You’re Gonna Get It Anyway: Darksiders
Coming off an incredible year in video games in 2009, I was just starting to get my bearings when Darksiders arrived in stores in early January of 2010. Darksiders ended up being my biggest surprise of the year and one of my favorite games of this generation. While it was a day-one purchase for me, just 4 months prior to its release I had completely written the game off as being generic, boring, and slow. I said some harsh things that need to be absolved before I can move on to drooling over the prospects of Darksiders II later this year.
Most of my tales of admitting I was wrong about a game begin with me making some outlandish statement about how I’d “never be interested in a game like this.” In the case of Darksiders, I was actually really excited by the reveal and the concept of playing as one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. After finding out the game would be at PAX that year (my first trip) I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game and confirm that my expectations were once again, correct. I should have known better.
Is this a game or a ride?
First of all, the Darksiders booth was a bit over the top. Not only was it huge, but in the center of the booth was a mechanical bull dressed up as War’s horse, Ruin. It was ridiculous, and for some reason it really put me off and made me question if THQ was compensating for something. I tried to block it out of my mind, but admittedly it was wearing on me as a picked up the controller.
The demo pretty much failed me. I was overwhelmed with just how generic everything in Darksiders looked and felt. War moved entirely too slow, the combat was boring, and the controls were clunky. I was completely lost as to what my objective was and I couldn’t decide if the game wanted to be an action game or an RPG. It seemed to be good at neither. As impressed as I was by the original concept art for the game and the promise of Joe Mad as creative director, I just wanted more from the look and feel of the game. The post-apocalyptic city environment where the demo took place had been done so many times and there was nothing to the graphics that stood out. I resolved right then that Darksiders was going to be just another third-person action game with nothing new to add to the genre. It wouldn’t be worth my time.
So why, then, could I not get the game off of my mind for the next few months?!
The crux of that answer is that after the January release date was announced, I knew I’d have nothing else to play and I’d have the budget for a game that month with little to lose. I kept reading up on previews, trailers, etc. to see if my issues with the Darksiders would hold any water.
War is harsh
My biggest concern was the gameplay. The misconception I had walking into the demo was that Darksiders was going to be a fast and stylish action game. Instead, Darksiders has depth and weight to it, and therefore the pacing is much more deliberate. When I started reading about War’s different abilities and weapons, I finally got the sense of the scale of the game and the intent of the combat encounters. War doesn’t care about style, he is about blunt force brutality. After the game’s release, I embraced his no-nonsense fighting style and grins would consistently smear across my face as I executed finishing moves with ease. Even with the different weapons options, nothing was more satisfying than using War’s iconic sword to destory my enemies.
When a game starts out with the apocalypse, not having any setup for something that monumental really hurts the player’s experience. Being dropped into the middle of a demo, I wasn’t sure how the story was going to play out and by the end of it I couldn’t see myself caring about anyone or anything I had encountered. However, it became obvious in my research after PAX that a lot of thought had gone into the world and characters of Darksiders. Beyond my adoration for War, the multiple demons and angels in War’s way also left their marks on me, thanks in part to the outstanding production values put into the script and voice acting. The sound quality was a wonderful surprise and not something that you can experience on a show floor. Another element I didn’t expect was the variety and scope of the different locations War visits throughout his adventure. From the demo, I honestly thought the entire game would take place in ruined cities and feel very rooted, tied to the former human filled world. Not the case as exotic locations, deserts, and creepy castles made each zone feel as unique as the boss characters defending them and the breadth of the world exceeded all of my expectations.
Maybe the problem is me
My original dismissal of Darksiders‘ graphical style was my biggest misstep. I don’t know if I was just caught up in the spectacle of PAX and wanted every game to be a technological showcase or what, but I didn’t get it. Today, though, I love everything about the look of Darksiders. The use of color, the exaggeration and personality of character design, and the inspiring interpretations of post-apocalyptic earth, heaven, and hell are all refreshing. I’d even go as far to say that the stylized graphics are timeless. As games that have attempted to focus on realism tend not to age as well as games that work within their limits.
All of that is all well and good, but Darksiders did miss out on its biggest selling point that I didn’t grasp until I was well into my playthrough. Darksiders is an showcase of video game iteration innovation as it takes a lot of great gameplay mechanics from various other games and combines them into a much deeper and cohesive adventure than their sources. In small doses, these individual features can seem like rip-offs, but the total experience of Darksiders is what makes it so special and surprising. It’s also tricky as hell to market to gamers, and therefore a lot of gamers missed out on it. I’m just glad I didn’t, and I’m sorry I put up a fight at all. Darksiders is the best game I never knew I wanted.
You’re Gonna Get It Anyway – Everyone knew we were going to cave and make the purchase in the end, so here’s a look back at our transparent reasoning for putting up a fight in the first place.
Giant Bomb (images)