Ever since Darksiders: Wrath of War was first announced at last year's E3, not much has been seen of the game in the intervening months. That changed this week when THQ showed off an updated demo of this action-adventure game at a press event here in San Francisco. Though we didn't get the chance to grab a controller, the demo being shown was still impressive enough to pique our interest and cement Darksiders as one of the highlights of the evening.
Without much gameplay information to draw upon, our original preview of Darksiders from E3 focused primarily on the game's ambitious plot. For those who may not be familiar, the story is set right after the Earth's apocalypse, with angels and demons fighting among the remnants of the world. You play War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The intriguing part of the story is that War is very much a lone wolf who refuses to take sides in this battle. We're told that there really are no good guys or bad guys in the game (despite what you might think from the angels vs. demons setting). War is simply out to reclaim what was lost when humanity came to a screeching halt: namely, the powers that give him his rather intimidating name.
The postapocalyptic setting is rendered quite impressively in the two overworld sections we were shown. (We'll get to the dungeon-crawling aspects in a moment.) The beginning of the demo showed War making his way through an underground subway tunnel. He came upon a giant, insect-like monster sticking its head through the ground. At this early stage in the game, it would be impossible for War to fight it hand-to-hand, so a little creativity is required. War must then pick up the decrepit subway cars strewn around in the rubble and feed them into the monster's gaping mouth. This sequence is indicative of the game's tendency to present you with conflicts that you'd expect to brawl your way through, but which actually turn out to be clever puzzles.
It's when War emerges from the tunnel that you really get to see the impressive graphics that Darksiders has to offer. Around you lies the debris of a destroyed city. Though many of the buildings are hollowed out, if not entirely crumbled, you still get the feeling of being in a classical European city such as London. During this sequence, we couldn't help but notice the draw distance; faraway buildings were visible at all moments to give the level a very epic atomosphere, making you feel tiny in comparison. Most of the enemies crawling around the ruined city streets were zombie-like demons, though there were a handful of larger miniboss-type encounters. The one that stood out in our eyes had War picking up nearby cars to use as projectiles to soften it up, after which it was finished off when War sliced its limbs off with his sword.
Overall, the combat has a very stylized look reminiscent of such games as God of War and Devil May Cry. Helping the former comparison is the fact that so many of these enemies are massive, mythical-looking demons. We're told that the designers had such a good time coming up with these enemies that they all ended up looking like bosses, even when they weren't intended to be.
The next sequence of the demo showed off the adventure half of its action-adventure tag. To unlock certain parts of the overworld section, you'll need to venture into the various dungeons for some good old-fashioned exploration. Down there you'll find the gear items that will let you progress through certain blocked-off areas up above. Darksiders is very similar to games such as Metroid and Castlevania that require heavy exploration to find new items, then backtracking to areas you couldn't get through earlier. We asked about the balance between dungeon-crawling exploration and above-ground fighting, and were told by one of the developers that it's roughly 60-40 in favor of the dungeons. However, one thing to keep in mind is that you can goof around above ground for as long as you like, which means that in practice that figure could change dramatically.
Once out of the dungeon, we got to see War battling it out on horseback. When you've unlocked your horse, you can summon it at a moment's notice. At the beginning of this section, War jumped off a cliff that overlooked a giant sandpit, summoned his horse while he was in midair, and landed right on it. He then started fighting various sand demons that emerged from the ground. Instead of swinging the giant sword as you would expect of someone riding a horse, War focused mainly on shooting these enemies with a machine gun, a feat likely intended to display the variety of weapons at War's disposal. The developer playing the game then hopped off the horse to show off one of the more interesting parts of the combat, which is the ability to use enemies as weapons. War jumped on the back of one of the sand demons that was racing around and used it to plow through the smaller demons scattered nearby. This part elicited a few chuckles from the crowd.
Before War could invest too much time in toying around with the smaller demons, our attention was drawn to the latest boss to erupt from the ground, this one a giant sandworm. After some impressive swordplay, War finished off this boss in the most brutal kill shown in the demo. As the worm was stunned, War jabbed his sword into the bottom of its torso and dragged it upward like a scalpel, splitting the hulking worm in two like a banana peel.
This type of stylization, when combined with the frequent puzzles and old-school adventuring, is what makes Darksiders such an intriguing game. We're eager to see how War transforms during the course of the game as well. Members of the development team made sure to point out that the relatively normal-sized War shown in the demo would grow progressively larger and more machinelike as the story advances. Though no release date has been announced, we'll be keeping an eye on Darksiders as more details emerge.