The story of how one game made the journey from hotly-awaited sequel to almost getting dropkicked through a plate-glass window in a fit of anger and rage.
Putting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse front and center in their own action/adventure series makes for an ideal match. It’s the best fit since bread and butter; chicken and waffles; ebony and ivory…well, you get the picture. Quite frankly, it’s such an obvious choice that I’m surprised no one had thought to try it prior to Vigil Games. (If somebody else has successfully done it, please let me know!) Bursting at the seams with sheer potential for badassery, War, Death, Strife and Fury – as they are called in this iteration – were more than deserving of their own game franchise. Back in 2010, their number was finally up with the release of Darksiders.
The ending of the first Darksiders left me with a bona fide moment of “Oh shit, look at that, ooh man I can’t wait to get into the next game!” To date, it’s been one of the few games to immediately make me giddy for a possible sequel, some others being the original Mass Effect and anything in the Dead Space series. Seeing the three fireballs streak across the sky as War utters his ominous prediction, “…not alone…” made me cheer in joyful anticipation. Seeing how the story continued, and what new levels of carnage the other three Horsemen would bring in their wake, was clearly something to look forward to. Well, as it turns out, I was at least halfway right…
Seeing how the story continued wasn’t going to happen with Darksiders II as Death’s quest takes place parallel to War’s from the first game. Now, with THQ declaring bankruptcy and Vigil being completely shut down, Darksiders’ future looks hazy at best; who knows if we’ll ever get a chance to revel in controlling the second half of the team, Strife and Fury. It’s quite depressing, really.
Darksiders II made its way onto my Christmas list early on, since it was released way back in August. Needless to say, I ended up getting it. (In fact, it was an awesome game-filled Christmas; besides Darksiders II, I received Dishonored and – quite unexpectedly and much to my astonishment – a 3DS!) And being as I had two whole weeks off work, it was shaping up to be a gamer’s dream vacation.
Sure enough, I was not disappointed. The game was familiarly gritty, environments were less apocalyptic but more epic, and Michael Wincott – who always sounds like Death in some shape or form anyway – was perfect for the title role. If anything, I would perhaps slightly penalize the game for its change in setting; the wasteland of human civilization always felt very apropos to me during the first game. Not that Death is traversing flowery meadows awash in dazzling rainbows, but the Land of the Dead, the Ivory Tower, the Forge Lands…everything just felt a bit more disconnected from my own reality, more impersonal. Maybe if Death had been forced to wander scorched Earth just like War, I’d be complaining about it being too much of the same thing. I don’t know. In any case, it certainly was a treat to finally get to see Heaven and Hell in more detail, and to feel like such a force of nature that even in these divined places, I was a threat to any and all that crossed me.
Now, for some strange reason, the Darksiders games have always strongly reminded me of Zelda – it may seem odd that the first game that comes to mind when I think of Darksiders is Shigeru Miyamoto’s hugely successful fantasy-lite series, but somewhere under the hood, if we stripped each game down to its code and general gameplay layout, I find them to be quite alike. Making your way through an overworld hub, being able to proceed in some directions while others remain blocked until later, finding and entering dungeons in various locations of the overworld, using items and abilities obtained in these dungeons to remove roadblocks and access new portions of the overworld map; it all smells heavily of Zelda inspiration.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Where Zelda influenced much of the game design (imho), I liken the game’s character designs, specifically armor and costumes, as spiritual brethren to Square Enix’s later Final Fantasy titles. Where FF adorned its cast in myriad clasps, buckles, belts and random swatches, Darksiders goes Hephaestian (and yes, I made that up) and covers its central characters in metallic armor, interlinking pieces of mail, brutally edged weapons and oversized blunt instruments of pain. Between all this and the sounds of crunching gravel and pulverizing stone every time Death puts someone’s head through a wall or so much as breathes heavily, Darksiders‘ sound design is a joy to behold. In fact, it is probably my favorite game to listen to, on a sound effect level – it is THAT satisfying!
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!
So when do we get to the part about how Darksiders II, despite me having raved about it for a good page and a half, almost single-handedly destroyed my peaceful vacation? Right now.
I was in the Black Stone, the game’s final dungeon (not that I knew this at the time), and literally only about 20 minutes away from game’s end (didn’t know that either). But it was late, and rather than starting a whole new dungeon in the wee morning hours, I decided to pack it in for the night. The game autosaves, so it’ll be cool, right? Right?!
Since I hadn’t expressly heard about any bugs in Darksiders II, and hence had no reason to randomly do some research on my own, I couldn’t possibly have been prepared for what was to come. The next day – turn on the game – load my save file – listen to the narrator telling me the “Story So Far” – then…nothing. Freeze. Glitch. Data file corrupted. And due to the autosave system, I had no manual save to fall back on. I neglected to mention that I had also recently taken some time off from the main quest to complete many of the game’s optional side missions, sensing that I must be nearing the end soon. All told, I had invested something to the tune of 30+ hours into the game by this point. All. Gone.
I started scouring the net for forum posts (and hopefully fixes) of my issue. Saw myriad of people with the exact same problem. Saw no fixes whatsoever. What’s more, most of these posts dated back from August/September, closer to the game’s release. This was December, and if there was no fix by this point, I was just simply shit out of sheer luck. Mo***rf*****! This game, ooh this game, this game was gonna have to pay; eat the wall or something! I mean this was seriously pissing all over my feel-good holiday campfire!
2 days later, as a last-ditch resort, having already resigned the game to make it in life as my new doorstop, I contacted THQ through their website (who, by this time, had already declared bankruptcy, so I had zero hope of any help coming out of their corner). Miracle of miracles, not only did I get a fairly quick response, but it turns out the issue had already been addressed months earlier: there was a certain way to load the save file while sidestepping certain pieces of data the game was getting hung up on. It resulted in me having to reconfigure my character’s equipment, skill points, and such. I did so, and 20 minutes later breathed a sigh of pent-up aggression fleeing the body as I watched the credits roll. This whole ordeal has honestly scared me a bit about ever trying the game again; I feel I’d be looking over my shoulder, being forced to relive all those painful memories.
So in the end, against all odds, I can finally say: