As a famous game once said: “War. War never changes” and while that fitted the tone of the game at the time, in the case of Darksiders it wasn’t quite so true.
You see War – as in the Horseman of the Apocalypse – changes a lot in the course of Darksiders. He starts out in the traditional video game way, by losing all his powers, before journeying across a destroyed world to regain his potency. So far, so cliche, you may think, and in a lot of ways, Darksiders was an amalgamation of gaming ideas that had gone before it. There were elements of Devil May Cry and God of War in the combat, and the exploring and use of items to open new paths was classic Legend of Zelda. But it was the way that these seemingly very different genres were blended together that made Darksiders such a joy to play.
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The story of Darksiders was a strong one. Centred around War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (the others being Death, who went on to star in Darksiders 2, Strife and Fury – okay, not what they were called in the biblical source material, but playing as Pestilence or Famine might not translate well into an action video game), we were summoned to Earth in the middle of a battle between Heaven and Hell that was played out on our planet. Now, The Horsemen aren’t supposed to ride until the Seventh Seal was broken, and as War appeared and took part in the battle, it was revealed afterwards that the Seal was intact. The Charred Council, a sort of mediator group that stood between the forces of Heaven and Hell, took the part of The Balance. In order for the balance to be maintained, the Charred Council made The Horsemen a warrior brotherhood who were to enforce the rules of The Balance and intervene to preserve it, if required. Anyway, War arrives on Earth to find that his brothers are still in bed and haven’t been called; but being War, he does what he does best and fights. He meets the General of Heaven’s armies, Abbadon, who is so shocked that War has appeared that he is killed by the leader of Hell’s forces, a demon named Straga. War then steps in and starts to give Straga a good kicking, but before he can win, he loses his powers and is beaten. I have to admit, I thought I’d messed up at this point, as I thought I must be able to beat this demon, but the story required War to lose, so lose he did.
Luckily, The Charred Council save War from death (not Death, his brother, you understand), and subsequently put War on trial, accusing him of destroying The Balance once and for all. The Apocalypse he started by appearing on Earth has had the end result that Humanity is no more, and Mankind, as a species, is now extinct. It is here where War is given a chance to clear his name, on the condition that his powers are removed and that he takes a servant of the Council, The Watcher, with him. Voiced by Mark Hamill, The Watcher is given the power and permission to kill War if he strays from his mission, and wastes no time in letting War know exactly who is in charge. From here, the story blossoms, with a cast of many varied locations to visit, but for me to sit here now and go through a blow by blow of the story would not only take way too long, but would contain many spoilers which would in turn ruin any upcoming playthrough you may wish to take in.
So, the scene is set; a newly powerless War is sent on his way, and in order to reach the end of the road, he’s going to need to recover said powers. This is where the game’s hub comes into play – an area called The Scalding Gallows, where War first meets a demon named Sammael, who sets him on his path. Sammael wants the hearts from four giant demons who are said to guard the path to The Black Tower, where the big bad of the game, The Destroyer, is expected to hang out. Of course, it’s not going to be as easy as just wandering up to a demon and asking for their heart; each demon lives in an area that is equivalent to a dungeon from a Zelda game, with puzzles to solve and new artifacts and powers to be found and utilised. Just finding the boss fights in these dungeons is a challenge in itself, as they are large, sprawling affairs with multiple paths to discover and unlock. And even when you do, the boss fights are not what you’d call conventional, having a strong puzzle element in some, and requiring the use of certain weapons or tactics to be successful. Riding War’s horse, Ruin, while running away from a giant worm demon is just one highlight, as is smashing a boss with subway trains when she is stunned. Using the powers that War rediscovers is often key to defeating the enemies in a particular area, and mixing your attacks up between melee and magic makes combat in Darksiders an absolute joy.
The powers that you find aren’t just used to make the bosses sorry they were even born, oh deary me no. With each heart that you give to Sammael, and each power that is rediscovered, a new path from the Scalding Gallow is opened. Whether it’s the ability to throw bombs and thus get rid of some pesky red crystals blocking a path, or even the opportunity to use an artifact to transfer fire from a torch to an inert bomb and cause it to explode, the weapons, items and skills you get allows Darksiders to grow bigger in time. Even visiting levels you have finished with new powers can be rewarding, and exploring is never a waste of time. Worst case scenario, you kill a few demons, gain enough money to visit Vulgrim – the demonic shopkeeper – and buy that new Scythe you’ve had your eye on, for instance.
And then that gets me on to the combat, something else that is so well done that there is actually a huge amount of replayability built in to the game. Even when you have seen the twist at the end of the tale (and it’s a doozy, believe me!), the fighting and exploring is so on point that the urge is strong to dive straight back in and see what you missed the first time around. The usual collectibles are all present and correct too, with upgrades to War’s health and wrath bars all available to find; there are also talismans of a sort that can be traded with Vulgrim. From Vulgrim you can purchase not only new weapons, but new moves and melee combo attacks. It is possible, with practice, to turn War’s fighting moves into a kind of ballet, with him able to pirouette from enemy to enemy, performing fantastic looking finishing moves after they have been weakened by having the pointy end of sword applied to their face. The bigger enemies can be ridden once they are weakened, allowing War to utilise the enemies strengths against their friends, using big demons to pulverise their smaller companions, before snicking their heads off when their usefulness is at an end. Even the bats that flit around the levels can be grabbed and executed, seeing War move on to the next bat in the row; there is even an achievement for killing five of these Duskbats without touching the floor.
With a cracking story, awesome gameplay, and a cast of characters brought to life with some fantastic voice acting, including from Mark Hammil – Luke Skywalker himself – Darksiders was one of the best games I played in 2010. With the release of the updated version, the so called “Warmastered” edition on the Xbox One (and yes, I agree, that’s an awful pun) in addition to the original Xbox 360 game being playable via backwards compatibility, even in this day and age, if you haven’t played Darksiders, you really should. At the time of release there weren’t many games like it, and even today, I still feel that the original Darksiders game is still the best. There’s something about the character of War that appeals to me, even when he is beaten down and betrayed, he holds to his code of honour and always tries to do the right thing. I find that admirable. He was played with a surprising amount of skill by Liam O’Brien, and to this day some of War’s speeches and utterances give me goosebumps.
So, these are my memories of Darksiders, from release day to present day. What are yours? Have you played the game, and if so what do you think? If not, have my words inspired you to try it? You really should, as it’s still available for a very low price from your favourite second hand games emporium if you don’t want to splash out too much. Let us know in the comments.