Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (Wii U) Review
Seven years on from its original, un-warmastered release on PS3 and Xbox 360, Darksiders: Warmastered Edition hits the Wii U in all its angel-bashing, demon-stomping glory.
Darksiders’ debut back in 2010 was viewed as something of a hybrid; borrowing many commonly-used game mechanics and conventions that were popular at the time. The combat reminiscent of the God of War series, the art style bearing a striking resemblance to World of Warcraft and Diablo, and the dungeon-exploring components feeling like any pre-Breath of the Wild Zelda game. Heck, you even get to use a magical portal gun – I wonder what game inspired that piece of equipment? Surprisingly, each of these varied inspirations made for quite the adventure to hell and back – literally.
Darksiders stars War, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, who has been falsely-summoned to the Kingdom of Man for a premature cataclysmic event – not the kind that affects one-in-three men, though. The Kingdom of Man, the game’s version of Earth, sits in the middle of heaven and hell, where the war between three factions only begins once the Seven Seals have been broken. However, War arrives to find out the Seventh Seal remains intact. Blamed for illegally starting the apocalypse, he is banished to the underworld where an offer of redemption awaits. Uncover the culprit plunging the world into chaos, and War will be restored as one of the Horsemen. To ensure compliance, War is bound with the manipulative spirit, The Watcher, voiced by Mark Hamill.
Populated with characters more gruff, grumbly and grandiose than the last, Darksiders possesses an astonishing amount of character. With a strong voice cast starring Liam O’Brien, Troy Baker and Hamill, each character’s manipulative malice is conveyed strongly. Even if it sounds like Hamill is just reprising his Joker character in a different skin. At first, the ultra-serious tone of the characters was a bit on the nose, but Darksiders fully commits to its shtick, unwavering in tone all throughout, which quickly became an endearing trait. In addition to superb voice acting, the design of the world and its characters adds splashes of colour where it is least expected. Many of the characters don intricately-designed armour, capped off with huge pauldrons, yielding the huge shoulders-look synonymous with any of the Warcraft titles. War travels across a variety of hellish environments during his quest as apocalyptic judge, jury and executioner. In among these locales are evenly-spaced moments of beauty; glimmers of lush greens bursting through gothic grey environments create breathtaking moments often attributed to games like The Last of Us. Sometimes, the visuals are marred by occasional graphical glitches and slight frame-rate drops, but Darksiders is pleasant enough to look at for the most part. The cinematic soundtrack is epic, but the rest of the sound design is not up to the same standard – there were sections of gameplay where it sounded like sound effects were missing, or mistimed, which detracted from what was happening on-screen.
Most importantly, the combat is smooth and brutally satisfying. Chaining War’s moves together in vicious combos feels effortless, and the finishing moves are among the most brutal I’ve encountered. Decapitations are aplenty, as are the lopping off of limbs, combined with litres upon litres of blood to just remind that, yes, you have just removed that monster’s spinal cord from its still-pulsating body. The controls are simple, yet the combat yields enough depth to remain engaging for the 15+ hour playthrough. Parts of the satisfying brawling feel similar to what the Arkham games have been highly revered for – a fluid fighting system where dodging, countering and landing finishing moves feels highly responsive and occurs without delay.
In among the high calibre combat are numerous other serviceable gameplay features, such as a robust equipment system where souls (the game’s currency) can be exchanged for new weapons, upgrades, and restorative items. Darksiders offers a moderate level of exploration, with various collectables and upgrades waiting for those wandering off the beaten path; although it is relatively linear in comparison by today’s standards. This linearity works in Darksiders’ favour because everything feels tightly-focused, never lingering for too long on any one dungeon or style of gameplay. One of the highlights comes when War is reunited with his not-so-noble steed, Ruin. Roaming around on horseback feels great, but this method of transport is only accessible beyond the halfway point of the game. This is a slight downer because travelling from one point to another before finding the quick-travel points can feel sluggish. This threatened to become a larger issue during a late-game fetch quest similar to the one that haunted Wind Waker players, where they were forced to travel excessive amounts to collect an obscene amount of shattered Triforce fragments. Luckily, Darksiders’ version of this quest was much shorter than the Zelda iteration.
Nearing the end of this review, it feels as though the middle child syndrome-suffering Wii U has come full circle. Darksiders II – featuring War’s brother-in-arms, Death – was one of the Wii U’s high-profile launch titles, yielding false hope of strong third-party support for the ill-fated console. Now, Darksiders: Warmastered Edition bookends a deceptively strong library of titles for a console that never captured the public consciousness or imagination quite like the Wii did before it.