Darksiders: Wrath of War Review
A lazy game reviewer will tell you that Darksiders: The Wrath of War is God of War meets The Legend of Zelda and leave it at that (a really lazy reviewer will call it a God of War clone, but more on that later). He or she will take the average of how they would score those two games, knock some points off because it's not God of War or Zelda and call it a review. I'm here to tell you that Darksiders is not God of War and it's not The Legend of Zelda – those games aren't even available on this system for crying out loud and unless you're a multi-console owner or a spoiled game reviewer those comparisons won't mean anything to you. Besides such comparisons don't do this game justice; Darksiders is not yet another action game clone. It may have drawn on a few other games for inspiration, but on the whole Darksiders is its own game and that game is a heck of a lot of fun to play.
Darksiders begins with the end; the end of the world, that is. War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is tricked into thinking that it's Armageddon time, the ultimate war between Heaven, Hell, and the world of Man. War takes the fall for the Earth's early termination and is stripped of most of his powers, but there are those who know that War is not at fault and they provide him with just enough aid and guidance to fuel his desire to find out who is behind the conspiracy against him and to exact his revenge.
The setup to the story is pretty interesting, but it is there more to establish War's motivation and inspire some great looking levels than to create an overriding narrative. There are plenty of exchanges with characters both angelic and demonic, but things can sometimes be a little hard to follow and it can be tricky keeping all of the players straight. I don't want it to seem like I'm knocking the story too much, especially since story's not the most important thing to me in a game, it's just that I enjoyed the look of the game world and its characters so much that in this case I actually wanted to be pulled into the story more. But in the end, it's the gameplay that's the thing, and in that category Darksiders nails it.
Darksiders starts out as a pure action game. In true videogame fashion, your super powerful hero dude has lost most of his powers, and as War you're left with your huge sword, Chaoseater, and just a couple of ways to use it. Even though your initial attack moves will be relatively simple and your combos few, you'll get a nice little taste of what's still to come. The attack animations are smooth and fluid, and they're actually matched to the enemies that you're fighting – this isn't one of those games that have a few stock animations that are replayed ad naseum with no real connection to what's going on in the game. You'll also be quickly introduced to a killing stroke mechanic that adds a pleasant exclamation point to the fights. When an enemy is brought to the brink of death you'll see a B button icon floating above its head. Move in for the kill and hit B and you'll initiate a killing stroke animation that's unique to the enemy that you're fighting, and no matter which enemy you're fighting the animated sequence is visceral, brutal, and oh so satisfying. As the game progresses you'll obtain more weapons and more combos, primarily by trading souls to the entrepreneurially-minded demon Vulgrim, as well as powerful artifacts and special attacks that basically function as spells. Weapons include a scythe that's useful for sweeping attacks when surrounded and the boomerang-like Crossblade which not only can take out enemies from a distance but figures prominently in the game's puzzles. In addition, weapons level-up with use and become more powerful the more you use them, and they can be further upgraded by slotted enhancements. New attacks with each weapon come in the form of combos that you can purchase and upgrade and that give War a deadly array of attacks that smart players will use to vanquish foes in a variety of situations. Multiple enemies closing in on you quickly? Use a homerun style swing of Chaoseater to knock them back and give you a little breathing room. Some sneaky demon trying to stab you in the back? A quick back thrust will have it quickly regretting that tactic. The number of attacks available, the tight controls, and the slick attack animations make battles a joy. I've played plenty of mediocre action games that made me cringe every time I had to enter a fight, but Darksiders had me happily unsheathing Chaoseater every time I saw an enemy.
In addition to the hordes of angelic and demonic minions you'll slaughter you'll also face a number of bosses and mini bosses. These fights are consistently memorable, not just for the action of the fights but also for the bosses themselves. I really don't want to spoil the surprise so I won't give any specifics – I'll just say that part of the excitement of finally encountering a boss you've been fighting your ways towards is seeing the form that boss takes when you meet. The boss battles all require some degree of thought in addition to action as you identify each boss' weaknesses and how to attack them. The degree of difficulty of each fight is just about perfect – difficult enough to take a little time and to give you a sense of accomplishment when you win, but not so much so that the fights are frustrating or unfair.