Darksiders Warmastered Edition is a strange game in that it is original in its duplication from other famous video game franchises. Elements of its combat is taken from character-action games not unlike Devil May Cry, with button-prompt executions similar to God of War, and finally Zelda dungeon layouts that utilize items given to advance both your environmental interactions and combat abilities.
Each mechanic is performed well enough, and mesh together surprisingly well. Despite this, a shallow story full of uninteresting characters, awful lip sync, and a stereotypical plot keeps Darksiders Warmastered from achieving greatness.
Assuming the role of War, horseman of the apocalypse, you are thrust into a world torn apart by angels and demons alike. You fight both sides in a tutorial that pulls off the ability tease portrayed in both God of War and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. You begin as an overpowered beast able to easily tear any enemy in two, only to be sapped of that strength and forced to slowly build your way back and beyond that introductory power over the course of the game.
Essentially you were awakened before your time, are banished to some form of hell, and are sent back to earth after a hundred years have passed and mankind has been wiped out to find out who was the cause of it all. This mystery doesn’t make any headway until the very end, by which time you have spent so much time executing angels and demons alike in bloody animations that I would forgive you for forgetting why exactly you were sent on fetch quests in the first place.
Something that is a minor issue, but so persistent that it became a major one, is the lip syncing. Anytime a character’s face is on-screen as they talk you can instantly recognize that the lip movement and the audio of their speech have not been reconciled at all. Instead audio will stop but the mouth will continue moving, or the movement will just not match the audio at all. This problem is consistent, from the beginning until the very end. The original game doesn’t appear to have this issue, going off of a cursory glance at videos of the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 version.
One other technical issue is that the framerate will drop when too much is going on-screen. This is strange given that there are certain challenges the game requires the player to pass that will throw large groups of enemies at you. The slowdown is noticeable, and happens often enough that you will begin to pick up on when a solid framerate kicks in.
Despite those instances of slowdown, combat itself is satisfying and smooth when the game is working. You begin with a few ways to defeat enemies, sword combos and a ranged weapon. Slowly over the course of the game you extend your capabilities to involve different weapons you can swap out on the fly and string together in different combinations.
Items, combos, and their effectiveness can either be purchased at a storefront or obtained over the course of the campaign. I applaud Darksiders‘ ability to introduce something that both serves as a way to solve puzzles and progress further into a dungeon as well as a viable tool for combat. Each dungeon has a specific mechanic that relies heavily on the newly introduced mechanic, and will even allow you access to new locations in older areas of the game you have already passed through. Thankfully backtracking is made easier by the fast travel system, that is combined with the item shop.
Combos are built by utilizing various presses of face and shoulder buttons, which helps you build an on-screen counter. Often it seems there is no room for letting up, as the counter will disappear at any downtime between combos, and sometimes even when you ended one combo with an enemy still airborne and about to begin another. This can be frustrating for those seeking the highest number of chained attacks, but doesn’t have any real bearing on defeating enemies as you can spam any form of combination on Normal difficulty and get past most battles.
Learning how to block, and how to parry, becomes essential if you want to hold onto large portions of your health bar. Near the end of the game you will have gathered enough upgrades to button mash safely should you so desire.
When not in combat, you will be making your way forward to the next key item either in dungeons that contain puzzles revolving around a specific mechanic or a hallway that is blocked until you complete one-off challenges. These can be made up of “defeat X number of enemies in X amount of time,” or, “protect this set of character models until time runs out.” They are not particularly memorable and serve more as an arena to test out combos than actually test your skill.
Meanwhile, dungeons are a contained set of rooms, each with a simple puzzle to solve, that will often loop into itself after you have unlocked a certain door, changed the environment, or obtained an item that acts as a key to whatever gate previously blocked you. Puzzles within each room are never complex, and the camera will even telegraph what you have to do and in what order by zooming in and around the room upon your entrance.
Each will culminate in a boss battle against a larger foe than any seen previously, and usually play into whatever mechanic the dungeon taught you, whether it be pushing train cars forward or chaining together a projectile into multiple targets. The elongated conclusions against larger-than-life enemies is a very satisfying end to a major section of gameplay, and even reward you with a major health bar extension. This adds a visual satisfaction to the HUD along with your internal satisfaction of clearing a dungeon.
Each dungeon does serve as a way to elongate the major fetch quest you are sent on, which boils down to obtaining four different key items from four different locations. Each has its own visual theme, though largely share the same bestiary as each other. There is a linear pathway to walk from one to the next, so no option to sequence-break here. Linearity plays heavily into the how the game rolls out its mechanics, so this can be forgiven. As mentioned previously the game encourages backtracking when you get a new item as it opens up locked chests in a prior dungeon.
Most of Darksiders Warmastered Edition work rather well. Even if you can easily attribute the major elements to other games, Darksiders adapts them for its own use and mixes them together in such a way that it is surprising it had not been done before, and really hasn’t been done since. The gameplay is greatly satisfying and, while the story is very dumb, completing dungeons and slowly building your power does a great deal to helping you overcome that shortcoming. Sure the executions are more like an FMV than an engaging QTE, and the lip syncing is really bad, but this is a game worth checking out, especially if you haven’t touched the original.