I've posted quite a bit in the Darksiders forums for the TA Playlist this month, but I thought I'd do a blog entry to kind of organize all my thoughts on the game into one place. Maybe that's something I'll do for each Playlist game going forward -- I'm looking forward to Sunset Overdrive next month, since I've always heard great things about that game but I've never gotten around to really playing it.
Anyway, for Darksiders, I knew virtually nothing about it going in. I had downloaded it when it was Games with Gold, but my impression of it was that it would be a kind of generic hack-and-slash sort of game, which didn't particularly appeal to me. However, when it was selected for the playlist, there were a lot of good comments about it, so I guess I'd describe my feelings going in as "cautiously optimistic," and now that I'm pretty much finished with it, I think it exceeded my expectations.
The gameplay, especially the combat, felt solid. Right from the start you feel like a badass, mowing down lots of enemies with relative ease, but with enough tougher, larger demons to keep things interesting. There are a plethora of moves that you can buy for each weapon if you want to try to mix things up (I used the dash attack mercilessly throughout most of the game), and you're continually given new gadgets that add complexity and variety.
The puzzles are good -- mostly pretty easy, a few a bit more challenging, but generally not too frustrating. In most cases, there are no negative consequences for trial and error, so it was possible to just keep trying until it works. I think this was a good balance for the puzzles.
Likewise, the collectibles (tokens, chests, etc.) were numerous, and in some cases well-hidden, but not so obscure that you need to follow a guide to find them. I played through the majority of the game without a guide, and picked up about 95% of the collectibles. But what I really appreciate is the ability to go back to any area of the game (up until the last fifteen minutes) to go finish picking up those collectibles... that makes it so you don't have to follow a guide step-by-step all the way through, which I like.
I liked the concept of the backstory -- the Four Horsemen as agents of a Council of elder beings, which had imposed a cease-fire in the war between Heaven and Hell while a third kingdom, the Kingdom of Man was allowed to grow. The twist makes for an interesting ending.
Fun factor was good, for the most part... every time you enter a new area or get a new device, it opens up new possibilities and changes the mechanics enough to keep things interesting, and while some of the bosses are tough (on normal difficulty), none were overly frustrating or impossible. In terms of pure enjoyment, I liked this game a lot more than I thought I would, since pure hack-and-slash isn't usually my preferred genre.
Despite the variety of weapons and areas, there are certainly parts of the game that feel boring and repetitive. In the black tower in particular, it feels like you're solving the same puzzles and fighting the same set of enemies (including the three tower mini-bosses) over and over again, without much variation.
Combat-wise, while the variety of weapons and abilities present is good, the fact is, you really don't ever need to use any of that. In most cases, just spamming
over and over again is sufficient. And, once you get the Tremor Gauntlet and upgrade the Earthbreaker attack (
) a couple of times, you can basically use that to take out whole groups of all but the largest demons without taking much damage.
Only a couple of criticisms from the game-mechanic standpoint -- 1. Learn to JUMP, man! Can't count the number of times I ran up to the edge of a ledge to jump across, and War just took an extra step or two and just walked straight off the edge of the cliff to his death.
2. The whole targeting mechanism for ranged attacks is pretty cumbersome (especially selecting multiple targets with the crossblade). Eventually you get used to it, but it took quite a while before that felt natural.
While the concept of the story is interesting, I don't think it came off so well in the execution. Part of that is due to the pacing problem noted above. You might get a brief conversation with Vulgrim or Samael, and then you're off to your next objective, and you might not talk to anyone again for an hour or two. The overarching storyline (War getting framed for the apocalypse) gets lost in there somewhere. Sure, you get the idea that you're basically out for revenge, but I kept expecting that narrative to play into a larger story, possible something about War finding a way to restore the Third Kingdom or something like that... in the intro, it was built up that Mankind would eventually rise into a third power to rival both Heaven and Hell, but apparently all of mankind is wiped out in the first five minutes of gameplay, and that's it for them. It just seemed like the apocalyptic setting was too big for this to just be a story about War getting even with the people who framed him, and then walking away.
I think that's why so many people were saying that War was an unsatisfying protagonist. I'd be fine with him being a stoic warrior if he was fighting for some grand or noble cause that we understood, but basically this story boiled down to a quest for vengeance, so the story needed more of a hook to get the player on War's side. Instead, we're hit with a lot of esoteric backstory, and then basically everyone just tells War where to go and what to do, and he's trotting off to the next objective marker on the map. War needed more inner monologue, or maybe more arguing with the Watcher about why
he's doing what he's doing. That started to pick up a little bit with Azrael in the endgame, but it needed to be included more throughout.
All in all, I think the good outweighed the bad, though, and if you try to enjoy the game for what it is -- a generally stereotypical hack-and-slash action game -- it's more than adequate.
Random thoughts I made note of during my time with Darksiders --
- This is a game that doesn't mind reminding you that it's a game. Why will this gate come down if I manage to do 5 aerial kills in 3 minutes? Or if I destroy 10 enemies with finishing moves? They put a thin veneer of story over it (you need to kill these four demon eye things to release their power over the Gate Guardian), but there's no attempt to cover the fact that this is a game and you've got to complete this challenge to pass. That's fine... there's not a problem with that. But it just seems kind of disjointed... sometimes it seems like it's trying to put together a really serious post-apocalyptic drama, and then you'll have a random challenge mode that's very arcade-y.
- Comparisons to Zelda. The more I play it, the more I get it. Like when you solve a puzzle and there's a little "do-da-do-DA" as the camera zooms in on a door that's now open. Where I get it most is the boss battles, though, where each one has a different trick on what you need to do to cause them damage. You've got to hit them with a bomb to knock them down so you can run up and hit them with your sword, for example, or throw a certain thing at them a certain time to make them show their vulnerable spot so you can hit them. Also, your weapons include a Boomerang
Crossblade and Hookshot
Abyssal Chain, so that adds to some of the similar feeling. I don't consider these things to be uniquely Zelda-like, which is probably why I didn't get that vibe at all until I started looking for it, but now that it's in my mind, I can see the comparisons. I don't think it's so much that this game was influenced by Zelda, though, so much as both Zelda and Darksiders contain elements that are common to many action-type games of the time.
And one final thought, for the TA Playlist in general, I've got to remember to try and separate "this is a bad game" from "this isn't the type of game I enjoy." It's okay to criticize certain aspects of the story, graphics, gameplay, etc. on their technical merits, but for the purposes of discussion for the playlist event, I think it's good to try to separate out the personal bias as much as possible. Alan Wake has some aspects that can be objectively and fairly criticized, but there were a lot of people who just said it was boring or stupid, because it wasn't the type of game they normally like to play. I think most would objectively agree that it's a good game, even if it's not a type that they themselves would typically enjoy. I think the same goes for this one, but flipping the tables for a lot of people... a lot of people who really enjoy an Alan Wake-style narrative-driven game might not enjoy a straight-up button-masher like Darksiders, so we're getting a good variety in these first two months, but that also makes it hard not to draw comparisons.
Darksiders isn't probably the type of game that I would normally choose to pick up, and there are aspects I can criticize, but I think that for what it is, I don't think it's a bad game. I liked it enough that I may be willing to check out the sequels at some point, though I'm not shooting them to the top of my "must-play" list at this point. 3 out of 5.