Every year on the first day of my Game Design class, I tell my students to think about why they started playing games in the first place and of all the games they played, which was the one that summed up that experience for them. For me, that game will always be The Legend of Zelda. I still remember spending hours in front of a little black and white TV and marveling every time I discovered a new item, unlocking a brand new path to explore. In a sense, this was the same thing that drew me to Darksiders when it was first announced and, after playing it, has made it one of my top games at PAX 08.
The setup takes place not long after the apocalypse, only the apocalypse happened prematurely. Like any good bureaucracy, the council that is in charge of keeping balance between heaven and hell has decided to blame War, one of the four horsemen, for popping the cork on the end of the world a little too soon. War debates the claim and offers to travel to earth in order to figure out what really happened.
In an elevator pitch, Darksiders could be described as a hybrid of Zelda or Metroid, but with a bit of God of War tossed in for added flash. Similar to other exploration-based games, most of your gameplay time is spent traveling through dungeons that are connected through a various hub areas. The area on display during PAX featured a ruined cathedral that War needed to work his way through in order to destroy a giant bat-like creature. War’s encounter with the boss comes sooner than expected, though it is elsewise occupied with another giant creature – a battle War bears witness to throughout the level.
Gameplay is a mix of puzzle-solving and combat, giving it a very Zelda-like feel. War’s main weapon is a sword, which is upgraded throughout his journey. As the level progressed, War also unlocked a special item called a Crossblade, a decidedly Krull Blade-like boomerang. Similar to Link’s boomerang, the Crossblade can lock-on to multiple targets. Although the blade can be used in combat, it is only devastating to flying enemies. Instead, it is used as more of a modifier during combat, usually at the end of a sword combo. Eventually War will also gain access to a set of ethereal wings that help him glide and a grappling device similar to Bionic Commando.
In addition to having a visual theme, levels also feature a core symbol. In the church level, every statue of an angel was holding a sword, so every puzzle and even a boss battle featured that sword as its theme. One puzzle required you to find a sword and return it to another angel’s hand, while in another you had to use the sword to defeat an armored skeleton that couldn’t be damaged by your normal sword.
Another area on display was a section known as the Ashen Field. The field is something that War can access early on, though in order to make it out alive, he has to use his horse, Ruin. While on Ruin, War can use a machine gun to shoot enemies or jump off or simply run them over. Ruin can be summoned from either the ground or air, and if timed right, he can be used as a missile to knock down groups of enemies.
I was already looking forward to Darksiders, and after spending some hands-on time with it, I only wish I had an official release date. Keep an eye on this one.