Way back in 2010 Vigil released Darksiders, a game that followed a Metroidvania style of play. I remember very clearly being totally enthralled by the atmosphere then and guys, it's still awesome. Stay with me and I'll tell you what I thought about this newest remaster from developers, Vigil Games and Kaiko and publisher, THQNordic. Alright so in 2015 THQNordic decided to release the remastered version of Darksiders 2. The Deathinitive Edition, they called it. I was pretty excited because not only was this happening but it was being released at a pretty steeply discounted price; free if you had bought a bundled retail copy that included the first game. I picked it up for six whole dollars and had a blast. Soon after I finished I began hearing of rumors about another remaster, this time for the original Darksiders.
Fast forward to November of 2016 and the Darksiders: Warmastered Edition was released for the astoundingly low price of $20. Or if you had a version of of the original game already, you got it for free. I couldn't wait to fire it up and get back to button mashing and brutalizing demons. But I had to wait. This game was going to consume me and I knew that. Besides, I was already playing a title that had my full attention: Grim Dawn. I didn't want to have distractions in either case.
Once I finally decided the time was right I fired up the Warmastered Edition and felt that same happy feeling that I did seven years ago. Not quite nostalgia, but more like relief that this title can still make me smile and be seemingly as good as it was back when it was new. First off I noticed the increased resolution of textures and indeed the resolution of the game itself. For console versions it's still locked at 30 FPS but it still runs at 1080p and includes all the other improvements. For those of us that have it for our PC's, we have the potential for 4K resolution and some more advanced video settings.
Let's Start There
I don't have a 4K monitor so all my shots are 1080p but I will say that it's huge upgrade from the original 720p. Optimisation is pretty spectacular. The Warmastered Edition runs on the highest settings at over 100FPS nearly all the time. And it does so in a smooth fashion, no scan lines or tearing. As mentioned above, the textures are greatly improved, in fact doubled in size. Shadows are rendered better and even the cinematics looks cleaner.Aesthetically, the game looks great and as I mentioned in my review for the Deathinitive Edition, the stylized look of the game world fits the fantasy and is really one of my favorite types of presentation. What some might refer to as "cartoony" to me feels more exaggerated, heavy and chunky and that provides a level of believability to such a fantastic theme. I think that if the graphics were based more in reality that the same impact wouldn't be possible.
An epic story needs an epic hook. Darksiders provides that in spades. Meteors fall from the sky across the world destroying Buildings and news reports blast warnings. The camera zooms into show that the meteors are actually angels fighting demons and are crashing through Earths atmosphere bringing destruction wherever they land. One falls to the ground, creating a crater and out climbs the Rider of War. Believing that the seventh seal of Heaven has been broken and the end war is beginning, he has come to Earth to do his job. He has answered the call. This is where players will go through the game tutorial.Only soon War is surprised to find out that something is amiss. The kingdom of man isn't ready for the End War. Where are his brothers, Death, Strife and (in this case) Fury? War seeks answers and soon finds the archangel Abaddon, who seems to know something but isn't telling. War is then thrust into a battle which he loses due to a summons from the Charred Council. The Council believes that War has started Armageddon intentionally to serve his own purpose but can't prove it. War denies the allegation stating the absence of his brothers as evidence and asks for time to clear his name and punish those responsible. He is then stripped of his powers and sent to Earth on what is basically a suicide mission. Surely the demons will overpower him and the Council will pin the blame on him anyway. But if he manages to survive and find out the truth the Council still saves face by enacting justice on those responsible.
War is transported back and learns that roughly 100 years have passed allowing the demons of Hell to overpower the angelic forces of Heaven and lay claim to Earth. Man is presumed extinct and War feels a pang of guilt wondering, only for a moment, if this is all his fault after all. It's here that players take up War's mantle and begin the arduous journey for vengeance and truth.
A Dead Earth
The world of apocalyptic Earth is littered with the debris of the fallen structures of humankind. War's companion for the trip is The Watcher: A being under the Council's control who is to keep War on task as well as monitor his actions for a full report later on.
Most of War's path is laid out in one ruined city and although the levels are fairly small by today's standards it never feels very confined. Unless it's supposed to. For instance, trips through the underground in old subway tunnels and ventilation shafts can feel a little claustrophobic. All are varied enough to feel unique but carry the same human theme to remind the player where they're supposed to be.
These range from The Crossroads, where War first landed in the meteor shower, to a vast desert called the Ashlands where enormous Ash Worms dwell and buildings still cling hopelessly to eroding cliff sides. War will even visit Eden itself. Through almost all of his travels the ever present looming vista of an impossibly high tower is seen in background providing an ultimate goal that can only be reached with the help of Darksiders cast of characters.The layout of the world is actually pretty impressive. It's possible to look in any direction and see at least a hint of an area that War will need to visit. This spoke and wheel kind of build is pretty common in games but the point is that this kind of design gives players the feeling of permanence. The Crossroads serves as a central hub and the further War travels from that location the worse the destruction gets. This in turn lets players feel like they're making progress, getting closer to the source of the problem.
For the most part characters are very memorable and individual. Below are the major players. I guess I was somewhat neglectful of my duties while playing because I don't have screenshots for everyone and I really don't want to image search and use someone else's screens in this case, sorry. There are enough pictures anyway you dregs, just read.
Abaddon: A powerful archangel who plays major part in the story as a whole. He has no real backstory (in the game) other than he was once the captain of the Hellguard, but he stands out because of presentation and role in the plot.
Uriel: An archangel herself and the current captain of the Hellguard tasked with stopping the demonic incursion on Earth. She holds a grudge against War believing him responsible for this unsanctioned apocalypse and for the last hundred years has been waiting for her chance to confront him.
Azreal: The archangel of death who was drawn into the overlying plot in a way that would spoil the whole story if explained. I will say that his willingness to help War comes after some revelation and he has accepted that things will never be the same again.
The Charred Council: The ruling body of the three kingdoms of Heaven, Man and Demons. They are nearly all powerful, control the riders and fear their inevitable downfall or usurpation so much that they'll go to any length to stay at top of the celestial food chain.
War: The Red Rider and the first of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse. The Horsemen in this story are a neutral party. Neither good nor evil, they work for the Charred Council. Their job is to maintain the balance between the dark and the light eventually carrying out the End War once the seven seals are broken so that the three kingdoms can be rebuilt anew.
The Watcher: A sniveling being tied to War and protected by the Council. He is to report on War's actions and keep him on a short leash. He serves the player as a hint giver.
Samael: An immensely powerful demon leader. Nearly as strong as the Dark Prince himself he has been greatly weakened and imprisoned on Earth just in case he should get ideas to seek the throne as his own. He tasks War with the defeat of the guardians in return for his help in accessing the tower. A shaky alliance is struck and plays out predictably but interestingly.
Vulgrim: This demonic vendor is something of an enterprising shyster who agrees to help War with his travels and serves as a way to level up skills and regain his now stripped powers. He only requires the great and many souls of the defeated in return.
Ulthane: One of the "Old Ones", actually called "Makers", an ancient creator of worlds and the one who forges the Armageddon Blade. He's no fan of demons or angels, referring to them as "pigeons [that] need pluckin' ". He's also not a big fan of the riders.
By the by, Darksiders also has a pretty star studded and high quality voice cast. War is brought to life via Liam O'Brien. Uriel's voice is Moon Bloodgood. Azreal, Keith Szarabajka. Vulgrim is voiced by Phil LaMarr. Samael's threatening tone comes from Vernon Wells. Troy Baker is Abaddon, and The Watcher is voiced by a fellow named Mark Hamill. J. B. Blanc is the voice of Ulthane.
Even the bosses in Darksiders are characters in themselves with dialogue and some level of story. But I won't go into that or this may never end.
Combat and Game Play
Yeah finally right? What's with all this exposition Scroo? I just want to know if I should play this or not. I know, I admit that I'm no good at condensing information. Anyway here we go.
If you played Darksiders 2 you'll notice things being very similar overall. If you haven't played either of these titles then I'll try to sum things up here. You basically button mash and your character performs dramatic looking moves while wading through their opposition. That's the simplified version.Here's a little more in depth explanation. War has a few different weapons at his disposal. Mainly he'll be using his sword, Chaoseater: A huge blade that feeds off the energy of its foes to become ever stronger. Vulgrim has the Reaper, Death's scythe, for sale which is great at handling groups of enemies. War will also find and use an ancient bit of armor called the Tremor Gauntlet. This can be used to punch enemies and create small quakes at the point of impact on the ground. It's also used to break through certain barriers to otherwise inaccessible areas. The Crossblade is a large shuriken styled boomerang that War can use to target objects and enemies at a distance. Ulthane will give War a magic handgun called Mercy that holds a never ending supply of ammunition and helps greatly with objects and enemies at a distance. They almost all gain experience and increase in power as War progresses and each can hold a single slotted upgrade bonus to further their effectiveness. The melee weapons have a moves list to reference so you can add some skill to the button mashing in order to perform even more dramatic and effective attacks.
Fun fact: Mercy and Redemtion belong to Strife and it's suggested that Ulthane was the creator of these celestial pistols. Death uses Redemtion in Darksiders 2. Then there are environmental weapons. Derelict vehicles lay about which War can heave above his head to swing, smash and throw at enemies. Signposts, old parking meters and street lights can be torn from the ground and used as melee weapons. Volatile demonic bombs grow from surfaces here and there and though they're mostly used to access areas they're also skillfully used to attack War's many foes.
Boss battles are fun, if a bit simple. There are mechanics to learn and patterns to pay attention to but for the most part they don't have the challenge I remember from 2010. Whether that's because the fights themselves are just dated and by relative standards just easier nowadays, or possibly have been reduced in difficulty in this remaster for some reason I'm not sure. But again they're fun and at higher difficulties can still provide a worthy challenge. If you're interested in seeing for yourself I'll provide a link at the end of the review to our criminally underused YouTube channel where I've uploaded the boss fights in some how-to videos.
Traversal of the environment is fairly fluid though it's easy to see the improvements made by the Darksiders 2. Demonic growth provides climbable surfaces and various items will help War see and access things and places that he otherwise couldn't. For instance, the Abyssal Chain will attach to anchor points and swing him over chasms. The Shadowflight ability (shown above) will help War glide safely to locations he can't quite jump to. There are indeed plenty of ways to get from one place to another but probably the most important is War's horse, Ruin. He is a rider after all.
Not enough good can be said about the horseback character controller. Riding Ruin is so smooth, intuitive and devoid of awkwardness that it's become the standard for video game horseback riding. Even if some other adaptations didn't do it justice.
If you're not a fan of backtracking you may have a bit less appreciation for the Darksiders series. Just keep in mind that these are metroidvania action-adventure titles and are designed around purposeful backtracking for a reason. You'll find yourself revisiting areas fairly often but it will always lead to some reward of significance.
Sounds and Music
What can I say here except that both are very appropriate. The score is great to listen to and it plays subtly behind the action as another level of ambience. During combat it's brought to the forefront adding weight to the situation at hand.
Sounds are varied so nothing really feels repetitive. War's footsteps will change tones so it's not the same thump, thump every time. Each surface also has its own sound. Metal sounds like metal, concrete sounds like a hard surface, gravel sounds crunchy etc. My favorite is when War is in the Ashlands knee-deep in powder. The sound is similar to what you'd hear on a snowy surface, and that may be exactly what Vigil used originally, but call me crazy if it doesn't sound just a little different. When Ruin is summoned you can hear a sort of ghostly scream followed by hoof beats and flames, then the sound of the saddle and the rattling of War's armor as they move as a unit.
Weapon sounds are also individualized and exaggerated. Those sounds change slightly depending on which add-on in slotted in. Enemy weapon sounds telegraph attacks and provide their own information. All props to the sound team shall be given.
A Remaster of Hope?
So the Darksiders: Warmastered Edition is a very cool remaster and has been vastly improved over its original iteration. There isn't any extra content like in the Deathinitive Edition of the sequel, but that's not really the point. Fact is that for those of who loved these games, these remasters keep the hope alive of eventually seeing a Darksiders 3. Rumor was that the re-release of the series has even been a test of interest to see if a third title is viable. Another rumor stated that a third title was scheduled for release back in December of 2016. Of course sadly that never happened, but I really want it to at some point and I'm sure I'm not alone. I'd love to see how Strife and Fury would play, because even though War and Death both button mash to accomplish goals they also feel very different as characters.
That doesn't mean this particular edition has been free of problems. Various crashes and hangs and performance issues have been reported. I personally experienced two crashes, both times during cinematics actually. THQNordic have not let this kind of thing go unchecked thank goodness and have released six patches since the release of the Warmastered Edition to deal with stuttering, CPU efficiency and of course the crashing issues. This is at once good business practice on top of the already well valued game itself and perhaps it shows that they're still interested in the Darksiders IP. One can only hope.
Alright so once again I've droned on for thousands of words proclaiming my shining love for a title. Surprise. But there are a few games out there that deserve praise and a few companies that still want to do things right. I believe that this is an example of both. THQNordic along with some of the original Vigil folks have gone over Darksiders with a fine-toothed comb and made a seven year old title feel like a brand new one.
Would I recommend Darksiders: Warmastered Edition? Of course I would. I really loved playing through this again. War is a badass through and through and that feeling is transferred to the player seamlessly. Game play is fun and satisfying with thankfully few QTE's letting you fight your own battles. And support is still rolling out to fine tune its stability. Not to mention you may already have this game and not realize it. If you own a retail copy of the original version check your library, it may be there. Mine just showed up on release day. If not, it's only $20 and worth every cent.[ Visit the TwinstiqLP YouTube channel to see those videos I mentioned and more]
[You can read my review of the Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition here]
[References to voice cast: Wikipedia]
System requirements for Darksiders: Warmastered Edition are as follows
- OS: Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10
- Processor: Intel or AMD Dual Core CPU
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: DirectX 10 Feature Level AMD or NVIDIA Card with 1 GB VRAM
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 36 GB available space