Darksiders Updated Hands-On

We wreak havoc on the forces of Heaven and Hell as we play through the first few hours of this epic adventure.

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There are plenty of fantasy adventure games set in an age before time, but how many feature angels, demons, and the destruction of mankind set against the backdrop of a modern metropolis? Darksiders combines all this with an interesting storyline, crisp visuals, and challenging gameplay. We recently got a chance to play through the first few hours and talk to the game's creative director Joe "Mad" Madureira.

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"We thought of a cool way to trick people into letting us still do our fantasy game but putting it in the trappings of a modern day world…there's something really cool about seeing a demon pick up a bus and throw it into a building, and there's people screaming everywhere," explained Madureira on the idea behind the game. If you're new to Darksiders, then here's what you need to know: You play the role of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War serves the Charred Council, a mysterious force that holds the balance of power between the kingdoms of Heaven and Hell. For reasons unknown, War inadvertently starts Armageddon when he is summoned to Earth, and after mankind is annihilated, he needs to answer for his apparent crimes. It turns out that War was tricked into starting the Apocalypse by The Destroyer, a powerful demon who has taken over the planet after mankind's destruction. Throughout the game, you wage war against The Destroyer's demonic forces--angels that have been left behind on Earth--and any other supernatural entities that would stop you from your ultimate goal of reaching The Destroyer.

You're accompanied on this mission by The Watcher. Superbly voiced by Batman: Arkham Asylum's Mark Hamill, he has been instructed by the council to make sure that you stay on track. The Watcher is a useful companion because he's quick to point out your next objective, as well as intel, such as the weak points on boss enemies. You also meet an enterprising demon early on called Vulgrim who has struck a deal with the council so you can purchase a variety of useful items. These include weapons and abilities, new combos for your weapons, and an item that resurrects you when you receive a fatal blow. Killing enemies, destroying objects, and finding chests scattered around the world will earn you souls, which give you a currency, health, or wrath boost. Once you've earned enough wrath, you can activate special abilities, such as the blade geyser, which surrounds War with a ring of giant blades that damages nearby enemies. You will also discover hidden artefacts that can be used to redeem items from Vulgrim.

War has some epic weapons at his disposal, including his trusty sword, Chaoseater; a scythe; gun; shuriken; and grappling hook. Like other adventure games, you can acquire upgrades for these, such as one that increases weapon damage and binds it to specific items. The first weapon you get in the game is Chaoseater, and this oversized sword makes mincemeat of most enemies. As you use the sword, it levels up, increasing its damage along the way. Chaoseater is adorned with grotesque, screaming faces, and if you've equipped it with an upgrade, it will feature an ethereal glow, which makes it look even more badass. It also feels immensely enjoyable to use, with physics that are really satisfying, and some brilliant sound effects that can be heard when tearing apart demon flesh or clanging against armour.

Darksiders' decayed beauty is a sight to behold.
Darksiders' decayed beauty is a sight to behold.

After a while spent harvesting souls, we were able to buy our first weapon: the scythe. This works differently from the sword because it has a longer reach and can be thrown at enemies, slicing through them in a vertical motion before returning to you. You can also purchase additional weapons, with others collected while exploring. One such weapon is the crossblade, a giant shuriken-like blade that works like a boomerang. You can use it for ranged attacks while dealing damage to nearby enemies. It can also be used to activate switches and transfer elements, such as fire, to certain items. We encountered temporary weapons as well, such as sticky bombs that can be picked up and thrown at surfaces to which they will then stick. We discovered a flaming variety that exploded after a few moments and dormant ones that needed to be ignited with fire using the crossblade. While mainly used to destroy barriers in our way, these bombs also proved useful when fighting certain boss characters by lobbing them at a boss and then igniting them with the crossblade.

With veteran comic creator Joe Mad at the helm, it's no surprise that Darksiders features some impressive enemies and boss characters. These include angels, zombies, imps, monsters, and demonic creatures. Things start off easy, but it isn't long before you encounter more challenging enemies, including fire-spewing golems, armour-wearing skeletons, and formidable minibosses, such as The Jailer. This grotesque mutant has zombies locked inside jail cells embedded in its body. The Jailer is a slow-moving behemoth, and in addition to setting its prisoners on you, it can swing a cage to inflict considerable damage if you get too close. To defeat it, we needed to target several puss-filled sacks on its front with our crossblade and then slash it with our sword to cause damage. Another miniboss we encountered was also rather unforgettable because it was roughly the size of an office block. This gigantic demon attacked us with columns of flames that we had to dodge. It also threw cars at us, which we were able to throw back at it. By throwing cars back at the demon, we were able to stun it and brought its face to the ground, which we were then able to attack.

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Darksiders' prologue lets you play through a short section of Armageddon, which is followed by War's hearing before the council. After convincing the council to allow you to seek out The Destroyer, you're returned to Earth roughly 100 years later; a scene that is full of utter destruction, chaos, and lots of demons roaming the landscape. Our first major task was to seek out Samael, a powerful demonic force that also has a beef with The Destroyer and might be able to help us bring him to justice. Getting to Samael wasn't easy, though, because we had to battle our way through plenty of minions before we reached him to help us in our quest. Samael revealed that getting to The Destroyer's stronghold would required us to slay four "guardians," which are the game's formidable boss characters, and deliver their still-beating hearts to him. He then pointed us in the direction of the Twilight Cathedral where the first guardian, Tiamat the bat queen, was holed up. Early on in the game, we acquired the ability to glide by holding down the jump button for a few seconds. The result of this gliding was that a pair of black, feathered wings sprouted out of War's back, which allowed us to jump from platform to platform. Darksiders also includes flying sections, with one such area having us jump on the back of a huge eagle that we used to fight through skies filled with flying angels and demons. Our airborne adventure came to an abrupt end when Tiamat attacked our mount, which caused us to crash directly outside her lair: the Twilight Cathedral.

While the trailers for Darksiders have featured plenty of action, there's more to the game than that according to Madureira. "What can you show someone in a three-minute clip that is going to really impress them? Is it pulling a bunch of levers in a dungeon to open some locked doors and getting stuck for an hour and having to look at the strategy guide?" he said. One of the game's first dungeons, the Twilight Cathedral, featured plenty of puzzles, enemies, and areas to keep us occupied. If you're familiar with the adventure genre, then you'll certainly have a good idea of what to expect. Our time was divided among solving puzzles; tracking down new items, such as a map, the crossblade, and keys that unlocked new areas; fighting minions and minibosses; and eventually, making our way to the top of the cathedral where we finally came face to face with Tiamat, a huge bat. Tiamat was a challenging foe, and it took us several attempts before we worked out the proper strategy to take advantage of her weak points. Without giving too much away, it involved throwing sticky bombs at her and using our trusty new crossblade. Eventually, we were able to perform a satisfying killing blow and tear her still-beating heart from her corpse.

War speaks softly, but he carries a very big sword.
War speaks softly, but he carries a very big sword.

Darksiders looks stunning and is chock-full of gorgeously gruesome undead creatures. The decayed beauty of Darksiders' environments doesn't tire either, ranging from crumbling office blocks and gothic cathedrals to underworlds filled with lava and human remains. We're looking forward to getting our hands on a copy of the final game and won't have to wait long because it's due out in early January. Be sure to check back then for the full review and check out our previous coverage while you wait.

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