Review by acord01
"A good game plagued by bad design decisions."
Darksiders has been out for almost a year at this point, but in my world it has finally reached that magical plateau where I can no longer put aside picking it up and playing it. Namely, it has finally dropped to $20.
For better or worse, the game has had hundreds of reviews and comparisons already. Coming into this review unbiased is a difficult task, but by no means impossible. One thing that I would very much like to do is to put the comparisons aside for now, because in truth almost everything is derivative from something else at this point. Comparison has become the thief that robs the joy from playing a game, and the deceiver that keeps us from really sitting down and looking at something on it's own merits.
So lets start at the beginning then: The engine itself.
Darksiders looks good, moves well and keeps a reasonably high frame rate almost all of the time. Levels are large and stream from the disc very quickly, and the game is seldom interrupted by load times. Controls are responsive, bugs are minimal(I haven't seen any yet), and virtually everything works as advertised. The appearance is slightly cartoonish, leaning towards comic books and not cel shading. If there is any sort of terrain engine underneath everything, I certainly didn't see it. Hardly anything in the game has a natural, organic appearance - something that detracts heavily from the immersion when natural elements are present.
Graphics: Graphics are very good, although the levels could have more visual variation. While I'm sure that this is one of the things that contributes to the game's fast load times, it would have been nice to have a little more detail and variety available. The characters are mostly high poly with little reliance on normal mapping, and level textures are the same. The lighting engine is very simplified, but it works well in this context.
Sound: The sound is atmospheric, with passable voice acting and some relatively forgettable music. Battle sounds, while highly repetitive are not irritating. Sound levels are very good and well balanced throughout the game. One of my few gripes is that apparently every single character in the game has a voice that sounds like they have just finished gargling with broken glass and whiskey.
Plot: The plot is your basic video game excuse to go out and kick some ass. There's nothing special or unpredictable, some key characters are very annoying, and in many cases the plot is thrown out the window and completely disassociated from the gameplay itself. In case you are one of the remaining four or five people on the planet who haven't already played this game, I'll keep from posting up any spoilers.
Gameplay: This game is ALL about gameplay. It is a combat heavy game with a lot of platforming and puzzle solving elements involved. Puzzles are not difficult, but they are long and usually involved. Some of the tasks that you get sent on are totally arbitrary in such a way that they will leave you scratching your head, wondering what the designers were thinking when they put them in.
The difficulty of this game is simply INSANE. It is WAY TOO HIGH. The developers did this intentionally, and there is even an achievement that pokes fun at the crazy difficulty. The achievement is "You call this EASY?".
Even on easy, the game is very difficult, and presents you with a parade of cheap enemies, boss fights that last for far too long and become so pattern driven and repetitive that you'll be praying for them to end. The regular enemies throughout the game do not provide enough resources for purchasing anything of note, and health is restored at ONE TIME USE treasure chests that never seem to be where you need them - forcing you to actually DIE in order to regenerate your health and your rage for bigger battles.
This is absolutely unforgivable. Nobody will enjoy this aspect of the game, and it is definitely nothing for the developers to be proud of because ANY developer can be unfair to players, but it is difficult to remain fair and to create a challenging game - something that the designers of Darksiders COMPLETELY failed to do.
There are a series of insipidly pointless arena type challenges that MUST be completed in order to advance the game. Some of these challenges will occur before you are actually familiar with the mechanic that they require to complete.
The combat is slightly repetitive, and in some cases it is downright boring. With some enemies, you will be forced to chew away on their health using totally ineffective attacks that do almost no damage in order to win. While it would be faster to get in close and use more powerful attacks, you will almost certainly die, forcing you to start what is probably a very long sequence with no breaks all over again.
Another unforgivable decision made in the design of this game is that it is 100% linear. There is no real element of exploration present, and there is no way to skip an arena trial or a particularly cheap battle. So if you get stuck, then you're actually stuck and totally unable to move forward.
There is a character present who is supposed to keep you on the right track, but this character is extremely annoying and there is not a single circumstance where he could be useful and actually is. The character points out completely obvious things, but never manages to chip in when you actually need it.
Bosses are HORRIBLY cheap. There is not even a health meter, and in some instances you will be attacking but inflicting no damage at all. The bosses are very heavily patterned, but there are absolutely no hints or suggestions of any kind in how to deal with them. Defeating an actual boss in this game involves trial and error, and NO OTHER METHOD. You fight the boss, you die, you think about what went wrong, and you try again. You may try several different approaches before you find the one that actually works, but you may try that approach two or three times because there is no actual indicator that you are doing any damage to the boss at all.
Frustrating, stupid design.
There are a lot of adventure game staples here. Upgradeable health and magic of course, some light RPG XP elements when it comes to growing your weapons, platforming segments, box puzzles(and lots of them), a ton of combat that doesn't ever seem to be beneficial, unlockable skills and combos, fast travel, backtracking to find stuff that you couldn't get to earlier, and a lot more that has already been covered elsewhere. There is absolutely nothing new here, except the way that these elements are put together and the mind boggling difficulty - because, you know. Dying should be the best and easiest way to heal your wounds and restore your magic bar.
This game could have been a very, very good game if the developers had actually done their jobs right instead of deciding that being completely unfair to the player is the same thing as making a challenging, hardcore game. It is not even remotely the same thing. The engine is there, the mechanics are there, the art is there, the story is fitting, the voice acting is passable, but a couple of badly thought out design decisions which are made repeatedly drop what could easily be a 9.0 out of 10.0 game to a 5.0 - below average.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 11/22/10
Game Release: Darksiders (US, 01/05/10)
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