These Aren’t the Horsemen I Read About

Last week, THQ Nordic finally announced a release date for Darksiders III. This game has had a long, colorful history of problems, insecurities, and speculations. It was first announced quite some time ago, but it was never really a sure thing. Originally developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ, the Darksiders franchise began in 2010. A sequel, Darksiders II, was also released by the same studio and publisher in 2012, but sadly THQ went bankrupt soon after that. And since then the game has always been up in the air. In 2016, Nordic purchased THQ and founded the joint publisher THQ Nordic. For fans of the franchise like myself, this was good news because it meant we would hopefully get a Darksiders III, but it’s taken six years to finally get a release date. And it’s a new development studio . . .

I’m a big fan of the Darksiders franchise. I wasn’t a day one buyer, but I did purchase the original XBOX 360 version of the first game, which came with an art book and a physical copy of Red Faction: Guerilla, which is an amazing game that I never would have played if not for that free copy. I then pre-ordered the Limited Edition of Darksiders II (PS3), which I still have on my shelf to this day. I actually think I is better than II but I very much enjoyed both games. So I’m glad I’m finally getting a Darksiders III. But what I want to talk about is the playable character in the next game.

darksiders 1

Darksiders III will star Fury. Now before we go any farther let’s make a few things clear. Fury is a female protagonist. I have no problems with that. I don’t care if it’s a female protagonist. I’m sure some people will argue that it should be a male character because they’re the four horseMEN, but anyone with a basic knowledge of the English language knows that horsemen is the gender neutral plural term for people who ride horses. So Fury being a female character is no problem for me and it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. Fury uses a whip as her main weapon. I have no problem with this either. One might want to argue it’s slightly sexist to give the female character a whip because of sexual overtones and stereotypes inherent in the image of women with whips, but that’s about as stupid an argument as saying that she should be a male character. Each game features a different main weapon, with sword and scythe already being taken. So unless you wanted to do axe, which is basically a scythe when it comes to controls, or a club, which would probably play similar to War’s great sword, there weren’t a ton of great options left. I like whip weapons. I think they’re cool. Put a blade at the end and you’re essentially Kratos, my favorite action hack-n-slash character/franchise, with half the stopping power and range. A whip is fine for me and it’s a fine choice for the next game. What I’m not happy about is that the character is named Fury.

If you know anything about the lore of the four horsemen, then you know it’s a Biblical story about the apocalypse. Four horsemen will ride over the earth and put humanity through a lot of struggles before it all ends. That’s a short, non-religious explanation of who the horsemen are and what they’re meant to do. The names of the horsemen are Conquest, which is debatable based on the passages, War, Famine, and Death, who was supposed to be the last one to appear, not the second. So my question is why are we getting a game with a character named Fury and then possibly another with a character named Strife?

4 horsemen

Now I know the real answer to this question. It’s most likely a combination of a few main things. The first is that the word famine doesn’t necessarily mean anything to many people today. War and death are still common use terms, but famine (mass starvation due to lack of access to food) simply isn’t a common term anymore. Which is kind of ironic considering the number of people in the world who are currently starving. So marketing a character with that name would be much more difficult than more common use words like fury and strife. To be clear though, those words are only slightly more common today than the word famine. The second is that the word fury is a more direct term for committing acts of violence, which is the premise of the game(s). Famine is a much more passive way for “people” to be hurt. So it’s not nearly as relatable or marketable for a game. But it’s the third issue that is probably the most important. What does/would gameplay for a character named Famine even look like?

Conquest I actually think would be easy to do, but the style and theme of such a word and character wouldn’t work in the Darksiders universe for two reasons. The first is that it’s not dark enough. The Bible describes this horseman as “. . . a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” It’s almost noble looking and kind of nice in a way. A regal looking rider conquering the world like Alexander the Great. This is too colorful and positive for Darksiders. The other issue is that it wouldn’t work in the franchise’s timeline. The first game starts after the apocalypse so there isn’t really any conquest to seek after because all the people are dead. I mean they could still have put the character in but I think it would have been quite out of place in the aesthetic they’ve created in this franchise. If anything I would say they should have split the fourth horsemen into two with one being Death and the other Pestilence. But admittedly the word pestilence is just as dated as famine and no easier to characterize in a hack-n-slash game.

4 horsemen art

The Darksiders franchise is about taking on the roles of the four horsemen. Each one has a set of powers and skills, as well as their appearance, that directly correlates to their name. War looks like a warrior. He wears thick armor, carries a great sword, and has a large build. Death looks like the grim reaper. He carries a large scythe, has a thin skeletal frame, and wears a mask that looks like a skull. Fury, being a more vague term to begin with, simply looks like a warrior, which is fine as long as the fury comes out in her personality. I assume that in her characterization there will be character flaws/attributes such as hotheadedness, jealousy, and a thirst for revenge. Her fighting style will probably be very fast paced and less strategic, but ultimately lethal. This all works fine for a character named Fury, whose name should evoke her character in the same way War and Death have in the past games. It’s a lazy renaming of one of the actual remaining horsemen names because it’s much easier to deal with. I’m sure this happened because it was too challenging to figure out what a fast paced hack-n-slash game would look like with themes like famine and, if we follow my suggestion, pestilence.

Darksiders-III-Fury-Closeup

It’s an honest question that I have given a decent amount of thought to. What would a game starring a character named Famine or Pestilence look like? Let’s start with Famine. When I imagine a character named Famine they are very skinny as if they were on the brink of starvation. Their skin would almost be falling off their bones from malnourishment. Their armor would be dirty and made of something cheap looking like wood or copper. Their hair would be white or even almost transparent due to a lack of vitamins. They would talk very slowly as if they didn’t have the energy to do so. They would have a very depressing outlook on life as a whole. Describing who they are is easy though. The tough question is how would they fight? Assuming we have to remain in the hack-n-slash genre which, for the purposes of this franchise, I think is required, it’s not an easy question to answer. What would his/her weapon be? I think it would be a cleaver or other iconic looking butcher’s knife. Maybe two of them. Valid arguments could be made for why his pace of movement and attacking would be both fast or slow. If he’s starving, he would logically be slow. But if he’s starving that also means he’s really hungry and would seek out prey with greater intensity. Eating his victims would possibly be a component of his combat or at least finishing moves. The movement would be sporadic and there would need to be a component of endurance/energy that the player would constantly be fighting against such as in Dark Souls. The character wouldn’t have a ton of HP. Dodging would be just as important as attacking for Famine’s gameplay. This is all well and good on paper, but would it actually be fun? Who’s to say? My description of Famine sounds authentic, but would you want to play that game? Especially after having already played as War and Death. In my opinion, what I’ve described for Famine sounds like a much harder game than Darksiders I or II. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. But difficulty is only important once the game is fun. A lot of people like Dark Souls because it’s hard, but it’s not the difficulty that makes those games fun. It still comes down to design choices, mechanics, atmosphere, and controls. That’s why a lot of people prefer Bloodborne to Dark Souls. Personally, I prefer Nioh to either of those franchises but happily play all three.

famine

Famine would be difficult but manageable. Pestilence is just hard. Character wise, Pestilence would of course be very sickly. Constantly coughing while talking. Covered in sores and boils. Probably a number of scars or stiches. His/her hair would be haggard and missing in places. They would wear loose fitting clothing that’s dirty and bloodstained. I don’t even think they would wear real armor. In a lot of ways I can see this character more as a female than a male character because I think it would add to the visual effect. As far as gameplay, I really don’t know. Poison would need to be an aspect, but the method of delivery in a hack-n-slash game confounds me. Personally, I actually think a projectile weapon such as a bow would be the better choice, but we already agreed to respect the genre type for the franchise. Maybe claws with poison tips. And a kiss of death finishing move or hold that stuns enemies. I think Pestilence is definitely the most challenging to do well. But now I want to see a studio try.

This franchise is now a lost cause on this issue, but I genuinely want a studio to attempt to make a game where you play as the embodiment(s) of famine and pestilence, actual horseman or not. It would be easier in a franchise that isn’t locked to a specific genre, but in general I still think it would be quite the challenge and I would like to see it done. Even better if they tie it directly to the Biblical passages related to the horsemen in a way truer than that of the Darksiders franchise. All that being said, I will of course be buying Darksiders III and I assume it will be as enjoyable as the first two were. Hopefully it’s better written than the second one was though. How do you feel about the name changes? Would you want to see a game starring Famine, Conquest, or Pestilence?

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