Just when you thought it was safe to bid farewell to your Wii U, a lone figure appears on the shadowed horizon. Unhindered by multiple delays, primed for war and ready to impress; the horseman cometh. Darksiders originally released back in 2010, and was hailed as a hidden gem of the last generation. While it skipped Nintendo consoles at the time, the next entry in the franchise - Darksiders II - would later go on to launch alongside the Wii U as a flagship third-party title. Now at the end of that console's lifespan, the original has been freed from purgatory in the form of Darksiders: Warmastered Edition, meaning you can now book-end your Wii U collection with both Darksiders titles in reverse order, if you're into that sort of thing.
While we admit to having a soft spot for its silly alternate subtitle, this 'Warmastered' release is essentially a souped-up remaster of that 2010 original, and it's a remaster which also arrived on PS4, Xbox One and PC late last year. It's the first release from the newly rebranded THQ Nordic, which acquired the rights to the franchise when publisher THQ declared bankruptcy several years back. Although it doesn't boast any additional content, the game has gone through a visual overhaul that improves texture resolution, performance, and runs in "hellish" 1080p HD, so we recommend having an exorcist on hand, just in case.
For anyone taking their first joyride through the apocalypse, Darksiders is a prime example of the action/adventure genre, and balances hack-and-slash gameplay nicely with open environments to traverse, collectibles to find, and upgrades to purchase. Of particular note are the distinctive character designs - the work of seasoned comic book artist Joe Madureira - which help build a strong, colourful aesthetic that is only improved upon further in this remastered edition. The original audio, however, is left untouched so that first-timers can enjoy the bombastic score and some wonderful voice performances from the original cast, including Mark Hamill gleefully chewing the scenery as the villainous Joke-uhhh... Watcher. There's a lot of production value pushing Darksiders forward, and it makes for a simultaneously cheesy and ambitious experience when blended so well together.
The plot kicks off with a massive war that erupts between Heaven and Hell, with Earth serving as the desolate battlefield for said war once mankind is swiftly annihilated. An ancient force known as The Charred Council were meant to mediate this confrontation, but one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse is somehow tricked into jumping the gun and starts Armaggedon early, throwing everything off-balance as a result. You play as this early bird horseman, appropriately titled War, and in the wake of 100 years of chaos you must investigate what happened and find out who or what is to blame for the false start. Stripped of your powers, labelled a traitor and assigned a shadowy supervisor to keep an eye on your behaviour, you start from scratch and need to build your skill-set back up to its former glory.
In order to do so you'll embark on a quest that pits you against angels, demons, and everything in between, searching for clues and making deals with devils in exchange for information and further power. The center of your journey is a semi-open world hub area, from which you can access a number of smaller areas with their own individual dungeon to complete. Even at the time of its initial release, comparisons were drawn between Darksiders and The Legend of Zelda series, and these dungeons are perhaps the most striking example of the similarity between the two. They're surprisingly lengthy and dense areas, filled with puzzles to solve, hordes of enemies to defeat, new gear to unlock and a nasty boss to use it on soon after. Right down to the maps and keys, the influence is clear, but it doesn't cheapen the experience in any way as Darksiders successfully carves out a chunky, playfully grim niche for itself in the genre.
Exploration is also straightforward and rewarding, with health and magic upgrades available in collectable fragments - heart container style - that are scattered throughout all manner of apocalyptic nooks and crannys. War is a surprisingly nimble guy for someone comprised of 90% spiky armour, and can navigate most environments with ease thanks to his ability to climb, jump, swim and glide across obstacles. You'll come across many areas which are inaccessible at first, but upon expanding your arsenal you'll always be able to return and unlock additional areas by making use of new items or skills. A fast travel system is in place to make return journeys far simpler as well, and its method of teleportation via a wormhole is particularly novel.
Combat itself starts off fairly bare-bones, but once you're given access to the game's demonic shopkeeper it won't be long before you're switching between alternate weapons, firing off special abilities and even launching into a kind of rage mode for ultimate destruction. As a result, the first portion of the game feels annoyingly limited as far as combat is concerned, while the latter half has you juggling so many buttons and combinations that it gets pretty overwhelming by comparison. We ended up sticking with a few key skills and combos, managing to strike a nice balance of diversity and simplicity by doing so, but the option is there to go all out with dozens of different combinations, as long as you don't mind memorising more inputs than we could shake an oversized sword at.
There are plenty of memorable moments sprinkled throughout the game as well, including a flight on the back of a griffin, a section where your kills are counted and compared to a competing warrior's tally (which isn't Gimli, sadly), and the retrieval of your dreaded horse, Ruin. These highlights are generally a welcome change of pace, but for every awesome boss fight or thrilling horseback assault, there's a mandatory 'kill 30 enemies within the time limit' challenge to beat or some wonky aiming reticles to deal with. Thankfully, the good easily outweighs the bad, making for a solid cycle of exploration, combat, action set-pieces, and puzzle solving. Expect plenty of switch-pulling, precision jumping and memorisation when working your way through the dungeons in particular.
As a budget title, you definitely get bang for your buck with this lengthy, 20 hour+ campaign, but the Wii U version is by no means perfect. According to THQ Nordic, development for Nintendo's console took longer than other platforms due to the unexpected difficulty of optimising it to run properly and so they held off until they were satisfied with the end result. While this is an admirable move on the part of THQ Nordic, it hasn't entirely been successful as several bugs still plague both the digital and physical versions of the Wii U release. Sudden, game-freezing loading screens, disappearing platforms, and even numerous crashes have all been reported, and we encountered several other glitches, including one where an entire audio channel cut out, rendering much of the audio totally inaudible until we left the area. In another area a mini-boss unintentionally caused the floor to turn invisible and randomly change shape, forcing us to restart the fight three times until we eventually memorised where the invisible floor was.
Controversially, the back of the box claims that, like the PS4 and XBox One versions, Darksiders runs at 60fps on Wii U. This isn't the case, as the game is actually capped at 30fps and often drops to lower numbers when things get too busy with particle effects. It's a decently solid 30fps, but nowhere near the standard of 60fps that is mistakenly advertised on the box. That being said, frame-tearing is no longer an issue, something which plagued the original release, and the improved visuals are truly effective at cleaning up the overall look of the game. Whether or not the lower frame rate affects your experience will likely be a matter of personal taste, but the glitches are extremely invasive, and we can only hope a patch helps alleviate the problem in the near future. As a final aside, the whole game is playable in off-TV mode, which is constantly displayed on the Wii U GamePad at all times.
Darksiders: Warmastered Edition may be a bit late to the party, and borrows some material from other guests, but it's a welcome addition that still has a few good stories to tell and a trick or two left up its sleeve. It's a remarkably solid experience that combines a distinct aesthetic with varied gameplay, satisfying combat and fast-paced exploration, all centred around a story about the apocalypse. After you really click with a few key abilities early on the game opens wide up, and for anyone who hasn't already played the original this is a solid port of a hidden gem. The visual upgrades do make a big difference, but a slew of gltiches, crashes and software issues go to some lengths to unravel that through sheer frustration alone. Overall, then, it's not the ultimate version of Darksiders currently available, but it's a reasonable attempt for those that want to experience how it all began on their Wii U.