Flashback: 'Darksiders' Is the Greatest 'Zelda' Game Nintendo Never Made

Flashback: 'Darksiders' Is the Greatest 'Zelda' Game Nintendo Never Made

'Darksiders' may well be one of the most derivative games of all time, and that's actually OK THQ Nordic

With the upcoming sequel set to take the Four Horsemen for another ride, it's time to reflect on the apocalyptic asskicker that loves to lean on Link

With the upcoming sequel set to take the Four Horsemen for another ride, it's time to reflect on the apocalyptic asskicker that loves to lean on Link

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then Darksiders passes out praise to its crushes like a smitten teen on prom night. Viewed from a purely mechanical standpoint, this gothic action-adventure may well be one of the most derivative video games of all time. Strangely, that isn't a criticism. If you must borrow ideas from others, you may as well crib from the best, and considering Darksiders liberally lifts gameplay elements from God of War, Zelda, Devil May Cry and Shadow of the Colossus, it certainly chooses some mighty fine targets to impersonate.

The now seven-year-old, resolutely B-tier adventure is freshly relevant again, thanks to the recent announcement of Darksiders III. The upcoming sequel is being developed by Gunfire Games – the studio that rose from the ashes of the now defunct creator of the series, Vigil Games. Like its predecessors, it focuses on one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in this case placing you in the smouldering shoes of Fury, the whip-wielding sister of original antihero War and Darksiders II's Death. Considering its predecessors achieved only modest commercial success, it's somewhat surprising that this pious, demon-pummeling series is getting an unlikely resurrection.

Yet I for one am glad THQ Nordic is taking a chance on the franchise that singed the sales expectations of its former (also defunct) parent company, THQ. The original Darksiders may not be as revered as Kratos or Link's adventures, but it ably captures the spirit of both Sony's gory Greek deity slayer and Nintendo's inquisitive action-RPGs.

Somehow, it successfully meshes barbaric hack-and-slash combat with complex dungeons Breath of the Wild could learn a thing or two from. On paper, War's violent quest to intervene in the battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell – mainly by punching, slicing and disemboweling anything in sight – should be an ungainly hodgepodge of contrasting styles. In execution, it's actually a splendid tribute act to the games it siphons so much inspiration from.

Upon revisiting last year's Warmaster Edition redux, it's quickly clear just how eclectic Darksiders' influences are. One minute, you'll be ripping demonic foes apart with savage melee finishers for streams of XP-bolstering orbs – the Ghost of Sparta says "hi!" – and the next, War could be flitting between handholds as if he were cameoing in Uncharted. Seeing as the Horseman is a seven-foot behemoth wrapped in 300lbs of stately armor as opposed to a lithe treasure hunter weighed down by naught but a compass and dashing jawline) these brief platforming interludes are all the more impressive.

Darksiders may not have many unique ideas of its own, but when its mechanics work so well, it needn't be ashamed. There's never a sense this is an adventure that has a complex about its expertly-played imitation game. Its various systems work so smoothly, and complement each other so effortlessly, you soon forget you're essentially playing a more open-ended, viscera-soaked love letter to God of War.

Sony Santa Monica and its chrome-dome killer should lap up much of the credit for inspiring Darksiders' fluid, murderously muscular combat model, of that there's no question. Yet look a little closer, and the true heart of the game actually owes more to Zelda than Sony's gorgon-garotting fallen god.

The examples are everywhere. Cutting down enemies while sat atop a neighing, four-legged friend – admittedly Ruin is nowhere near as pettable as Epona; braving dungeons to harness the power of four colossal guardians in the vein of BotW's Divine Beasts; solving long-range puzzles with the Crossblade, in a way Link and his various boomerangs would immediately approve of. War may share Kratos' insatiable appetite for R-rated violence and showy, QTE-laced spectacle, but the real core of his journey taps into the inquisitive spirit of Nintendo's elven adventures. Alongside Clover Studio's wonderful Ōkami, Darksiders can proudly disguise itself as one of the best Zelda games Nintendo never made.

Does it have a defining moment to rival the iconic memory of mounting Epona for the first time, then gracefully galloping over the undulating grasslands of Hyrule Field? Of course not. Let's be honest, you probably forgot Darksiders even existed until last week's sequel announcement, right? Still, such is the strength of its component parts that it's hard not to get swept along on War's thrillingly silly joyride. The Scalding Gallow hub area – think a fantasy take on Manhattan peppered with sinkholes and flowing magma – may not match Hyrule, but then again, Zelda doesn't let you beat up angels.

Like the best of Link's quests, Darksiders benefits from terrific pacing. Vigil Games threw so many disparate ideas into a giant fantasy blender with such infectious enthusiasm, the subsequent brew goes down a treat. After all, how could you possibly be bored by a title where an average vertical slice of gameplay has you conversing with a surprisingly civilized rock monster, throwing sedans at demon dogs, then teaming up with a griffin in an on-rails aerial sequence that does a more than a passable impression of an HD Panzer Dragoon?

With Darksiders: Warmastered Edition retailing for less than $20 on PS4, Xbox One and PC, now's a great time to either reclimitize or introduce yourself to a game that lovingly borrowed from the best. Whether it's Mark Hamill unapologetically aping his Joker for War's Watcher sidekick, or the portal-spewing Voidwalker gauntlet that's an oh-so-transparent photocopy of a certain Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device – keep calm, GLaDOS – Darksiders isn't exactly coy about being a copycat. Yet just because a game is derivative, doesn't mean it can't still delight.

Booting up Darksiders in 2017 feels fresher than you might expect. That clean, uncluttered comic book presentation scrubs up surprisingly well in HD, while War controls with a buttery finesse that belies the age of his adventure. In a market increasingly clogged with "me too'" open-world pretenders, soulless shooters and phoned-in sports updates, it's heartening to know there's still a place for Darksiders' brashly blatant yet somehow unqiue brand of mimicry.

So give this Horseman a chance to ride again, and remind yourself Link isn't the only dungeon master worth saddling up with.