We're exactly three months and one day away from Darksiders' ship date and I'm still waiting for Battle Chasers #10.
I'm sure comic-book-author-turned-game-designer Joe Madureira is pretty sick of hearing that for the last eight years or so. But here's hoping his game will make you forget all about war-torn worlds, burly swordsmen and huge gauntlets.
Darksiders, for those of you who don't know, is about one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War. Turns out, there was a false Apocalypse and somebody set War up to take the blame. War's bosses glue a creature called The Watcher (voiced by Mark Hamil) to his fist and kick him back down to Earth sans most of his powers to figure out what went wrong.
Gameplay follows War through a series of environments on the ruined Earth. The map itself is huge once you open it all up, necessitating both a warp function you unlock later in the game and a badass horse called Ruin that serves as your ride. You also have to do a lot of backtracking to areas as you learn new abilities that open up places you either couldn't reach or see initially. Not only are you getting mystical powers like the ability to see into the Realm of Shadow with a button press, but also weapons and items that might remind you of a certain green-clad Nintendo icon.
It was about halfway through my tour of Darksiders with Hayden Dalton that the Zelda connection clicked. We'd just entered a room with several giant spiders and a puzzle element to it that was more complex than the usual go-here-kill-this kind I'm used to in action/adventure games. There was a grappling hook involved and something that looked like a spikier version of Link's boomerang.
"The puzzles are akin to Zelda," he explained after successfully dodging a huge spider dropping from the ceiling a la the Great Deku Tree dungeon in Ocarina of Time (only yuckier because Darksiders is big on blood and puss).
Dalton went on to say that Darksiders is about 40 per cent puzzles to 60 per cent combat/level exploration — and even the combat itself is something of a puzzle. In addition to planning for what weapon upgrades to buy (because you can't afford everything in the game on the currency you earn in one playthrough), you've also got kill types to consider and a Wrath gauge to fill. Killing enemies in the old fashioned way nets you souls — which are the game's form of currency. However, there are three different types of soul and only one of them can be used to buy weapon upgrades, while another fulls your Wrath gauge and the third restores your health.
The best way to go for soul-gathering is probably the special kill button. This happens when you beat an enemy within an inch of its life and then the B button icon pops up, prompting you to pull off a fancy special kill. You can ignore this button and just keep thrashing said enemy how you were thrashing it — but going for the special kill nets you more than one kind of soul currency. Also, that button prompt might give you the chance to ride on an enemy's shoulders to trample other enemies for more souls. And once your Wrath gauge goes up all the way, you can activate your Chaos Form overdrive which makes War more super-awesome-kill-guy than he usually is for a short amount of time.
Having cleared the gross spider mini-boss, Dalton continued on our tour of Darksiders. We encountered a sexy angel (voiced by Moon Bloodgood) who was bitter about being left behind on the post-apocalypse planet to clean up after War's mess; a flying griffin creature that we totally stole from said angel's buddy; and the ominous Black Tower that looms in the background of most levels 'til War finally finds a way to reach it.
The Black Tower level Dalton demoed for me looked the most like a Zelda dungeon of anything else I'd seen that day — but it also reminded me of another game. Apparently, it takes something like two hours to complete and you get a nifty portal-making gun that turns the whole thing into a giant puzzle, like, well, Portal. The cool thing about Darksiders' portal gun though is that you can shoot portals through portals to solve puzzles and you can change the velocity at which things pop out of the second portal hole once they go through the first. This means you can make crazy super-jumps to get enemies' heads during fights from across the room where said enemies can't even reach you.
All in all, I walked away from Darksiders with a pretty good feeling that I'd seen a tasteful pastiche of action/adventure games with a solid coat of Joe Mad's storytelling — instead of a hollow rip-off of other action/adventure games that hides behind a comic book author's big name. Also, Mark Hamil was there and that makes everything better.
A couple of fast facts for the road: 1) There won't be a demo. 2) The basic game is 15-20 hours, but completionists will take something like 30 hours and still not be able to afford every single weapon upgrade in the game. 3) There are no quick time events. 4) War doesn't level up, but his weapons, abilities and equipment do if you're spending souls on them. So if ever the game seems too hard, grind a bit and buy some upgrades.
Darksiders ships on January 5. If it sells well enough to warrant a sequel, let's all start begging Joe Mad to include random pages of Battle Chasers #10 on the loading screens in Darksiders 2. That would awesome.