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A couple weeks back I finally gave Darksiders a whirl and was immediately drawn into its ghoulish post-apocolyptic world. War's (the game's main character) story of redemption and revenge – while not terribly original – was enough of a hook to keep me fairly engaged, yet it was the many traits the title shares with my beloved Legend of Zelda series that ultimately made me go coo coo for Cocoa Puffs. Everything from the level design (theme-based temples anyone?) to the gameplay (z-targeting, silky-smooth and enjoyable combat, riding around on the equivalent of Epona's steriod-laden doppelganger, collecting ever-so handy items at just the right time, etc.) to the boss battles (hello handy item I recently found, now's your time to shine), Darksiders is imbued with Zelda character through and through. And as you might imagine, I couldn't be happier. That is, until I got a good taste of the save/checkpoint system developer Vigil Games decided to utilize for the title. Son of a...I got my first taste of the brilliance that is the Darksiders save/checkpoint system when I ran across a cute little foe named Trauma. While the encounter itself isn't all that significant, what should be noted is the fact that after I died I was ever so lovingly transported back to what was my supposed checkpoint. And as the game would have it, that certain checkpoint wasn't anywhere near the place I was when I bit the big one. Awesome. So not only did I have to travel all the way back to the location of my forthcoming battle with Trauma, but I also had to deal any annoying little minions along the way. All in all, it took a good couple of minutes of me wasting my life away before I was actually back in the thick of things with Trauma – talk about a buzz-kill. And, to make matters worse, upon reaching Trauma I had to sit through the same canned animation of that pile of crap appearing out of nowhere a half mile down some road and subsequently throwing a car at me. There was no way to skip this sequence. I had to watch it in its entirety again. Ok, so let's get this straight: You're going to punish me for dying (because dying in and of itself isn't punishment enough, obviously) by making me trek all the way back to the point in which I had just lost my life only to make me sit through a sequence I've already seen and have absolutely no interest in seeing again? What year is this, 1997? This type of game design should be dead and long gone by now. And yet here we are in the year 2010. What am I missing here? Is this some lame attempt to artificially increase the play time of the game or do the developers have a little sadism coursing through their veins? Not being able to skip certain cutscenes after having already viewed them – multiple times?! I thought such a narcissistic mentality regarding game design died long ago with the likes of other bloated titles such as Final Fantasy VIII. How is it that tactics that do nothing more than bog down and undermine a player's overall experience continue to persist in this day and age? It just boggles the mind. But that's only half of it. Unfortunately there's another facet of Darksiders that gets under my skin – the manner in which the game tracks your progress should you save then quit and come back to play at a later point in time. I assumed (silly me) that – like any other sane-minded game – should you save in a particular spot, the game (upon loading your saved data) would deliver you to the exact same spot with any and all progress achieved (items collected, levers pulled, etc.) the next time you booted the title up. I mean, that seems to be the general trend more and more games are embracing these days. Anyway, so here I am working my way through the Twilight Cathedral (simply sublime level design, by the way) and loving every minute of it when I come across a puzzle-based room that has me stumped. I figure out about half the puzzle – placing certain bombs here, pulling certain levers there – and collect some random power-up items before deciding to quit for the night. Thus I save my game with the full belief that, upon booting up the game the next time I play, I'll start out in the exact location with everything I've collected and done up to said save point intact. Wrong.
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While I understand devs desire to make the game more challenging and thus more rewarding by not just allowing quicksaves all the time, it can get really old. In fact, its one of my major gripes about the Dead Rising series. Hour of work + backtracking back and forth, then look! surprise boss and you didn't save! Enjoy doing all that over again! ugh.
I was wondering if Jeff would mention Dead Rising in his article. He didn't but Mourt does.
Anyway DR is a game I hear mentioned alot in gripes about save systems, but in that case I'd say it's definitely not a case of a broken save system, just an intentionally unforgiving one. Another series that has similar save systems, which have similarly been made a little more friendly over time, is Way of the Samurai. In the original one on PS2 it actually deleted your character when you loaded up your save, that way if you died you were dead and couldn't reset you way out of it.
Dead Rising is a bit more forgiving than that, but at least it uses a "new game +" system where your character's lvl/pp caries over. At any rate, I like that it was made intentionally difficult and forced you to really perfect your "lines" as you raced to save the survivors while getting all the necessary breadcrumbs to keep the story going. I don't think there was anything wrong with the system, other than some save menu option text that lost something in translation. The problem, for the first DR, came with the totally wonky AI combined with the necessity to time everything right. The series is not intended to be one in which you can play through one time and see everything; for people who dislike second playthroughs, this can be a deal breaker, but it's a direction I don't want to see changed so that DR appeals to the masses.
Luckily DR2 has vastly improved survivor AI (I also suspect they are more able to avoid zombie entanglement in this outing, as a result of reduced "stickiness" of zombies). That combined with the fact that you get some extra save slots to avoid saving yourself into a corner/impossible time-crunch means this game executes better on making you sweat the clock without cheap survivor deaths to dampen the fun.
i enjoyed the hell out of this game. though, i do believe i know the part you're talking about in regards to Trauma. i'm guessing it's the part where you're jumping across broken sections of what looks to be a highway and get to the last section and then he appears way back where you first were and then jumps to your location, etc., etc. i recall dieing there myself and having to watch that whole thing again. luckily it only happened once, so it was all good after that.
This actually related to me and my friend as we were playing Mafia 2 today. He had fought gang members for a good 5 minutes so far and makes it into a warehouse with what looks like a checkpoint in it. As Molotov cocktails are being flung down upon him he eventually burns to death. Where does he spawn? Not inside the warehouse but instead right at the start of the fight. He preceded to die many times after that at the same spot and cursing all the way to the bank.
Remember when games had no save points and instead codes? Me neither but I really didn't see any problem with Darksiders but that just me.
I can't stand games with messed up saves. All I want from a game is frequent auto-saves. I also wish every game kind of followed FF13. If you die in a battle you spawn right back in front of them, it worked out nicely.
Another game driving me crazy with saves is Mafia 2. I'll be almost through to the next checkpoint which takes 15 minutes to get to, then if you die. You go way back.
i couldn't agree more. modern games should have a save anywhere feature imo. does that make it too easy? perhaps but like you i play for fun and don't need artificial penalties for failure.
short of saving anywhere, boss or sub-boss battles should have checkpoints immediately prior to your engagement. also, checkpoints after any significant progress should be automatic.
most important, checkpoints should be hard saves, not soft ones. i appreciate soft saves, but over a challenging level that takes time they're of no use when i have to quit mid-level.
the one game i ever returned out of hundreds was state of emergency 2. the save libra level had soft saves inbetween street level gun battles, gunship battles, rappelling battles and office battles.
i died repeatedly during every segment and because there were no hard saves inbetween and i only have late nights to play, i had to start each day at the beginning, negating any progress i made the night before.
such game design as you describe and we all experience is cheap imo and should be relegated to video game history. nice blog and here's hoping it's soon a thing of the past.
And the worst of them all is Left 4 Dead 1 and 2! I make it to the final level but its like 1:00 AM so i go to bead, ready to annihilate the next morning. I get up at 6:00 AM, go play the chapter i had been waiting for for a full 5 hours, play and beat the chapter, and then it doesnt even know i beat the entire level! So if you think Darksiders is bad, you are wrong. Dead wrong. Like, Left for Dead, wrong!
Yeah I also found the save/check point system in this game to be rather annoying and i'm actually one of the few who was left with positive thoughts about this game. But regardless, having to travel alllllll the way back to where you were after dying, got really old, really fast.
Ha, I agree with Kyle! I've recently been playing Left 4 Dead and it's horrible how the game can't tell what you have completed unless you go from start to finish in one sitting. THAT'S frustrating!
But I see what you mean Jeff. I wasn't a huge fan of Fallout 3, but it was essential to be able to save wherever I wanted and start right back up where I left off. It would be so frustrating to figure out some puzzle and then not be able to pick up where I left off.
Yea some games hit the nail on the head, while others are just a train wreck. It's good to see the ones that work.
HEY! Jeff!! STOP DISSING FINAL FANTASY EIGHT! Seriously not nice. What are your reasons for such dis-honor?
I think every game ever made should go to the Steel Battalion mode of saving: if your character dies you lose everything and must start over. I feel this will be a popular change for MMO games and other genres where you invest many hours into a character/party.
*sigh* It is indeed refreshing to read about the same frustrations I went through while playing Darksiders. This was the only game Ive ever had to refer to some kind of guide to figure *** out.
But, it's very possible that that's just me. Either way, i share your opinion whole heartedly.
The save system in checkpoints in Mass Effect 2 can get to be a bit of a pain in the ass when you're playing through on Insanity. It wouldn't be so bad if you could always save at any point, but any time there's a baddie, even a few rooms away, you can't save. Also, there are some auto-save checkpoints that don't always take the first time around for some reason, and some breathers between waves that give you one brief chance to save before you enter combat again (or guys show up somewhere near enough to disable saving).
Bad save systems will make me drop the controller, grit my teeth, and put the game back on the shelf for a few months. Frustration ruins fun.
In some games the save system adds to the challenge, but in others it just gets in the way of enjoying the game. Once I figured out that Darksiders saved every time you changed areas, I'd just do that whenever I wanted to save. However I did make sure to go through each of the "temples" in its entirety, I never tried to do half of it then come back or anything like that, so I guess that's why I had a better time with it.
Mass Effect's save system was annoying at times, but most of the time I could save when I want (as you could tell if you looked at my save file, between ME1 and 2 and probably saved 300+ times).
Halo's save system was pretty close to what I expect, most of the time it'd save right about when I thought it would, though it was annoying to go through a huge firefight and get killed by the last enemy before the checkpoint and have to redo it all...and that was only on Heroic. I can't even imagine Legendary.