Darksiders: Wrath of War


posted 1/5/2010 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One Page Platforms: 360
For a minute, let's say Darksiders is a big bowl of gaming stew. Like any stews there is a main ingredient that the stew is built on and then other things are added to add new flavors to the mix. In Darksiders is a stew then the core ingredient is God of War but the folks at Vigil have added giant chunks of Zelda along with a dash Dragoon Orta and a few of other spices to create a gaming stew that hard core gamers are going to eat up.

In Darksiders you play War, one of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse who is charged by the Charred Council to keep the forces of heaven and hell from destroying Earth before the apocalypse is signaled. Once the apocalypse is on, War and his three brethren will be summoned to oversee the battle. It turns out the someone triggers the apocalypse a bit pre-maturely, summoning War but not his three brothers. Because of his bad case of "premature apocalation" War is blamed for causing the early apocalypse (which is won by the forces of Hell) and is now responsible for tracking down what went wrong and putting everything back the way it was.

War is stripped of most of the powers (if you don't see that coming you need to play more games) and must regain them before the inevitable climactic battle at end of the game. He's escorted by the Watcher, an ethereal spirit bound to him to ensures that he doesn't wander off and "Go Native" with the demons who now rule the Earth. This isn't a bad thing as The Watcher is voiced by Mark Hamil who is using a toned down version of his Joker voice for the character.

While the story arc of the game will be familiar to most gamers, what differentiates Darksiders is the art design of Joe Madureira. Mr. Madureira comes from the comic book world and brings that aesthetic to the game. This extends to the writing as well as Darksiders feels like a bit like a full length interactive comic book without the ads for X-Ray specs at the end. This will probably be turn off for some people who loath this kind of writing. It's not quite as over the top as Heavy Metal or the Spawn movies but it does push ever so slightly into teenage boy realm a bit here and there. As a character, War is a bit overwrought and brooding. There's not a lot of depth to his character but he gets the job done. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but don't expect War to be as nuanced or deep as Kratos or Gordon Freeman.

The real genius of having Joe Madureira though, comes through in the character and environmental design. Sure we've seen zombies, demons, and angels in games before but Darksiders has some amazing character designs that are a step beyond what I've seen in other games. There is some fantastic creature design in the game and they reminded me a bit of the bestiary Guillermo Del Toro crafted for Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. These characters help forge an immersive environment that's easy to stay in for large stretches of time.

The audio is solid but doesn't really stand out the way the visuals do. The game does pass the girlfriend test of not overly re-using dialog (my girlfriend listens while I play and mocks overly used dialog). The soundtrack is solid but not memorable. For me music in games is usually like a good offensive linemen in football, you don't really notice them until they screw up which in this case is a good thing.

Killing enemies releases their souls which War can collect. Like M&M's the souls come in three flavors: green which restore health, yellow which restores wrath, and white which serve as currency. Given that War is an angry guy he uses wrath to power his special area of effect attacks. In other games this is what is usually called Mana but I do appreciate the attempt to do something different. The attacks you get are well done and can be leveled up by purchasing them from shops around the game. Yes there's a shop system that forces you to buy upgrades. I've never been a big fan of the "Savior of the World has to buy stuff to save the shopkeeper" logic but it seems to be ingrained in our collective gaming subculture as a valid game mechanic.
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