I don't remember if I ever made a review for Darksiders, but even if I did, it's on the old site I can't access and based on an incomplete picture of the full game. In either case, as I play through Darksiders 2, it becomes clear that many of the mental notes I make for the review I will eventually put together really require you to know the original at least in passing in order to understand why certain things work while others don't. It is for this reason that I've decided to do a proper review of 2010's Darksiders.
Before I start, I want to give you a quick synopsis: Darksiders is a great game with inspired visuals, a unique style and pretty entertaining gameplay, which tells a story you don't see touched on much these days. It has quite a few technical and writing issues, but most of those can be worked around or overlooked.
With that said, on to the review categories:
Graphics: Spectacular! Yes, I realise this is a 2010 game and graphics engine monsters have come out since, but Darksiders somehow manages to look better than most current top visuals holders. Yes, it suffers from low-res textures here and there and it does "cheat" with low polygon counts and buildings painted on skyboxes here and there, but the visuals hold up remarkably well. Where this game's graphics really shine, though, is in the use of special effects to punctuate many actions and often hide graphical shortcuts. Falling from a great height causes protagonist War to land hard and cause stones to jut out of the ground, sword swings have very complex and quite neat arc line effects, energy explosions feel impactful and the game has a very, very pretty "liquid explosion" effect that many demonic entities use to show up in, as well as for lava to bubble up and explode.
For a game that's at this point quite old, Darksiders still somehow manages to have more graphical fidelity than most games coming out now. I say this on its own because it's a central theme of the game - everything here is over-designed. Yahtzee described War's design as "like someone started drawing him and never fucking stopped." Most games that try to do this pretty much fail unless they're running on a "next-gen" engine and a PC from outer space, but Darksiders pulls this off quite well, rendering a mural of twisted faces on a sword, multiple spikes on a shoulder pad or overlapping straps overtop a boot. Darksiders is one of those games that seems to keep giving you more detail the longer and harder you look, and in places you wouldn't even think to look closely.
Suffice it to say that the graphics are not "old."
Story: An excellent choice! Darksiders tells an almost biblical story of a war between heaven and hell taking place in "the third kingdom" - the kingdom of man. Long ago, a governing body known a the Charred Council imposed a truce on heaven and hell, forbidding open warfare until the day of Armageddon, when all will be judged. In the meantime, the Council used four enforcers - the four horsemen of the apocalypse, here appearing as War, Death, Strfe and Firy. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, a battle between heaven and hell erupts on earth, and War alone rides to fight it, as is the law. It transpires, however, that no call was given, and suspicion falls on War for having broken the law and started Armageddon by allying himself with the demons. With every human on earth now dead and demons infesting the husk of a world, War sets out to find those responsible for framing him and restore balance.
At its heart, Darksiders to is a gothic story presented though the filter of high fantasy yet set in a modern world for the most part, and you just don't see that any more, not since that Messiah game where you play a baby angel or some such. The game draws heavily on Christian myth, referencing names like Samael, Uriel, Abbadon and a number of other concepts, yet the way these are executed is what makes them stand out. A cast of very solid voice actors do a good job of hiding their gritty overacting to present a sort of reverse hero's journey as War begins to realise there is more to life than "balance, and your ridiculous law," as Samel puts it, eventually carving out a path of his own, no longer slave to his "purpose." You do have to look for this, as the game's narrative seems to have been written and re-written many times, leaving some conversations feeling disjointed and some motivations irrational, but those are technical problems. Once you actually get a good idea of what the "missing lines" were supposed to say, you'll find that this game's story is actually one of the better ones. Yes, it is simple. Bare bones at times, in fact. But a story doesn't need to be complex to be good. In fact, as I've found out, the simpler your core story is, the more leeway it gives you to play with execution since you have much less exposition dumping that you need to do.
Basically, this is a simplistic but powerful story.
Gameplay: About average. Darksiders is about three parts standard Devil May Cry combat to two parts puzzles to one part RPG elements. You'll often hear people describe it as a "one-button combat" game, but this isn't true. At least, it doesn't have to be. Basically, combat comes down to three "buttons." You have a "sword" button, a "secondary" weapon (one of two available) button and an "equipment" button. Equipment is generally used to solve puzzles and for some exotic combat situations, with basic encounters involving just the primary and secondary weapons. You CAN fight with just one weapon or the other, but the combat system actually has a pretty comprehensive means of crossing over between the two. I have, just as proof of concept, done a combo which started with the scythe, went into a sword combo, launched into the air and then went into the tremor gauntlet and back to the sword. You can mix-and-match quite a bit, and each weapon has its strengths and its weaknesses. You can be cool AND effective if you wanted to. Rounding out combat is War's ability to block, counter-attack and dodge, as well as use one of four "wrath" abilities, culminating in his "Chaos Form," which is basically a limited-time god mode. Basically, there is a LOT of stuff you can do in battle, and it's only "one-button combat" if you don't want to do any of that.
You'd think, with a Devil May Cry style game, that puzzles would be simplistic, but they really aren't. Specific set piece puzzles are rarely very complex, but you have to realise that most any "boss level" is itself one giant puzzle which you need traverse in order to even reach the boss, usually requiring a new power found in the puzzle itself. And War has many tools to solve puzzles with. There's a Zelda-style bumerang that can be used to carry fire to bombs or activate switches, a chain that can be used to swing around places, there is the Portal Gun (yes, seriously), War is adept at both swimming and climbing so there is a fair bit left to do. Most puzzles in the game are fairly simple once you know how they work, but the process between entering the room and knowing what to do can be a lot of fun in itself. And beyond the basic boss-reaching puzzles, the world is littered with chests and other collectables, usually requiring new powers to reach. Luckily, the "overworld" is small enough to where you can just backtrack and check everywhere when you get a new power, but it does add a decent amount of exploration on top of the puzzles themselves.
Finally, the game aspires to be an RPG, and this is pretty much where it bombs, and it bombs hard. For one, it uses currency - the souls of the dead. These come out of chests (again, yes, seriously) and from defeated enemies. The merchant demon Vulgrim will sell you things for them. These come in the form of consumables (but "empty vessels" to hold them must still be found in the world), skills for the Chaoseater sword and the two secondary weapons and "wrath powers." While good in terms of general idea, where this fails is EVERYTHING he sells is far too expensive. There doesn't exist enough money in the world to get even half the Wrath powers, so the overly-expensive consumables are simply never worth buying. The game heals you to half when you die anyway. Beyond this, War can find "health cores" and "wrath cores." The former give you an extra whole health bar and the latter give you another bar of "wrath," which is basically mana. Beyond that, "enhancements" exist, which are single artefacts that can be slotted into one of the three weapons for active and passive bonuses. Some of those are huge. Finally, each weapon gains experience as it's used, a certain amount per hit with longer combos giving more. I say this is where the game "falls apart" because all this does is force you to grind for souls or grind for weapon XP. I, myself, solved both of those problems with "+8" trainer that gives me free souls and weapon XP, which I then paced throughout the game on MY terms.
Darksiders' gameplay is perfectly serviceable, and it can be a lot fun once you get the attack patterns and timing of the fairly limited selection of critters down.
Style: Easily the best part of the game. Darksiders is ridiculously overdone and overstyled. It's a story that's excessively grim in its approach, most characters are scowling or at least taking things seriously, War is a 12-foot-tall giant with a sword longer than he is tall fighting giant gothic monsters and tossing out very serious one-liners. If you really wanted to, you could see Darksiders as a parody of the mediocrity of modern gaming and storytelling... But it isn't. There isn't a hint of irony nor any sight of satire. This game takes itself seriously and all of the characters are pulling off straight-face performances. This is a story so extreme that it would have to be a parody, and yet it's played completely straight. And THAT, my friends, is what makes it so glorious. This is a game which isn't stopped by storytelling conventions, art style concerns or even common sense. This is a game willing to go where few have gone before for fear of being ridiculed, and it wears that title proudly. Darksiders is a game which should never have worked because it's so implausible, yet it still does, and I have trouble expressing just how awesome that is.
"Awesome" is pretty much Darksiders in a nutshell, really. In everything it attempts, the game shoots for one thing and on thing only - that it's awesome. It doesn't have to make sense, it doesn't have to be necessary, it doesn't have to be logical. So long as it's awesome, it will happen, and I simply haven't seen games do this without breaking the fourth wall. For instance: most games like this would give you a puzzle where you need to push and pull statues to arrange them in a certain order to open a door. When Darksiders does it, War looks at the statue in question, then kicks it off a balcony to smash the floor below and open a hole to another area. When faced with a boss in an old train depot, War proceeds to smash the boss's face with a rusty rail car. That sort of thing.
And it's all brought together in what has to be one of the more unique art styles I've seen in years and years. "Fantasy" these days is struggling, because it's old and boring to look at. Green forests and brown dungeons and people wearing generic armour describes just about any Fantasy game to come out in the last decade. Darksiders isn't like this. It takes place in a 20th century human world, or what remains of it. The world looks like gothic fantasy, with pits of fire, demon spires jutting out and huge volcanic rock towers looming in the distance, but in every place, this looks like it was once a human-inhabited location. Everywhere, tilting skyscrapers tower in the distance. Almost everywhere you'll see remains of roads with road markings still intact. In the middle of a pretty stone garden, you'll see a street light growing out of a patch of sidewalk next to an old shop sign. You'll cross a spider web bridge, only to realise that that's actually a city bus webbed up to both sides of a collapsed street. Demons comprise a collection of outright monsters and deformed humanoids, while angels look like they're wearing power armour from the future, flying on mechanical wings and using rifles and cannons as their primary weapons. And there's a pistol as big as a shotgun which has four barrels that all fire simultaneously, and it never runs out of ammo.
Simply put, Darksiders is awesome. You just need to let go of your reservations and let the game be what it's trying to be.
Overall: Darksiders is one of my all-time favourite games. I bought this thing almost as soon as it came out for the PC, and I haven't regretted a moment of it. If you're a fan of exaggerated themes and aren't bothered by a bit of pretension, get this. If you enjoy fast-paced but not overly-complex action games, get this. If you enjoy 100% completion, definitely get this, as it's not that hard to achieve here. However, if you can't buy a game that's "trying too hard," then Darksiders probably isn't for you. I'd also avoid getting this as an RPG. It isn't, and it has pretty much some of the worst aspects of the genre without some of the better ones. If you can't enjoy a game unless it has several pages of combos you'll probably never use, this one isn't for you. But if you just want a game that's awesome all the way through and ends up making you feel pumped for more when the credits roll, definitely get Darksiders. It was pretty cheap last I looked.