Darksiders: Wrath of War Preview
Thanks to THQ's Gamers Day in San Francisco a few weeks back, we've been compiling a horde of information on their upcoming next-generation games. We've already clued you into promising titles like Baja and Red Faction: Guerilla, and now it's time to take a look at the last of the bunch: Darksiders: Wrath of War, scheduled to arrive some time later this year for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Both the setting and gameplay take the reigns in this one, and in our experience, games that excel in such categories turn out to be an engaging and even addictive experience. For example, Darksiders places you in the intriguing atmosphere of a post-apocalyptic Earth, with angels and demons locked in an epic battle for ultimate control of the planet. You will play as War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who - strangely enough - remains neutral in the conflict; i.e., he sides with neither the demons or the angels. In fact, THQ has said this isn't your standard "good vs. evil" story..."
No, there is no "good" and "evil," per se, despite all that talk about angels and demons. War's goal is very simple, and it has nothing to do with the ongoing battle raging on Earth's surface (although we doubt War will be able to avoid the conflict entirely): he just wants to get his powers back. We're not sure why he lost them when humanity ceased to exist, but he certainly wants them back. During THQ's presentation at the event, they showed off two overworld sections of the game, and they start with War working his way through an abandoned subway tunnel. Now, bear in mind that he won't be starting off with all his powers, so when he encounters a nasty, insect-looking thing, he can't just beat on it. Rather, he picks up the busted-up subway cars strewn all over the place and feeds them to the ravenous monster, thereby giving him a way out of the predicament. As you can see, it's going to take some innovation and creativity on the part of this interesting character to persevere; collecting all his powers will probably take a great deal of time and effort.
Of course, he has some power. If he can pick up subway cars, that's definitely a start, right? Anyway, now that we've touched on the gameplay just a bit, let's give the setting its due attention...hey, we're just trying to follow the introduction we set earlier, okay? Bein' good writers and everything. As you might guess from the brief description provided, you can probably guess at the various backdrops in Darksiders. This title will feature vast, dark landscapes strewn with debris of a once great civilization, impossibly disgusting creatures that didn't dare to tread on the same land as humans and now hold dominion, and skirmishes raging over every crest between the demons and angels. It's an appropriately intimidating atmosphere, and from what we've heard and seen, it looks pretty damn good. War must work his way through a world that is now comprised of nothing but death and chaos, and because he holds no allegiances, anything that gets in his way is subject to unbearable pain. In fact, at one point in the demo on display, War sliced off an offending creature's limbs with ease and continued to move on his way.
As an action/adventure title, most are expecting a combat mechanic similar to God of War, which wouldn't really surprise anyone. Much of the design featured in Darksiders is just plain massive in size and scope; everything from the sweeping landscape loaded with detritus and wreckage to the huge, rampaging enemies hell-bent on destroying anything and everything they see. What we'll be looking for, though, is a relatively original fighting mechanic, simply because we critics get miffed if they sense a direct rip-off of another action game. Of course, we certainly understand how difficult it can be to come up with something entirely original, so we're willing to grant some leeway when it comes to combat in Darksiders. Really, solid control and battles that are both fresh and invigorating are more than enough for us to have fun, so we won't complain if Vigil Games comes through in that respect. But please, don't pull a Ghost Rider and steal a bunch of elements from Devil May Cry, then poorly implement them into the game. That's just lame.
What is evident about the gameplay is a trait similar to Resident Evil or Metroid, in that you have to explore and track down different "unlock" items in order to continue. This will require some backtracking and a great deal of wandering, which may seem problematic in such a massive arena of post-apocalyptic death. However, according to GameSpot, one of the developers told them that the balance between "dungeon-crawling exploration and above-ground fighting" is about 60-40 in favor of the dungeons. Obviously, as there's a bit of open-ended freedom in the game, you can probably spend a great deal of time perusing the area and attempting to find every last hidden secret, so that ratio could change. Above all else, we're most excited about this balance of action and adventure, which can be altered depending on the way we play the game. At this point, we're envisioning a cross between a smaller but darker Oblivion environment (great draw-distance over many miles, apparently) fused with a gameplay style that mixes God of War 2 and Resident Evil 4. That may sound like a complicated projection, but it's really not.
Darksiders: Wrath of War will drop later this year, and it's one of those games that will always remain on our ever-expanding radar. What we look for most when doing previews should be obvious: potential. Ultimately, it's up to the developers to provide us with a great game, but we can examine the concepts and foundation early on, and if that much holds a lot of potential, we're happy. And so, in this particular case...we're happy. At least for now. Don't let us down, guys!
4/14/2008 Ben Dutka