If they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery than Nintendo should have been blushing when Darksiders was released. Vigil Games' resembles the Legend of Zelda in virtually every way—collectable heart pieces, L-targeting, the hookshot, bombs and boomerang are all here, albeit with different names.
This means that to fans of Nintendo's iconic fairy-lovin' franchise, Darksiders has the appearance of an old friend in new clothes. Or perhaps old clothes on a new friend. And for many gamers, Darksiders filled the void left by Nintendo's insistence on motion-controlled silliness and it is a bold, brash and challenging adventure.
There are changes to the Zelda staples too, though not many. Certain weapons "level up" as you use them, the type of RPG-lite gameplay that the Zelda games would have benefited from long ago. The combat is more complex, making use of combos and upgrades that you unlock using rupees obtained from enemies. Wait a minute, I mean souls.
That being said, you don't fight as much as you might expect and most of the battles are less than challenging. Despite the intricate combo system, you can usually get away with mashing your standard attacks, even on the hardest difficulty, and weapons upgrade so slowly that only the most obsessive gamers will ever get close to maxing them out.
But that's okay, because the bulk of the challenge in Darksiders actually isn't from the enemies, but the dungeons themselves. Each one is a sprawling, labyrinthine collection of puzzles that gradually lead you towards the bosses.
You'll collect keys, scale walls, soar through the air and--occasionally--get trapped in fights that seem impossible to win.
Such difficulty spikes are common in Darksiders. As I mentioned earlier, many of the enemies will die after barely a glance, while some of the later enemies will remorselessly tear you to pieces within a matter of seconds and they’ll do it over and over again.
This is one of the places that the game really suffers. I played through on the hardest difficulty, since so many of the fights seemed easy at first, but later in the game I was lucky to not send my controller hurtling into the TV.
The puzzles aren't easy either. If you manage to make it through the entire game without consulting a walkthrough, you have my utmost respect. This is somewhat a staple of the "3D adventure game" genre, however, and many of the difficulties you encounter will likely be because you missed a small detail, forgot about a door or didn't understand how to correctly use your abilities.
Traversing the Darksiders world can also be tedious, despite the inclusion of a teleportation system. Not only does teleportation require you to run along a path between teleporters each time you use them, but the places you can actually teleport between are few and far between. This means that if you're trapped deep in a spider-infested dungeon searching for collectables, there’s every possibility you’ll be lost for the better part of a day as you try to remember which wall to climb in order to escape.
The teleportation hubs also serve as shops where you can upgrade your gear and buy power-ups to restore health, wrath (mana) and other fancies. The problem with that is that you’ll come across these places so infrequently that you simply don’t get a chance to upgrade your gear often enough and, as a result, the process seems largely pointless.
The problem with this is that the upgrades and consumables are actually be extremely useful, but without a lengthy journey out of each dungeon (which, depending on your progress is sometimes impossible) you can't upgrade. So if you’re stuck in a battle you can’t win without so much a single life-essence to your name, you'd better hope you have an old save file to restore. Additionally the cost of the items in the store are prohibitive—enemies simply don’t provide enough souls to buy everything, which frequently makes it seem like you’re fighting an uphill battle.
It is these types of frustrations that hold Darksiders back from being a truly remarkable game. Everything else, from the art style to the dungeon design is top-notch. It’s still as much fun at the end of the game to watch demons explode in a multicoloured plume of souls as it is when you first begin and the satisfaction you feel after defeating a difficult boss is tangible. With a few tweaks to streamline the weapon upgrade process, an easier way to stock up on souls and/or healing and a way to easily escape from dungeons you have returned to would make Darksiders a lot more player-friendly and a lot less infuriating.
If you’re a gamer who is up for a challenge, enjoys complicated, sprawling puzzles that fill entire rooms and you’ve got a few “ultra combos” up your sleeve, than Darksiders will scratch that itch. But if you’re looking for something you can relax and unwind with, you might be better served looking elsewhere.