When you're playing as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse, it stands to reason that not many obstacles could stand in your way. Apparently Vigil Games believes this is true, but that hasn't stopped it from developing Darksiders: Wrath of War to be an action adventure game in which you, as War, must overcome all make and manner of impediments throughout your journey. In our recent sit-down with Vigil, we heard all about War's sticky situation, then took the reins and found out just how an apocalyptic action hero handles himself in a pinch.
The beginning of Darksiders: Wrath of War is the end. News networks in a modern metropolis bring word of meteor strikes across the nation, and seconds later, the skies are ablaze. The fleeing crowds soon realize things are much worse than they seem as horrific demons emerge from the meteors and begin the apocalypse in earnest. Into this scene walks War and, with a quick repositioning of the camera, you are in control.
While we weren't able to play this part of the game, Vigil described what happens next. You rampage around for a while as a fully powered War, but soon you realize you are losing your formidable abilities. Eventually, you black out and wake up in the chamber of the Charred Council, a sort of governing body for the conflict between good and evil. The council accuses you of instigating a false apocalypse and condemns you to death, but you manage to convince it to parole you so you can find out who's really behind it. You're then sent out into the ruined city to seek the truth, but not before the council strips you of your powers and saddles you with a noncorporeal parole officer called the Watcher. So much for the all-powerful War.
At the outset of your adventure, you seek to regain your lost arsenal, and what better place to find powerful items than dungeons? We watched as our guest from Vigil guided War into one of the early dungeons that lies in the catacombs beneath an old church. War is a nimble fellow who can double-jump, as well as dash his way around his environment. At this point, he had also gained a power-up called the tempest cloak, which allowed him to sprout shadowy wings after a double jump and glide for a short distance. This cloak is one of many items War will acquire throughout the game that will imbue him with additional powers. Such items will make backtracking through the large hub area of the city worthwhile because War will gradually be able to reach areas that were previously inaccessible.
As we entered an open area of the church, the camera panned up to reveal two creatures locked in combat as they crashed to the ground. One, a massive bat-winged horned demon akin to the Balrog from The Lord of the Rings, was a devil and the other, a white-winged gryphon, was an angel (whom we're told is War's ride to this level). They grappled viciously and then flew off to fight in another area of the church where later, we saw the walls shake as their epic conflict continued. In their wake, a clutch of flying demons spawned and headed toward War with ill intent.
Combat in Darksiders is fast and action-packed. Wielding a large sword, War can unleash a number of quick attack combos, a few of which will easily dispatch weaker foes. When an enemy is sufficiently weakened, a small sigil appears over its head and War can execute a brutal finishing move. The aforementioned flying demons get unseamed along their weak bellies, while a lurching zombie just gets flailed against the ground until it shatters to pieces. War also has a large gauntlet on his hand that can be used to melee foes and, once upgraded, can unleash powerful area attacks. The sword and gauntlet, as well as the numerous auxiliary weapons War acquires (more on this in a minute), can be charged up for more powerful attacks simply by holding the attack button down. All of these moves are made much simpler by War's ability to lock on to his target with a simple pull of the trigger. His arsenal is substantial in the early stages, and later on, it gets downright massive.
Once down in the dungeon proper, we got our hands on the controller and promptly took all the aforementioned attacks out for a spin. They are quick, brutal, and easy to pull off. Soon, we were enemy-free and faced with our first puzzle. It was a fairly simple one: Grab the glowing bomb growth protruding from the fiery outcropping and throw it at the large barrier that was blocking our way. This served as an introduction to a basic mechanic that would manifest itself later on in more complicated ways. Each dungeon will have a few of these elements uniquely styled to fit the puzzles and aesthetic of the area. This particular dungeon had the gothic look of a European cathedral, as well as a lot of fiery protrusions and aberrations where hell was beginning to creep inside.
The dungeon also included some platforming sections that required precise jumping and gliding, as well as some gauntlet-aided wall climbing. In one lava-filled room, we combined our platforming prowess with another puzzle element in order to progress. We had previously encountered sword-holding statues that functioned as switches. This room had a grid of nine pillars where the elevation changed whenever we struck one of the three statues. We struck one, jumped to the next pillar as it rose, struck another statue, and jumped to the next pillar. The third statue was without a sword, so we fetched it with some more jumping, wall climbing, and hand-over-hand cable traversing. This kind of puzzle-platforming synthesis--reminiscent of recent Legend of Zelda games--feels like a good fit for War's abilities. With the prospect of more weapons and expanded abilities, it's also one of the most promising elements of Darksiders.
One of the weapons we attained in that dungeon was the crossblade, which could dice up foes or trigger distant switches, such as a bladed boomerang. Free aiming came in handy for targeting multiple foes or switches, though locking on to an enemy was effective as well. In addition to such auxiliary weapons (like the Gatling gun and the energy whip), War will acquire magical attacks. By building up wrath (War's equivalent of mana), War will be able to unleash deadly attacks, which include explosive bombs, sharp blades, and supernatural serpents.
As if that weren't enough, War's sword will also become a multidimensional weapon. Continued attacks will build up the sword's attack power, using a multiplier much like Devil May Cry. As the sword gains power, it will literally grow in size, becoming more destructive by the second, and players can choose to continue wielding the growing power or release it in a devastating special attack. Additionally, all of War's weapons can be upgraded by a fellow named The Smith, a gruff non-player character who will carve slots in your arsenal for the many weapon enhancements you find in your travels. He's not the only character you'll interact with in your travels, and Vigil teased us with the mention of a soul-eating merchant, as well as a surviving human, among others.
For all its grand and multifarious combat aspirations, Darksiders is still trying to stay rooted in fun, engaging action. We took particular pleasure just running around a largely empty plain on the back of Ruin, War's fiery steed, and smashing through the debris of human civilization. We also enjoyed a fierce miniboss battle with a massive hulking ogre piloted by his shriveled green goblin symbiote. After felling the ogre, we watched with macabre delight as the goblin pounded on his massive chest in a desperate attempt to revive his beast. Then we stuck a sword through the little scamp.
Lively combat, engaging puzzles, and an apocalyptic setting make Darksiders: Wrath of War a game to watch for action adventure enthusiasts. Though it won't be released until early 2009, we've got a bunch of new screenshots and gameplay videos to tide you over. Check them out and keep an eye here for more in the coming months.