RPGs need something different. All too often they feature a hero that goes on a quest to save the world because he and all his friends have an excess of free time and morality. But THQ's upcoming game, Darksiders, is different.
Instead of playing some peace-minded hero you take control of War, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. He's accidentally been tricked into starting the apocalypse early and the outcome was pretty poor - all of mankind is dead and demons now rule the world. After standing trial and being stripped of his powers, he wants two things: revenge and his reputation back.
Finally, a RPG plot that doesn't involve kings and dragons. But why is THQ calling it an "Action-Adventure RPG" rather than just another action game? While much of the game has the look and feel of the Devil May Cry series, the game follows a Legend of Zelda/Metroid approach: you start out with your powers stripped and help War regain them along the way.
As you progress through the story War discovers ancient relics that unlock new weapon and ability upgrades. It manages to avoid the pitfalls of an incredibly linear, mission-based game as you can explore the world however you want; you're only restricted by the equipment you own -- chalk up another similarity to Zelda.
While War is a mythical figure, THQ want him to be a real, three-dimensional character with human-like traits -- they want the story to this title to be real and compelling. Any Dungeons and Dragons geeks out there will appreciate a new spin on the typical D20 modern campaign involving a post-apocalyptic world.
Ultimately, THQ considers it part platformer and part RPG, incorporating the best elements of both. Being a huge platformer fan myself, I really love this. For one, you get to actually interact with your environment - unlike most 3D RPGs (Kingdom Hearts comes to mind), you can do more than jump up and down and climb the occasional ladder.
As War, you can climb any surface made up of skulls, grapple onto pipes and claw along them, ride along ledges, and best of all, pick up cars and throw them! It's cool and satisfying to be able to pick up or maneuver any object you find in the game -- not just the ones needed for this plot point or this puzzle.
This means two things -- Firstly, the next step you're supposed to take isn't incredibly obvious and secondly you get to perform cool-looking moves outside of battle. It does mean that it's harder than the average platformer -- even in the demo, I got stuck a couple times -- but this is what the average RPG gamer will enjoy. There's no magic, golden Fable 2 path drawn out for you.
Another thing THQ tried to do was strip the game of any superfluous RPG elements. For example, opening a chest will replenish your health. If you're like me, and love to hoard 99 potions just in case you need it later, you might not like this, but it does help to streamline the gameplay.
As far as actual battles go, they are seamlessly integrated into field navigation and enemy demons can jump out at you and attack at any time. There will be hoards of zombie-looking creatures, but you won't be fighting resurrected humans. Instead, you face swarms of demons who don't want you to restore the world to how it was.
Worse still for War, Angels are hunting him down as he was found guilty and condemned after the trial. Thanks to these elements there's a healthy mix of regular enemies in the form of swarming demons along with bigger baddies to take down. Could this be the first game where you get to fight both angels and demons?
Some baddies are more demonic and scarier than my girly sensibilities usually enjoy. I played through to the first boss, who was the standard fair -- try to find the weak spot of the big bad while smaller demons pester you and get in your way.
From what I saw of Darksiders, the most fun part of the game was the setting. It's the real world but after it's been ravaged by the apocalypse, and this is a refreshing apocalyptic world, many miles from the nuclear wasteland of Fallout. The level I played was a parking garage, which allowed me to pick up a new hobby of throwing cars and feel pretty damn cool beating demons up in it. And really, why else do we play video games if not to feel cool?
Darksiders falls into a new platformer/RPG genre that I immediately adore. You can always pick up the game and beat up some baddies for fun, or you can spend hours engrossed in the storyline. It's deep enough for the hardcore but simple enough for casual gamers to understand.
I'm a huge Devil May Cry fan and this feels a lot like it right down to the ghostly faces you see when you kill anything. You get to dual wield swords and guns and continually switch between the two types of weapons.
Like Dante, War is also a character that has supernatural abilities and it's awesome to see and use them in battle. But Darksiders takes away all the things I hated about games like DMC -- the mission-format, an easily forgotten story, and not really having anything else to do in-game if you get stuck on a level. However, just like DMC, I probably won't be playing it late at night (because I'm girly like that).
Darksiders will be released in America on January 1, 2010.