Last night I finished the 2010 Xbox 360/PC video game Darksiders. Darksiders is best described as a cross between The Legend of Zelda, God of War, and Portal, with the art style of World of Warcraft. If that sounds like a weird combination…it kinda is…but it works extremely well within the context of the game.
The Zelda elements are mainly in the form of dungeons and hub worlds, the need to collect items to progress (such as the maps, gauntlets, power ups, etc). Darksiders borrows from God of War with a weapon upgrade system based on collecting souls (“Blue souls, not red, see, not a ripoff!” – Zero Punctuation) as well a healthy amount of gratuitous violence and buckets of blood (“DECAPITATION!!” – Brutal Legend). The Portal elements in Darksiders are the ability in later levels to create orange and blue portals on specific surfaces; this mechanic is explained on a magical device as opposed to scientific progress as in Portal. And finally, World of Warcraft and Darksiders shares a major art developer, so everything feels roughly the same in terms of design, size, and color palette.
All elements that I appreciate.
While Darksiders received slightly above average reviews when it came out, I throughly enjoyed my time with the game. The storyline in Darksiders is suitably epic: the Horseman of the Apocalypse War is tricked into believing the Apocalypse has started, so The Council punishes him and sets him out on a path of redemption by finding out who started the Apocalypse which destroyed Earth and began the war between Heaven and Hell. The storyline concludes with War defeating the parties involved, but at the cost of placing himself squarely against Heaven and Hell, and there is a minor teaser that War will fight all of Creation alongside the rest of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
In short, the game is built on mythology and religious imagery, and is utterly awesome. I’ve always felt that the Horsemen aren’t written about often enough in stories, with Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens coming to mind as the biggest use of the characters. Everything is played up to its largest potential, so demons truly look “demonic”, all horns and scars and red scales, and angels and heavenly beasts are beautified humans with wings wielding golden swords and armor.
As a Christian and reader of the Bible, I’m ok with this representation because I know it is based purely off of fiction; the more “demonic” a demon is portrayed, the less of a representation of a reality it is. However, I can easily see why many would look at this game and declare it utterly “demonic and wicked and evil”, just by appearances. And yet storywise, beyond the gratuitous violence and gore, the game is not dark at all, and plays off as a fantasy based on a mixture of the Bible, mythology, and Dante’s influence. I am uncertain how to describe it any more; it’s fantasy, it’s epic, but it’s not dark.
One thing I found interesting: there is never any naming of “God”, “Lucifer” or any deviations. There is a Creator, an Enemy, The Council, Creation, and names of individual demons and angels, but that’s it. I’m sure as a story choice this was intentional, and maybe offensive to a small demographic of people if they had been included, but it works. I’ve been enjoying the recent slew of video games that deal with Judeo-Christian elements in a novel way, with Assassin’s Creed and Darksiders at the forefront. Speculative fiction is highly entertaining.
Darksiders received a solid 8 when it came out, and the most common complaint being a game ending bug near the end of the game, a bug which I managed to avoid but I can easily see how people stumbled across it. By now I’m certain the developers have patched that bug up, but I know it soured many professional video game reviews on the game, which probably hurt sales significantly; reviewers have too much power and sway, in my opinion. I agree that Darksiders is a solid 8, maybe an 8.5, as there is a lack of polish at moments, such as having to reset the game controls every time you boot the game up, and an extremely sensitive camera system that works well most of the time but occassionally will get hung up on scenery during fights.
Yet many of the most memorable game experiences I’ve had in the past few years are solid 8’s: Darksiders, Brutal Legend, The Saboteur, just to name a few, and I’m looking forward to eventually playing through Metro 2033, another game that received average reviews but high marks for story, atmosphere, and innovation. So 8s are great.
Darksiders was a thoroughly enjoyable game that I won’t hesitate to recommend to anyone. Gameplay is solid, and while there are some technical frustrations, and the pacing slows considerably in the second half, the story and atmosphere more than makes up for the rest of the shortcomings. This is my type of game. If you love Zelda but want something a little more mature, give Darksiders a chance.
Up next…either Black Ops single player or Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.