chaoseater can be improved in three ways. Attacking with it will eventually level the blade up, increasing its damage, and enchantments found throughout the world can also be applied to it. Finally special moves can be purchased, and these are worth the money for the tactical edge they can give you.
For especially large enemies though, when Chaoseater cannot deal enough damage to satisfy you or when you just want things done quickly, you can enter War's Chaos Form. This transforms him into a monstrous representation of his wrath, with fiery skin and a burning blade. You can only stay in this form for a short time, but it can make the difference in some battles, so do not neglect it.
There are also some secondary and special weapons you will receive or may purchase. Like Chaoseater they can be leveled up through use, enchanted, and have special moves unlocked for them. Along with your weapons are special abilities, such as one to increase your toughness and another that sends blades from the ground to strike your foes. These special abilities use wrath for power.
Outside of the different dungeons, the enemies you come across can be more-or-less ignored. Killing them will grant souls though, which are the currency; health; and wrath drops, and you will receive different souls depending on how you kill the enemy. For example, an execution may grant more health while a regular attack may give you more currency.
Within dungeons, doors are often sealed until you vanquish the enemies trapped in the arena with you. Being mindful of the enemies positions, attacks, and your own attacks can keep almost any of these fights from being too difficult, but do not expect them to be easy. War is not immortal and health is not always easy to come by, so guard yourself and take advantage of your enemies' weaknesses.
One enemy, however, is particularly frustrating, but at least it is contained to the end of the game. This enemy has the ability to become incorporeal, and thus dodge your attacks, including counters. It can also do a great deal of damage and has a substantial amount of health. Basically they felt unbalanced to me as they should be a glass cannon, but either need to be more glassy or less of a cannon. As I said though, there are not many in the game, so at least once you deal with them, you can move on from them.
One last thing I want to mention is that the lock-on system is not always going to be your friend. Yes it does help you keep track of an enemy, but the positioning of the camera can make it difficult to move and dodge properly. Which way is left when the camera is at such an angle? Tracking enemies this way does have its uses, but you may find it easier to just run around, manually moving the camera.
I can think of no better words to describe the gameplay of Darksiders than solid and fun. I know I enjoyed playing it quite a lot as it is very well attuned to satisfy the gamer, which helps keep you going for about 12 hours. This playthrough took me 12 hours and 16 minutes, which agrees with my first playthrough of the game. (I love it when that stat is recorded with save games.) I happily invested all of that time into the gameplay.
Additional Game play Images:
Should War ride again or be abandoned to his final judgment? In my opinion, you should definitely help the Horseman to the end of his quest. Darksiders is a very good example of its genre and a strong title on its own, with its story, characters, and gameplay. The combat is satisfying, exploration is rewarding, and the story is well crafted to grab and hold your interest. The graphics could be better, but graphics are not the only thing of importance.
Altogether, this makes it easy for me to recommend to anyone looking for a good action-adventure game and a world to explore.