Six Years Later, The Epic, Unfilled Ending to 'Darksiders' Still Bums Me Out
There's a universe where War, Strife, Death, and Fury are fighting to save the world, but instead, we're left watching a cliffhanger on loop.
Not every game gets a sequel, inevitably leaving plot threads unresolved and character arcs unfilled. But outside of wondering why Kate kept hallucinating a horse on Lost—don't get me started—few pieces of lingering lore have haunted me like the ending to to the original Darksiders.
Darksiders, originally released in 2010, was recently given a shiny coat of new paint, and has slowly but surely made its way to every modern platform under the sun—yes, even the Wii U. It's a dark fantasy action RPG that, while excellent, borrowed so liberally from The Legend of Zelda that it felt borderline criminal at times. Thankfully, it was all in service of a making a really fun game.
And while I can't remember Darksiders' story beat-for-beat, the ending sticks out like a sore thumb. See, in Darksiders, players are cast in the role of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The game opens with a climactic battle between Heaven and Hell, with Earth stuck in the middle, and yada yada yada—War is the first of the Horsemen to show up. You spend the whole game slicing up fools and solving puzzles as War, never encountering Death, Strife, and Fury, your brothers in undead arms.
That changes during the game's ending, when the Seventh Seal, an artifact subduing War's power and part of a deal between Heaven and Hell, is broken. War becomes a demigod, and sets out for, well, war. The problem is that War can't possibly end the conflict on his own, and when presented with this problem, the music swells, and War declares "No, not alone." Then...
Image courtesy of Nordic Games
...comets streak in the sky, signaling the arrival of Death, Strife, and Fury. As the three of them are about to land, the game abruptly cuts to black. God damn.
It's hard to pull off a cliffhanger ending, especially in an age when media is often conceived in terms of sequels, trilogies, and endless franchising (I'm looking at you, Gears of War 4.) Though Darksiders ends with a setup for what's next, it resolves the main story in a satisfying way, while leaving you pumping your fist. I'm pretty sure I was actually pumping my fist when the ending played! It's a tough line to straddle, but Darksiders is one of the few that really pulls it off.
That said, I'm willing to concede that a good cliffhanger—a cliffhanger done right—leaves the theoretically upcoming events to the imagination, and that lack of fulfillment is precisely why it works in the first place. (The ending to the last episode of Black Mirror's most recent season is an excellent example of this.)
And yet, knowing this, I'm still upset over it, okay? The game's only sequel (to date, anyway) was a loot-driven prequel starring Death, a game that I found profoundly disappointing. Not only was it a poorer game, but Darksiders 2 seemed to go out of its way to avoid paying off that ending, My gut tells me this is because they expected to be making Darksiders 3. But given that game is currently a pipe dream, I'm left to write articles stirring over what could have been. Blah.
"Whether we got the chance to make a sequel or not, it still works." -Joe Madureira
When I was a reporter at Giant Bomb, just before Darksiders 2 came out, I had a chance to talk with the game's developers, the now-defunct Vigil Games. As it turns out, the original vision for the Darksiders ending was far more ambitious, and involved the other riders fighting alongside War.
"We tried to do what would be the most impactful ending," said creative director Joe Madureira back in 2012. "Whether we got the chance to make a sequel or not, it still works. If there was never another Darksiders game, you know that the Horsemen appeared and whooped ass."
"Originally," he said, "the four horsemen did show up before you beat the Destroyer, and there's a huge battlefield, and the horsemen are killing demons and they clear the way. You finally make your way to the Destroyer, and fight him. It was an ending that would have taken us probably another year to do. [laughs] It was like 'Why don't we just have the comets appear and you never actually see them land, but you know it's on?' It was equally as exciting, and one-tenth of the work, so we were like 'Okay, let's try it.' I'm actually a little surprised that it has had the impact that it has had and people talked about it so much. Mainly because, in my head, I know what we originally had planned for it."
Given that Nordic Games, the company who picked up the rights to Darksiders after THQ imploded, is still updating and taking care of Darksiders, I'm holding out hope we'll get a sequel someday. One big problem is that the creative team behind Darksiders has moved on to other projects. Madureira, for example, is working on a killer looking turn-based RPG called Battle Chasers. But still, I want to see what happens next. Maybe it'll be disappointing, but hey, it'll be something.