A little Weekend Writing about Darksiders.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Weekend Writing post. The last one was BioShock 2 way back in July, in fact While I may not do it every weekend, it did inspire me to write about things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. This one is no different, but it also spurred from a conversation a friend gave me.

Anyone who checks this site at a cursory glance may notice I often write about about action games and shooters. Hell, the last post was Rambo: The Video Game, literally a light gun shooter. I’ve written about them so much that some friends have called me a “shooter guy,” which makes me feel like I don’t write about anything else.

Today, we’re gonna change that. This ain’t about a shooter even though shooting’s in it. This is a game that’s a weird cocktail blend of everything, yet somehow it works without outright falling apart.

I’m probably not the only one who’s confused this with a handful of other games that start with the name “Dark.”

Darksiders is one of many games I’ve bought several years ago and only just now got around to. I got a free code from GameStop’s Impulse service many years ago, back when I had written about Stoneloops! of Jurassica. I never got around to it in 2012, but did end up with an extra code thanks to getting the Humble THQ Bundle, back before THQ got swallowed up by some German conglomerate and before Humble Bundle became Just Another Digital Storefront. Man, 2012 was a much different time. I eventually passed the Impulse copy to a friend since it came with a Steam key.

I played Darksiders through the more recent Warmastered Edition, which was given free to those who already owned the original, which was a nice thing on THQ Nordic’s part. Warmastered Edition is one of several times THQ Nordic gave punny subtitles to the names of their remasters of Xbox 360 and PS3-era titles. (SEE ALSO: Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, Red Faction Guerrilla: Re-Mars-stered Edition, etc.)

I didn’t play the original, so I can’t do a compare-and-contrast, but if I had to guess, there’s likely some polished graphics and optimization improvements but otherwise is identical to the original release. Perhaps the remaster has bigger impact graphically on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, where they likely run smoother than the 360/PS3 original, but I can’t say.

Darksiders’ story is fairly simple: It involves the spirits of Heaven and Hell fighting for dominance and causing the end of days, which Our Hero, War of the Four Horsemen, trying to stop and make sense of this. Eventually he’s dragged near death, but bargains on one condition: To figure out who done this, with the goal to be freed.

So much detail for something barely seen this close.

I’m gonna be honest: Darksiders’ story is really, really dumb. It’s something a 7th grader would’ve wrote doodling on a notebook while listening to Avenged Sevenfold. The whole game is trying to be edgy and hardcore with its story, but it comes off as incredibly silly. It alludes to The Four Horsemen and uses elements of Greek mythology in bizarre ways. Hell, War broods so much that even Kratos from God of War would tell him to dial it back a bit.

Granted, I did not get this game for its deep, impactful story. I heard it was a good hack and slash game with some elements of The Legend of Zelda, and while I do come off as “the shooter guy,” I try to dabble in other genres so I don’t get burnt out as easily. So let’s dive in.

Time to wreak havoc on these fools.

War has a fancy sword that can do combos. X button does attacks, different timings and button combos do special moves. War later acquires weapons such as a scythe, special electrical gauntlets and other weapons which can be used with Y. Much like many modern hack and slash combo games, the key to the game is rhythm. Knowing when to hit, when to dodge, and making it flow and feel fun without resorting to button mashing.

There are some other moves that War can do, such as a few special abilities that can be used by holding down LB and any of the face buttons to do a downward blade attack or activate armor, all at the cost of wrath. Killing enemies drops souls, which can be used to buy upgrades, tricks for weapons or even gems to refill life.

At least the key-hunting isn’t too obnoxious.

Since the game takes a few pages from both the Zelda and Metroid molds, the game’s structured in a way where War is blocked off by specific obstacles until he acquires an item needed to make progress. Giant blue ice stones in the way? A pair of gauntlets will take care of that. A switch is over there in the distance? A boomerang will hit that. Can’t get to an area, yet see some things hanging in the air? Here’s the hooksh grappling hook. You get the gist.

Of all the games to take inspiration from, Panzer Dragoon is one of the more unusual choices.

I’m gonna go back to the “7th grader wrote this” analogy because a lot of the game design feels like something a kid would write. There’s a lot of elements in Darksiders that are straight up taken from other games. The core gameplay systems are taking pages from both God of War and Devil May Cry. There’s a boomerang and hookshot like in Zelda, War gets items and upgrades out of chests like in God of War, there’s a section where War’s flying on a gryphon and it plays almost exactly like Panzer Dragoon

Cake, lie, you know the joke. Get it out of your system.

The game even has portals. Vigil Games played Valve’s flagship game where you play with portals and thought “Yeah, let’s put that in!” And that’s probably not all the similarities, these are the ones that I noticed the most. So when I say this feels like a 7th grader made it, it’s me imaginging a kid making this pitch: “Oh it’s like Zelda but it has that thing from God of War and Portal and it’s gonna be super cool guys!”

For the record, this is not a bad thing. I don’t see this as stealing, and I don’t see this as lazy game design. I see this as inspiration. Most anyone who’s in the video game industry don’t really want to be the trendsetter, the one that makes the most innovative game mechanics that everybody just starts copying. Some people just want to make something good, and if that means taking a couple ideas from your peers, then so be it.

Vigil Games is basically doing an homage to genres and game series they love. Zelda. God of War. Panzer Dragoon. Stuff like that. That’s commendable. It’s all done surprisingly well, and rarely were the mechanics too clunky that it was unplayable.

With the bizarre exception of having a over-the-shoulder camera with a cursor that’s all over the screen and not fixed to the center like a standard third person shooter. This made certain puzzles frustrating.

Though, some of the bosses were a real pain. Roughly halfway through the game there’s this spider boss, Silitha. It took me several tries and a fair bit of backtracking to grind for health before I figured out the trick to beating her was using the grappling hook I had just acquired. A later miniboss required me to use the portal system to attack its weak spot on their head, but the portal spots were closed until I could bait the boss to hit the spot to activate it.

Many times I had died because said miniboss was doing massive amounts of damage even if I barely touched him. I uninstalled the game in frustration, nearly swearing I’d stop playing right then and there. After cooling down, I watched a guide showing me that I could cheese it by activating only one portal spot rather than activating two. Once I figured that out, the boss was a breeze, and I continued my journey.

Those were the only two major tough parts for me, the rest of the game wasn’t particularly difficult, at most it was just tedious. Especially in the late game where War has to revisit a lot of previously-conquered areas to complete a fetch quest to fight the final boss.

Another big downside was that a lot of the game’s world and layout was somewhat confusing. While there’s fast travel waypoints, there’s not enough of them in some areas, which lead me to do some heavy backtracking to get items I might’ve missed the first time around. One of my gameplay sessions wasn’t me going to fight the final boss, it was me looking around in areas I’d already been to to unlock a special armor set, requiring me to go back through older areas that had no convenient fast travel spots to them. It would’ve been nice if the worlds were set up to make it easier to go back through them, with either shortcuts or more fast travel spots.

The dynamic between War and The Watcher is amusing, even if The Watcher comes off as a dick later on.

I can give due for the game’s voice talent. While our brooding War is voiced by Liam O’Brien doing his best-worst Kratos impression, you got your obligatory Troy Baker and Phil LaMarr appearances, and I was surprised to hear Mark Hamill in something that wasn’t a Batman game, even though his portrayal of The Watcher is just him doing the Joker voice he’s most well known for.

The only major glitch I got: War destroying an object to solve a puzzle, only to be jettisoned out of the game world. Thankfully no progress was lost.

Even after a few rage quits, and some ridiculous backtracking, I still enjoyed the time I had with Darksiders. It’s a good, competent B-tier game, something that’s slowly dying as the AAA game industry gets more and more expensive. It’s a bunch of different ingredients thrown into a blender to make a smoothie, and turns out to be actually surprisingly tasty. While the story and art design aren’t going to win any awards, the game itself is fun enough to compensate for it. It’s worth giving it a try if you want a dumb hack and slash game to tide you over for several hours.

Maybe I’ll give Darksiders II and III a try someday. While I heard II wasn’t super special, I heard III tried to take inspiration from another major game series – Dark Souls – to middling results. Oh well, my expectations for these games aren’t high, so maybe they’re Not That Bad. Maybe I’ll give them a try this decade, with my bad habit of getting into games way, way too late.

I wrote this in late 2019 with the intent of publishing it now so I had something to write about to start the new year. Darksiders ended up being the third-to-last game I beat in 2019, after a Duke Nukem Christmas expansion that I was gonna write about before Christmas that I later abandoned, and the mediocre “campaign” of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. This was also written on a weekend, to keep the spirit of the “Weekend Writing” premise intact.

My goal this year will be to write more posts. For the past several years I’ve been writing one post a month, and I feel I could be doing so much more. So if I can write more than 12 articles this year, then I’ve succeeded.

I usually don’t like to do this because it feels like I’m begging, but liking and sharing this post does make an impact, as does chipping a few bucks to my Ko-Fi and Patreon (links in the about entry below).

Here’s hoping Year 8 of You Found a Secret Area is a good one, folks.

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B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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