Darksiders (2010) and The Order: 1886 (2015)

A twofer, this post. I’ve recently finished playing both the games mentioned here – a trip to a hellish future and a dip into alternate-history London, respectively – and I figured I didn’t have enough to say about ’em individually. So I’ve lumped them together here, in some kind of ungodly union.

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Your humble author.

So, I hope you’re prepared for some half-arsed critique, because I’ve got that in spades.

First up? Darksiders.

This is an odd little game. It’s a relentlessly comic-y game, as you’d expect from something steered by Joe Madueira. The design is kind of teenage-dude-fightbro, but it fits with the presentation of the action, which never seems to take itself too seriously. This is kind of odd given that you play one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and you’re trying to make a decisive post-mortem change to the course of a battle between good and evil.

Not heavy at all, right? Right.

So what we’re left with is a cartoonish – though satisfying – hack-and-slash that sees you revisit a bunch of areas which become more accessible the more your abilities increase. There’s a shopping mechanic which allows you to become MOAR HACKIN’ and to upgrade magic attacks, but I didn’t find I needed to put much work into that part of the game – it’s not the most difficult game you’ll play in terms of working through.

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Important design inspiration: Iron Maiden concert stages. 

However, there’s a certain similarity to the Dark Souls approach to bosses here, in that each big bad will have specific weaknesses that need to be triggered just so in order to make hurtin’ progress. None of it is particularly difficult to figure out, but until you have that aha moment, there can be extended periods of wondering what exactly it is you’re meant to do. It’s not as difficult as Dark Souls, obviously, but seems a neat mash-up between that series and, say, God of War. 

I played the remastered – sorry, Warmastered – version of the game, because though I have it on my PS3, I try to avoid using it if I can these days, saving it for games that’re unplayable anywhere but there. And for the most part, it’s a pretty comprehensive reworking of the original: it looks and sounds great, and there’s been no retooling of the mechanics (as happened with the Uncharted remasters) – everything has been tidied up and made to look even fancier. There’s still some bugs – I had about six hard crashes I needed to dump out of, and there were a couple of instances where War would drop through the scenery, or be caught in a glitchy enemy’s animation loop – but this is a very playable version of the game, as long as you accept the finicky nature of some of the rules for movement.

(Prepare to die a lot thanks to the double-jump/glide move. Seriously.)

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This was a great neighbourhood before the dragons moved in.

There’s two sequels to this, and though I haven’t played them as yet, I will. I wanted a bit of a break from the series before I proceeded – by the end of the game I was veering towards ho-hum territory – but overall this is a worthwhile (and cheap) couple of hours’ entertainment if spilling demon blood and throwing cars at pissed-off angels is your thing.

Next? The Order: 1886.

When I finished this game my first thought was that it was a pretty good movie spoiled by substandard gameplay, and I think that’s pretty much on the money. I’d heard tales of how poor the finished game was, at least when compared to its prerelease hype, and I wasn’t disappointed with my disappointment level.

Hm, multiple negatives aside, let’s consider the thing. The Order: 1886 is an update of the Knights of the Round Table saga. Except it’s in a steampunk London, where vampires and werewolves are running the joint and the Queen isn’t visible, and the Ripper isn’t who you think it is. And the Knights are helped out by Nikola Tesla because of course they are.

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And airships because OF COURSE.

Pip pip eh what?

In this mess, you play Sir Galahad, a dedicated Knight who becomes embroiled in the machinations of government and industry. The Order is a mysterious not-cops, not-army corps of apparently deathless swarthiness, who spends a lot of time in firefights saying “Son of a whore!” to anyone who’ll listen. I mean, that’s after the establishing scene, where we watch, in a rare first-person view, as he’s semi-drowned by a bunch of redcoats.

Obviously, one-dimensional characterisation wasn’t what pulled me in, here. The setting is what drew me to the game, and it does look remarkable. As long as you leave photo mode alone, the camera shows imperfections and light leaks befitting lenses of the period. Everything is brass and fog and moustaches, and it looks pretty great.

The production values of the game, appearance-wise, are great, and in cutscenes – of which there are many – it’s an engrossing world. Indeed, I wanted to play the game so soon after the similarly-located Assassin’s Creed instalment because I was drawn to the idea of a London that both is and isn’t. And in that regard, the game hits it out of the park – the setting is familiar enough to those who’ve seen London (either in person or in other media) to be relatable, but adds enough cogs-and-metal novelty to make something intriguing in its own right.

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You could set your watch by that facial hair. 

The problem, really, is when you’re asked to play the thing. On the face of it, there’s nothing problematic about how the game is presented – it’s a third-person cover-based shooter. Fine. But it’s implemented poorly: Galahad’s relationship with cover is somewhat iffy, and the game often shifts between firefights and one-shot-kill modes, so there can be plenty of times where you’re fine to stroll about in the open, and then others where your face will be blown off if someone even vaguely suspects you’re in the same postcode.

Unfortunately, flagging these changes isn’t the game’s strong suit. It’s compounded by the fact that QTEs form a large part of the mechanics driving the story forward. It’s very PRESS X NOT TO DIE, and to varying tolerances. Some places? Plenty of time! Others? DEAD A NANOSECOND LATER. And that’s without touching on the insta-kill fuckwittery of the werewolf-fightin’ sections.

I appreciate that the game is linear. I like linear games, because they’re a nice antidote to the whole here’s a world with a bunch of busywork – go spend a couple of hundred hours chasing treasure chests and doing villagers’ grocery shopping approach to design. But it’s not particularly well signposted here. Combined with glitchy, frustrating combat and stealth modes? Let’s just say that it’s a shame the wax cylinders you collect throughout don’t feature a scratchy recording of a sad trombone.

The game kind of shits the bed narratively, as well. Instead of teasing out some kind of upper-echelon conspiracy, the story ends up being a factional biff. Certain characters act contrary to how they’ve been portrayed all through the game to that point – I’m thinking of Igraine here – and it undermines what’s been established. It’s a shame, because the world is intriguing, but what we’re left with is a cobbled-together mess. I’ve heard that there’s talk of a sequel, and from a visual standpoint I’d be in – but unless the mechanics are really improved, it’d be a shocker.

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It’s reassuring to know that the Tube doesn’t ever really change. 

With all that said, I have to admit that this article on the appeals of the world created inside the game is pretty on the money. I found myself thinking of the game the way I think of myself with exams: you idiot! You could’ve done so much better! It’s not the most awful thing in the world, but when I think about how great it might have been?

Ugh.

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