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Design Impressions: Darksiders

Darksiders has a pretty cool thematic premise for an action game, but borrows heavily from God of War and Zelda mechanics. I played it shortly after finishing DmC: Devil May Cry and have to say its combat system isn’t quite as polished or nuanced, but i still enjoyed it. These are some random notes i jotted down while playing. If you agree or disagree with anything, let me know – but please read the two disclaimers at the bottom first.

    Gameplay
• Relatively slow placed action, with a fair variety of weapons and abilities to unlock.
• Lots of blind exploration in dark areas!
Darksiders cover   ○ It was less tedious when collectibles were all visible on the map in the introductory Vulgrim level. Why can’t that feature be on all the time? What’s the downside?
  ○ Or if the dungeon map needs to be an item (or in this case, two items: Map and Hoardseeker), then why not at least show those two chests on the starting map?
• Checkpoint placement seems kind of inconsistent.
  ○ Having to travel halfway across Anvil’s Ford on foot through three doors to fight Special K for the tenth time was frustrating. He’s practically a secret sub-boss!
  ○ Not restoring any Wrath meter on checkpoint reload is disappointing too.

    Controls
• Basic ground attacks have noticeable lag; maybe 5-10 frames.
  ○ It feels pretty sludgy once you realize it, especially since wall hang attacks don’t have the same delay. Very weird.
• Hold Square uppercut actually works without a preliminary Square attack coming out.
  ○ Maybe that explains the delay for Tap Square? If so, questionable tradeoff.
• Jumping seems to have some delay too, either input delay or just not enough forgiveness on ledge detection. Maybe a little leeway would’ve helped.
  ○ Also allowing the end of attack and dash animations to cancel into jump would help offset the problem of end poses resembling idle pose.
• Holding X once doesn’t trigger Shadowflight. You have to double jump first. Very weird.
  ○ War also can’t double jump or glide if he steps off a ledge. Very weird.
• Ledge hang movement feels okay. It’s kind of cool that War switches hands when he jumps up from one ledge to the next.
  ○ However, he can’t jump sideways at all, which sucks when he’s one pixel away from being able to jump through a hole in the wall. You have to grind sideways so his strictly vertical ledge jump can carry him through.

    Camera
• Third-person camera tends to follow War pretty closely, and can be rotated using R-Stick.
  ○ Unfortunately, this setup causes problems a bit too often.
• Enemies routinely circle around behind War, and the camera stays so tight on him that they disappear from view.
  ○ Trying to parry basic Minions is frustratingly difficult as a result (and because their windup animation is hard to read).
• The Scalding Gallows exit checkpoint in Chapter 2 actually begins with War facing away from several enemies, who immediately attack him from off camera.
• War throws objects in the direction he’s facing, not the direction the camera is facing (unless targeting mode is activated). Very counterintuitive.
  ○ How hard would it be to make him auto-turn to camera facing when R2 (throw) is pressed? There’s plenty of startup in the throw animation to make it smooth.
• Larger monsters need some kind of area-of-interest camera tracking when they spawn.
  ○ Getting killed by a megapunch from behind sucks when you didn’t know the enemy existed.
  ○ Riding horseback in narrow corridors and swimming in general are extremely rough on the camera. But the underwater 180° turn animation is pretty sweet.

    Combat Quirks
• Why don’t finishers work on lesser enemies when they’re high in the air?
  ○ Waiting for them to fall so they can be grabbed again feels needlessly limiting, especially when you’re in the middle of a brawl.
• Backdashing doesn’t seem to have any/much invincibility, which makes it almost useless since every enemy uses forward lunge attacks.
  ○ The camera is so loose that it’s really hard to tell which way you’re facing sometimes.
  ○ A little leeway here wouldn’t hurt. If the player got the timing right on a dash, they should probably be safe.
• Catching cars thrown at you by enemies is awesome, but the animation for it is super stiff.
  ○ Maybe this capability was added late in development, in which case i’m glad it made it in.
• Apparently only the Chaoseater sword builds Chaos meter? Why? It just gives the other weapons an artificial downside for no reason.

    Weapons
• There aren’t enough combat abilities organically rewarded. You have to buy everything with the same resource used to buy artifacts, which seem more appealing.
  ○ So weapon abilities stay generic and repetitive for a long time, until you’re willing to risk spending blue souls on attacks you might not even use.
• Sometimes killing grunt soldiers will cause them to drop their swords, which look pretty cool.
  ○ They have collision so running over them makes them bounce around, but you can’t pick them up at all, not even to throw them. That’s kind of lame.
  ○ If it looks cool, either let me play with it or don’t keep it around.
• Carrying fire to Inert Bombs using the Crossblade is a pretty cool feature.
  ○ Having to do it in a boss battle is a lot less fun, because dealing with the camera while Tiamat is causing AoE splash damage is a huge pain.
• As someone who doesn’t like shooters, i have to admit the Fragment Cannon is a lot of fun.
  ○ It’s got a great mix of power, ammo management, movement penalty, aiming skill requirement, and detonation payoff.
• Voidwalker … Wait, this game has a portal gun?
  ○ Some of the portal puzzles are pretty damn complicated, actually.
  ○ Instead of ramping up the pace, gameplay slows to a crawl in the final acts. War can’t even ride Ruin in the portal dungeon. What gives?

    World
• Shadow Currents are blue geysers that only exist to allow War alone to traverse the world, after unlocking Shadowflight gliding. That’s so gamey.
  ○ At least hot air currents seem like they might be part of the natural world.
  ○ Personally i would’ve appreciated some more lore around Shadow Currents – who created them and who else uses them?
• Serpent Paths being actual levels is pretty damn cool!
  ○ Impressive take on shortcuts between world areas, and a good way to hide loading times.
• Enemies knocked off the rock paths in the Ashlands simply die upon hitting the sands.
  ○ No interaction with the giant worms at all, which is rather unsatisfying.

Darksiders War     Combo System
• Simple timer-based combo counter (commonly used in action games), with a fairly low tolerance.
  ○ Feels strange when the Harvester basic string finisher doesn’t register as a combo, yet dash cancel shenanigans keep combos active for days.
  ○ Counter always resets after a Hell Razor launcher, with the enemy at the peak of their reaction.
• It isn’t apparent why combos are important in this game. If there’s a blue soul multiplier, it’s never mentioned or explained.

    Rewards
• Opening chests doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying as GoW chests.
  ○ A longer animation with more forceful interaction would help Darksiders chests seem more weighty and less delicate.
  ○ Also the interaction zone needs refinement because it’s possible to whiff grab even when the prompt is displayed on screen.
• Dying during a battle should give some kind of carryover reward. Maybe accruing blue souls would create a farming exploit, but DmC did it just fine.
  ○ There must be a way to make that time investment not feel like a waste of effort, because you’re still killing enemies.
  ○ If there’s any zone in the game with respawning enemies, it’s doubly inexcusable.
• Is it necessary to stop the game every time War finds a minor trinket or Vulgrim location?
  ○ Can’t that be shown somewhere in the UI without a mandatory pause?
• Ruin is amazing! Mounted combat and traversal are both extremely well executed. (At least in open plains, where the camera doesn’t get into trouble.)
  ○ It’s surprising how late into the game he’s unlocked, considering how dramatically he improves the whole experience.

Disclaimer #1: This is not a review of the game. These scattered notes are just my personal impressions as a player. Please don’t take them too seriously.

Disclaimer #2: I’m not trying to say i could do better by any means. If i point out a flaw, it’s usually because i think it’s interesting; not to criticize anyone involved. There are countless reasons why a feature might be imperfect, buggy, or incomplete. Game development is a chaotic human endeavor, and it’s very rarely easy to figure out why something went wrong. Anyway it’s a safe bet that the dev team thought of most ideas or solutions i might suggest, but they couldn’t be implemented due to some unfortunate constraint.

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