Serve In Heaven Or Rule In Hell: The Lore Of Darksiders

by Phil Kollar on Jun 10, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Darksiders begins as a straightforward story with heavy mythological overtones. Heaven and Hell go to war during the Apocalypse. War, one of the four horsemen, is summoned to oversee this Endwar. He soon realizes that something is wrong. The other three horsemen are not here. The final seal whose destruction marks the beginning of the Apocalypse has not been broken. He should not have been summoned. There was a mistake. Defeated and blamed by those who rule over him for starting the Endwar early, War swears to bring justice upon whoever framed him, and upon returning to an Earth now 100 years dead, he discovers that a great demon named the Destroyer has led Hell’s forces to victory. Here is the most obvious suspect, the demon who quite likely faked the Apocalypse and set War up to take the fall.

But in the universe of Darksiders, things are often not as they seem. Throughout the first game, War uncovers a surprising amount of intrigue, with double- and triple-crosses on every side of this grand conflict. “We didn’t want it to seem like a one-dimensional universe,” explains Vigil general manager David Adams. You may not entirely realize it from the first game, but the world of Darksiders has many more forces at play than just Heaven and Hell. The angels aren’t necessarily good guys, and the demons aren’t necessarily bad guys. The regular rules do not apply, and in Darksiders II, things are only going to get messier.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the first Darksiders. If you have not yet played this game and don’t want the plot spoiled, I suggest playing it immediately, then coming back to read this article. All good? Awesome!

One of the most important things to note about Darksiders’ fiction is that although Vigil used Christian mythology as a jumping-off point for the game, its adherence to Biblical source material basically stops at the idea of the four horsemen being tied to the Apocalypse. “We’ve always joked that it’s as Christian as Diablo,” Adams says. “Yeah, there are angels and demons and the four horsemen, but it’s really just mostly fantasy. We very purposefully avoided a lot of the religion references. There’s no God in our fiction.” In his place is a mysterious figure referred to only a few times in the first game as the Creator.

Throughout the history of the cosmos, the Creator has tried time and time again to bring balance to the universe. Unfortunately, all of these attempts have failed, leaving behind “countless worlds that have been fed to what we call the Abyss. These are just the war-torn battlefields of the angels and demons of the past.”

The angels and demons of Heaven and Hell that exist in Darksiders are “the latest iteration” of this eternal conflict, but this time a third party known as the Charred Council comes up with a new plan to help avoid the needless destruction of yet another series of worlds. They mediate a truce between the frustratingly evenly matched angels and demons. Adams eagerly lays out the situation: “It’s like a giant stalemate. It’s too balanced, so no side can win. So they make a truce and create a third faction, the kingdom of man.”

The truce decrees that angels and demons must stop fighting directly, but instead can indirectly influence humans to support their side. The various religions and beliefs of human history come about as a by-product of this greater struggle that they know nothing about. “The Charred Council just wants stability,” Adams says. “They don’t care who wins.”

Of course, the Charred Council need a way to convince Heaven and Hell to agree to this treaty. Luckily, they have a weapon: the four horsemen. In the Darksiders lore, the horsemen are the last of an incredibly powerful race of beings known as the Nephilim. Traditional Jewish and Christian ideas hold that the Nephilim are offspring of humans mating with fallen angels, but in Darksiders, the Nephilim are their own, separate race.

“The Nephilim were super-destructive,” explains Adams. “They had all the power of angels and demons but all the ferocity and propensity for destruction of mankind. They were kind of double-bad, so they had to be put down. The four horsemen were selected from them, and they were basically tamed by the Council to hold the peace between the angels and demons.” Adams hints that we’ll discover a lot more about the past of the horsemen and what happened to the Nephilim throughout the course of Darksiders II.

With the horsemen under their control, the Charred Council create seven seals that weaken their power. When the seventh seal is broken, the four horsemen will be summoned to Earth to begin the Apocalypse and witness the Endwar between the demons and angels. Whoever is more successful at swaying humans to their sides will win once and for all, gaining control over the universe. Adams is quick to point out once more that this is not a case of good versus evil: “You typically think of the demons as the bad guys, but they’re not really in Darksiders. Neither side wants destruction. They want order; they just want their own version of order.”

Unfortunately for the Charred Council’s plan, the angels and demons remain ever eager to fight each other, with both sides “perpetually thinking that they can win.” Both sides conspire to begin the Endwar early, and it is actually an angel who finally goes too far. Abaddon, the leader of Heaven’s forces, decides that he cannot wait for fear of Hell growing too powerful. He seeks out two allies: a fellow angel named Azrael and Ulthane, one of the old ones.

Adams explains that the Old Ones are the surviving remnants of any races that remain from previous conflicts. This would include the Charred Council, the horsemen, and Ulthane’s group, the Makers. “Their world still exists, but there’s this theme of decay, like their time has passed. Their world is starting to crumble. They’re a dying people.”

The Makers in particular received their name from their job: building. “They built the White City. They built demon cities too. They’re not really affiliated with anyone,” explains Adams. Although Ulthane was the only Maker around in the first game, this race will play a bigger role in Darksiders II.

With Ulthane and Azrael’s help, Abaddon destroys six of the seven seals, keeping the final intact to ensure that the four horsemen do not interfere with his plan to attack Hell early. The Charred Council has already been alerted, though, and calls an emergency meeting to figure out what to do. They cannot send the four horsemen as a group yet, because they do not know who is at fault for starting the Endwar early. Instead, they elect to send War, the most honorable member of the horsemen, early. They intend to frame him for jumpstarting the Apocalypse and then use his honor against him, make him hunt down the actual culprit for them.

War plummets to Earth as the Endwar rages around him. With his fellow horsemen not showing up, he knows that something is wrong. Then he witnesses a fight between Abaddon and a powerful demon known as Straga. Abaddon is quickly defeated and mutters a telling final sentence: “They knew.” War attempts to fight Straga and is defeated as well, clearly not at full strength because the seventh seal remains intact.

Upon dying, Abaddon is dragged to Hell, where a mysterious female voice confronts him. Fans have speculated that this mystery femme fatale is Lilith, a character whom Biblical legends say was the first wife of Adam and possibly the mother of all demons. A Darksiders art book featured sketches of a character named Lilith with visual similarities to Samael, one of the main demon characters in the first game. It’s possible that she could appear in Darksiders II.

Whoever this female voice is, she convinces Abaddon to “rule in Hell” rather than “serving in Heaven.” He accepts her offer and becomes the Destroyer, returning to Earth to lead Hell’s armies to victory. He nearly wipes out the angels that he once served with, leaving only a small band known as the Hellguard alive.

As all of this happens, War spends 100 years imprisoned by the Charred Council. After accusing him of starting the Apocalypse early and destroying mankind as a result, the Council agrees to keep War alive if he will go to Earth and search for the true perpetrators. He agrees, but by the time the Council has returned him to Earth, he finds the planet utterly ravaged and devoid of life.

It is not until late in the game when War frees the angel Azrael from the Black Throne that War finally begins to piece together exactly what happened. Azrael invites War into the mystical world of Eden, where the horsemen approaches the Tree of Life and is granted a vision revealing exactly what went down with Abaddon. He rushes to confront the one now known as the Destroyer and, with the aid of Abaddon’s once-lover Uriel, defeats him.

One of Darksider’s greatest moments, one that gained the most praise from gamers, was its ending. In a last-ditch effort to save War, Uriel breaks the seventh seal. She tells War how he will be hunted – by Heaven, Hell, the Charred Council, and quite possibly others besides. “You would wage this war alone?” she asks incredulously.

“No,” he answers, lifting up the broken pieces of the seventh seal. “Not alone.” The camera pans up to reveal three comets racing toward Earth to join War. This cliffhanger did an incredible job of sending gamers’ imaginations racing with thoughts of where the next game could lead. Four-player co-op with the four horsemen? It seemed inevitable.

Sadly, since Darksiders II takes place during the same time period as the first game, the payoff promised by that final cutscene is still off in the future somewhere. “If everything works out, we want to resolve that storyline,” Adams promises. “We have an idea of how the full story thread plays out. In this universe, the four horsemen being summoned and appearing is a huge deal. It’s a major thing. We really want to build to that.”

The first step to building to it in Darksiders II will be creating better ways for players to gain information on the intricacies of the universe, details that were often left vague or barely mentioned in the first game. “There is way more lore in Darksiders II,” Adams says. “There are more NPCs talking and giving background. You visit a lot of secondary races, like the Makers. You get exposed to these other facets of the universe. It gives way more context on what’s going on.” Hopefully, that context will help immerse gamers even more into the rich fiction of Vigil's ambitious and expanding franchise.

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