“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton
The Four Horsemen. Just the name alone is enough to conjure so many images to mind – four larger than life forces of nature, carving a bloody path of destruction leading inevitably to the apocalyptic end times.
The very idea of four supernatural harbingers of the end of days has always, naturally, fascinated me. So the opportunity to play as one of the legendary Horsemen in a post-apocalyptic world designed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira and inspired by the classic Legend of Zelda series sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Enter the puntastically named Darksiders: Warmastered Edition.
A graphically enhanced edition of the original Darksiders PS3 game released for modern consoles and PC, the game places you in the hulking, brooding form of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the universe of Darksiders, an ceasefire has been reached in the endless wars between Heaven and Hell, with the balanced maintained and enforced by the mysterious and creepy Charred Council, a weird collection of talking skull-rocks that won’t allow the heavenly hosts and hellish hordes have at one another until such time as the world of humans is ready to participate in the final conflict. In order to maintain the Balance, the Council employs the aid of the Horsemen, four mysterious siblings of unbelievable power.
A catastrophic series of events leads to a massive upsetting of the precious Balance, and War is left to take the fall for it. Slapped with a sentient shadow that acts as both a restraining bolt and warden, War sets out across the ruined Earth to discover who is truly to blame for the upsetting of the Balance and cut that person to ribbons with his BFS Chaosbringer. But all is not as it seems on the remains of world, and War will need to explore puzzling ruins, acquire useful tools and artifacts, and make deals with several devils – and angels – before he can solve the mystery and get his revenge.
The visuals in Darksiders are, in a word, stunning. Madureira’s character designs are spectacularly realized – War is a hulking brute of a warrior, with oversized boots and gauntlets that somehow don’t seem out-of-place at all. Surrounding him are fiery demons, packs of angels wielding both swords and laser cannons, and giant, tumorous monstrosities that look like nothing more than eldritch abominations. Colors are vibrantly contrasting, popping off the screen and giving you the impression that you are in control of a graphic novel published by Dark Horse.
The gameplay can best be described as a glowing, polished love letter to the 3D Legend of Zelda games. War’s journey will take him from one dungeon to another, each one serving to introduce newer and more complex gameplay mechanics and often including new tools or equipment to assist War in solving environmental puzzles in order to advance. This gameplay loop builds upon itself in an immensely satisfying fashion, with puzzles and challenges incorporating and expanding upon the tools and solutions discovered in previous places.
Boss fights are often puzzles in and of themselves, with each one serving as a culmination of the tools, tricks, and traps found in their environments to defeat. For all the power that War possesses, it is his – and your – ability to analyze and adapt to his situation that serves him best throughout the entirety of his adventure. That isn’t to say that every card up War’s sleeve is entirely useful – one might go the entirety of the game, for example, without ever even knowing that War is capable of blocking some enemy attacks rather than utilizing a well-timed dodge. Similarly, while War has access to a small selection of magic spells, I found only one to be something that I used more than once, and even then it’s use felt situational and more of convenience than necessity.
The sound design is equally polished, if in my opinion less memorable. While my youngest son insists that the soundtrack and battle music in the early stages is among the best that he’s ever heard, for me there is nothing of note to distinguish from one growling guitar background to another. That isn’t to say that any of it is bad – just that it is there and serves it’s purpose without ever truly standing out. One exception I would note is that the voice acting is amazing, particularly Liam O’Brien as War.
After more than a few twists and turns, Darksiders’ narrative ends with a fairly obvious hook for further sequels – sequels which have since come to be. Would they pick up that story trail? I guess you’ll have to come back to my upcoming discussion of Darksiders II to find out! – EWE