Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play

14Jan/102

First Impressions: Darksiders

Darksiders is a new game that's been getting some buzz lately, as the kids say. It's been compared favorably with the Zelda series, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering that barely anyone imitates the Zelda formula successfully.

There's been some drama about the art style, which I won't go into, but I will say that I personally quite like it. It's stylized, and kind of cartoony, which I appreciate because I think graphics with style and a distinct character are better than attempts at photorealism, which often end up feeling sterile and wrong. However, I feel it's pretty safe to say that if you don't like the graphics in WoW, you won't like them here either, and should consider steering away if that's the sort of thing that can ruin your experience.

The gameplay in Darksiders is indeed reminiscent of Zelda, and the game doesn't try to mask its heritage. I haven't gotten very far yet and I've already found a "shard of lifestone" which is functionally very similar to pieces of heart in Zelda. I've also noticed that the equivalent of health potions require the equivalent of bottles to hold them, another clear Zelda reference. Just like Zelda, Darksiders is a 3rd-person action adventure game with some RPG flavor: an inventory of tools and weapons unlocked over time, an upgradable sword, and other such things.

Unlike Zelda, the game is considerably more combat-oriented, with combo moves for your sword and other weapons, not unlike a 3D action game like God of War. You also fight a lot more enemies, and bigger groups than the typical Zelda game, while your health is a traditional health bar, albeit using Zelda's heart system to represent additional health bars you have to go through before you die. Initially, I didn't like the combat very much. I wasn't very good at it, and it didn't feel very exciting or innovative, and fighting swarms of enemies was not as satisfying as the smaller groups in Zelda, where rolling around and getting good strikes on enemies let you stay unharmed and feel like a skilled swordsman.

I also miss Link's shield, something I'd never much thought about before, but Link's shield in the 3D Zelda games is incredibly well implemented, and very helpful. Not having one here was something I immediately noticed, and missed. War (your character, one of the Four Horsemen) does have the ability to block, but he still takes damage when he does it, and it feels weak compared to Link's defensive ability.

Despite my initial apathy towards the combat, something happened after I played the game for a while. Not only did I get a lot better at fighting enemies, but I also came to really appreciate a cool mechanic that makes the game somewhat unique. Any time an enemy gets below a certain amount of health, a big B button prompt shows up over its head. If the enemy is far away, it is grayed out, but if it's fairly close, you can hit B to instantly finish off the enemy with a cool custom animation. The benefit of this is that when you're fighting a big group of guys, you can't really afford to focus on one at a time, or the others will get behind you and hit you. Instead, I found that I had to keep the locations of enemies in mind and chain my attacks in different directions to keep people at bay. If you play this way, you will whiddle down many enemies' health, and soon you may see two or three with the prompts over their heads. You can then chain your finishers, moving from one enemy to another, cleaning them up, which is not only very satisfying, but also tactically useful.

The other benefit of this system, is that chains of attacks often knock enemies back and take them out of the fight for a little bit. Without this finisher mechanic, it would be prudent to follow them and finish them off, since they can come back and be a nuisance if you focus on something else. However, with the finisher mechanic, I can safely devote my attention to the rest of the group, and when the enemy I knocked away comes back, I can instantly dispatch it with a single tap of the B button, without it diverting my attention from whatever I'm doing.

So, it's a pretty cool mechanic, and once you learn how to use it effectively, it can be immensely satisfying.

I'm not that far into the game yet, so as of right now it's one of the more interesting aspects I've found. I'm hoping the game continues to hold up, though I'm a little worried if the setting can keep my interest. It's a post-apocalyptic world, which I'm usually very fond of, but in this case it's a bit too literal for my taste, and I worry that the areas I have to visit will all be too similar to keep me going. Part of Zelda's appeal are the colorful, scenic locales you visit over the course of your adventure, from forests to towns to deserts. Darksiders seems to be set entirely in a post-apocalyptic city, although I can already tell that they're making an effort to make unique locales within that city.

We'll see how that goes, if I keep playing, I'll keep posting about it, particularly if I find any other unique mechanics that catch my interest. As of right now, I can recommend it as a competent Zelda clone with an interesting aesthetic, which may not appeal to you, so you should check out some screens or videos ahead of time.

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. It’s not a true homage to Zelda until it has a water temple, and if it has a water temple, you should stop playing now in order to avoid breaking your controller and/or kicking any nearby puppies.

  2. Hmm wow that sounds a LOT like GoW’s combat system actually. Except in GoW its the “O” button that usually pops up over their heads, and on the bigger baddies is a button sequence. On the smaller bad guys he’ll just finish them off though.

    Sounds interesting, I’ll have to look into it once I finish the myraid of other games I still have to go through! I love more graphic styles. Okami was my favorite game of that year because of this, that and I just fell in love with the story. (That indeed was a Zelda game except with a wolf Japanese goddess)


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