And there was given unto him a great sword – so says chapter six, verse four of The Book of Revelations while describing the arrival of War – one of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is the inspiration behind THQ and Vigil Games’ Darksiders: Wrath of War – the slash-‘em up that aims to steal thunder from that other god of war, Kratos. That in itself is an aspiration worthy of a place in a trial of the gods, but Vigil has made a stellar choice by casting the lead character as War – one quarter of the meanest line-up in biblical history.
Someone or something has sparked off a bogus apocalypse and a hierarchy known as the Charred Council believes it to be War who is responsible for hell on earth. They strip War of his abilities and cast him back down to earth to restore balance and seek out who's responsible for pulling the plug. “There are going to be lots of twists and turns; it’s a revenge story and War isn’t really a good guy or a bad guy, he’s more of an anti-hero,” muses Darksiders’ art director, Han Randhawa, during our exclusive hands-on. The dark and twisted adventure sees War unravel the mystery behind the end of days while also becoming more powerful, regaining his ethereal superpowers one at a time. Naturally the first thought that bubbles to the surface when we heard about Darksiders over a year ago was that it was going to soak up and spit out familiar biblical themes and characters. That isn’t the case explains Randhawa.
“We wanted to come up with something that focuses on an ancient hero that was steeped in history, but didn’t want to go down the biblical route. War is just a classic character – the embodiment of pretty much every other character out there.” Vigil are describing certain creatures and characters that stand in War’s path as demons and angels, but these are hell and heaven’s spawn in the loosest possible sense of the words, according to the art director. Aside from looking like a comic book game without the comic (expect that to arrive post-release) Darksiders is set up as a colossal dosage of third-person action that looked hugely entertaining, visually arresting and full of fanboy-dribbling artwork plus design by comics artist, co-creator and Vigil Games co-founder Joe ‘Mad’ Madureira.
War is big, powerful and stupendously modelled with his bulging shoulders and wafer-thin waistline, but one thing has changed since we last walked the line between heaven, hell and the Ashlands – the word the team at Vigil uses to describe the charred remnants of earth post-apocalypse – is War’s armour. War was originally designed as a hulking mass of muscle that leaned towards the side of ancient tech – kind of Unreal-like, but after a re-think he’s sporting some new, much improved garb that tacks on a shredded cloak similar to Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn.
“War has been developed for quite some while, and as a lead artist I can say most main characters go through a lot of changes – it’s a natural process,” explains Randhawa. “This is actually his third incarnation. The extremely early demos had him looking like this, but he was a little more fantasy-like then. Then he went into a more ancient-tech look and with that comes the problem that you might fall too far into the fantasy or tech side. We felt it was a little too tech-y, so we brought it back a little and so now he’s a little more traditional with some Samurai and Roman-esque elements clearly visible in there.”
War is almost complete, but the team, Randhawa explains, will probably continue to tweak him between now and the release date next year. The demo we got to play was the pre-E3 build that the Vigil boys were hard at work polishing up, and despite certain moves and moments being billed as ‘work-in-progress’, Darksiders looked, played and felt solid in its pre-pre-Alpha stage.