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Early 2010 has a flurry of hack-n-slash action game releases. Bayonetta and Dante’s Inferno are in stores already, with God of War III coming out next month. So you might think that Darksiders is just another similar game needlessly crowding up an already busy release schedule, especially considering that it comes from newcomers Vigil Games, who lack the reputation of the likes of Hideki Kamiya or Sony. But Darksiders isn’t just another hack-n-slash game. In fact, it isn’t a hack-n-slash game at all, but rather an action-adventure game that encompasses a large number of sub-genres; with combat only being one of them.__STARTQUOTE__Darksiders isn’t a hack-n-slash game at all, but rather an action-adventure game that encompasses a large number of sub-genres; with combat only being one of them.__ENDQUOTE__I should state that Darksiders isn’t terribly original. It borrows gameplay mechanics and ideas from several other popular games. Some of these can be considered as ‘taking inspiration’ or ‘paying homage’, while others are plain rip-offs. But eventually, all these elements come together to make Darksiders the great game that it is.

You play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. After a simmering, long-running feud between the forces of heaven and hell erupts, wiping out the human race in the process, War comes to Earth to put an end to it. I don’t want to go too deep into the details, but suffice it to say that War finds himself out of favor with the Charred Council that employs him and is blamed for the events that occur on Earth. In order to redeem himself, War is stripped of all his powers and sent back to a deserted Earth to set things right. The story and how it plays out is quite interesting, and it's one of the many reasons that will make you keep playing.

You embark upon a 20-something hour journey towards redemption, facing thrilling boss battles, exploring vast new areas, and solving challenging puzzles along the way. While not combat-centric, the game does throw a fair amount of enemy grunts, mini bosses, and level-ending giant bosses your way, and aiding you through this is a competent, if somewhat simplistic, combat system.

Your primary weapon is the Chaoseater, a sword the size of a dining table big enough to seat ten. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock other weapons and be able to buy weapon combos to flesh out the combat system. At certain points, you’ll even be able to pick up canon-sized guns and grenade launchers dropped by enemies, although you can’t keep those with you and you’ll have to drop them to proceed beyond a point. The boss fights are memorable and quite different from each other, although strangely, they get progressively easier as you proceed, when it should actually be the opposite. This is partly because the bossfights later on are unexpectedly straightforward, but also because as you play, you will unlock additional health bars to help you survive longer.
Each level in the game takes you to various areas of the vast game world, and the game, while not open-world, isn’t linear either, so you can backtrack as much as you want in search of collectibles that you may have missed earlier or didn’t have the adequate tools to collect. This brings an exploration factor into the game. Very often you’ll come across a collectible that you will find impossible to reach, only to unlock a power later in the game enabling you to reach it. So you will often find yourself tracking back to earlier levels later on in the game, and you also aim to inspect each new surrounding for collectibles so as to keep backtracking to a minimal.

All the levels feature distinctly varied designs, from sandy deserts to lush green environs with lakes and waterfalls to caves and dungeons. Travelling through this vast world on foot would be a daunting task, so the game offers quick travel points in the form of serpent holes, which can be found at Vulgrim locations in each level. Vulgrim also serves as the in-game merchant, from whom you can buy weapons and upgrades. To travel across open outdoor expanses, you also have War’s steed – Ruin - which is introduced halfway through the game.

Puzzles also form a major chunk of Darksiders’ gameplay, and they get bigger and tougher as you progress. You will often need many of the tools and powers that you unlock throughout the game to complete these puzzles. One particular tool falls very much under the ‘completely ripped off from another game’ category; you’ll know it when you see it. But what makes these puzzles great is that rather than trial and error, all that’s needed to solve them is common sense and some out-of-the-box thinking. The puzzles here are some of the best you will find in any action-adventure game.

Darksiders is not a technical masterpiece. In fact, the framerates are a little wonky at times and unacceptably low during one particular bossfight, making it nearly unplayable. But the art direction is commendable and has a distinct World of Warcraft feel to it. Load times are manageable as well, and it has an impressive background score by the same guys who did God of War. The voice acting is on the cornier side of the spectrum, and while it may fit this type of game, it got a little annoying after a while. But overall, Darksiders’ presentation is pretty impressive.

Twenty-plus hours is a long time, especially for an action-oriented game, so the obvious fear is that the game might get monotonous somewhere along the line. But Darksiders keeps feeding you new content at regular intervals, be it weapons, tools or powers, so that even after countless hours, there’s always something new to do. And that’s where all the little ‘inspirations’ from other games pay off, because they eventually contribute to make Darksiders a better game, while still doing enough to create a unique identity of its own. One downside here is that there’s no replay value, unless you want to have another go at a higher difficulty. But besides that, thanks to some fluid combat and intriguing puzzles, Darksiders stands out as one of the best action-adventure games in quite some time.

Published Date: Feb 17, 2010 09:58 am | Updated Date: Feb 17, 2010 09:58 am