Darksiders is a game that initially released some time ago that I had always been meaning to pick up, but never got around to. A while ago I picked up Darksiders 2 when it was on PS Plus, but I never did pick up the first game. Now, after Darksiders 3 has released, finally I get around to playing the first game that started the series, on the Switch.
In the first installment of the Darksiders franchise, you play as the eponymous horseman of the apocalypse, War. Having been “summoned to ride out the apocalypse but not really because plot”, War enters the realm of humanity in order to punish those who do evil. I think. It was phrased rather awkwardly in-game, but the gist of things is that War’s job is to play executioner to demons, angels, and humans. Unfortunately for him, there was a little mix-up with his call to arms, and he gets accused by “the charred council”, the local supernatural balance keepers, of causing the apocalypse when it wasn’t time to do so.
Needless to say, he’s none too pleased by this, but has no choice but to find out who’s fault it really is, and bring them to justice, ideally through the use of his really big sword. The council sends a watcher to make sure War doesn’t try to flee his “responsibilities”, and strips him of most of his power. Then begins an adventure to take down “The Destroyer”, because that’s who War thinks set off his false alarm. Or at least that’s what I gathered from it. It’s rather vague at times, so a lot of the story is rather inferred than told, and what is there can be really obtuse sometimes. There was a point about halfway though the game where I sat the controller down and just asked “why am I even doing this in-game?”.
Once you get past the initial questioning phase of whether or not there is a better solution to War’s preferred method of solving his plight, you get into the meat of the gameplay. I was told that the first Darksiders was like “adult Zelda”, the game not the character, and I’m largely inclined to agree. A third person adventure through various dungeons, collecting the specific tool you need to get through the dungeon/beat the boss, while beating up small hordes of enemies and collecting bonus items and upgrades hidden in chests throughout the post-apocalyptic world. Unlike the “Legend of Zelda” games though, there is a greater focus on combat, to a certain degree. You can get up to three different weapon types to beat up enemies with, each with their own “weapon experience”, that will increase when beating on enemies with that weapon.
Upon “leveling” a weapon, it gets boosted damage, so you can hack and slash your way through enemies a lot easier. In addition to that, you have special moves that can be “purchased” as upgrades from the local vendor. You have a dodge (sort of), a counter, a block, and a bunch of different movesets with which to mete out punishment to anyone who comes to poke you with the pointy end of whatever happens to be nearby, and that’s going to be a lot of people (read demons). When not in combat, you can explore the world around you by climbing on walls, swimming, falling into bottomless pits, swinging from gems, and gliding around like a phantom of death. Well, Death is in the second game, so gliding around like “almost death”.
So, let’s get some of my complaint about the game out of the way here. First of all, you feel really slow. And no, I don’t mean if you can’t solve a puzzle you feel dumb, although there were a few times I was going for a bonus chest and just sat there for 10 minutes trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do. Stupid weighted cages, I’m looking at you guys. I mean War feels like he’s moving way too slow. Especially after coming from the second game where they had a chance to flesh some of these things out, you just feel like you’re lumbering through areas. Even when climbing walls or walking. Even when you finally do get a “ride”, it’s later into the game, and you can’t even use it all that often. The controls feel a little janky on the switch, kind of awkward to get your hands in a comfortable position as well.
The in’game camera angle ranges between “highly competent” to “nice ass”, generally leaning towards the “ass” side of the spectrum. The “flight” mechanic is interesting, but you have a limited time to use it, so it’s more of a three second glide than anything else, and actually managing to jump off ledges can be tough before the gliding even begins. No, seriously, the amount of times I just kind of slid off a ledge into a bottomless pit because the game didn’t recognize my jump input was staggering. Bit of a saving grace is that you don’t really take much damage from it, so while it is a pain in the butt, it isn’t anything super debilitating, although annoying enough to make me consider throwing something.
The various tools are all pretty neat, but having to go into the menu to re-equip them between puzzles can get a bit annoying, although most of the time you can get away with the “hot keys” for weapon swapping. Swapping targets, on the other hand, is pretty much an exercise in futility. I gave up halfway through. Aiming in general can be really annoying. I don’t know how to really describe it other than saying it’s like if you made all the finesse of a tilt screen into a control stick aiming control type. And no, that’s not a good thing.
Speaking of “not a good thing”, whoever made the rail-shooting “intermission” deserves to be bitten by a gryphon, my lord. I can honestly say it’s probably the worst flight sequence I can remember playing in a game, and it’s about three times longer than it has any right to be. It’s rather hard as well, mostly because of how it feels really awkward to control, and you can probably expect to die a few times. In fact, expect to die a few times regardless. Enemies can and will demolish you in short order if you either aren’t paying attention or get hit at an inopportune moment. Oddly enough, the bosses I found to be rather easy in comparison to a large group of common enemies.
Overall, for a game that only took me about ten hours to do everything in, I did have a lot of fun with it. It isn’t what I would call “polished” by any means, but it doesn’t particularly do anything outright awful, either. Although, admittedly it sounds like they tried to make War way too edgy. Same with Death in Darksiders 2, now that I think about it. There is a lot of room for improvement, some of which you see progressing through the series, and some things you wish they would fix. There was a lot of opportunity I found wasted in much the same way other games do so: by introducing a mechanic, only to use it a few times and then promptly never speak of it again.