On January 23rd, millions of gamers waited with bated breath as the sale of THQ’s assets became public that afternoon. Saints Row, Turtle Rock’s new game, South Park: The Stick Of Truth, Relic Entertainment, each of these properties struck a chord with the gamers that had supported them despite their publishers infinite vortex of financial instability. Shortly after 3pm, the news broke. The collective sigh of relief from gamers around the world seemed almost audible. With most properties finding new homes that could hopefully provide the marketing power necessary to sell these products, the possibility of an impassioned fanbase losing its favorite title dissipated. For everyone but Darksiders fans that is.
Another million, actually, thousands is probably more accurate, started the grieving process quickly with an outcry of anger, sadness and speculation immediately following the announcement no publisher had purchased Vigil Games, developer of last years Darksiders II. Darksiders never garnered the commercial success it may have warranted, given it melded the fluidity of God of War’s combat with the puzzle-laden dungeons of Legend of Zelda. Instead, like seemingly every underperformer, it crafted a powerful fan base incredibly protective of the franchise.
Vigil’s inability to sell wasn’t unsurprising. Darksiders II launched to middling sales just the year before after a fairly impressive promotional campaign by fledgling THQ. Studios with unsuccessful franchises are rarely attractive, but with a prototype already in production for their new game codenamed Crawler, Vigil would’ve had to blow a publisher away with a product to warrant the massive investment triple AAA games require nowadays. When it came down to the bottom line, Vigil couldn’t cut it.
A rumor that Crytek’s new studio composed of ex-Vigil employees may acquire the IP spread online after the sale. It proved a tease for over-exuberant fans, count me among them. Instead, when the final sale of THQ’s remaining assets surfaced, a little known publisher called Nordic Games purchased people’s beloved Darksiders. Cue the collective, “Huh?”
Nothing would have satisfied Darksiders fans unless Vigil sold as a complete package to keep making Darksiders, but a relatively unknown publisher picking up both Darksiders and another fan favorite in Red Faction? The backlash was inevitable.
“Please do not destroy the Darksiders franchise,” read one comment before pleading their case as a fan of the series. A more succinct summation of many fan opinions came courtesy of Scott Gray who eloquently commented, “Yes, PLEASE do not fuck this up.” The sentiment seems apt for most fans and probably wasn’t unexpected for Nordic Games. Their catalog is most known for the Painkiller remakes, Spellforce series and an assortment of point and click adventure games.
Not exactly the lineup fans want to see from a publisher expected to find a studio capable of creating an open-world action based RPG that includes extensive dungeons. It seems unfair, but Nordic Games will be defined by how they handle these acquisitions. They will become the publisher that squandered two fantastic franchises in the eyes of fans, or the savior that resurrected two series that seemed destined for the gaming graveyard alongside Shenmue and Bullestorm.
Does Nordic deserve the benefit of the doubt for saving these series in the first place? Probably. Will they? No. To realistically expect new incarnations of these titles on the level of their previous entries is ludicrous. A small-time publisher can’t provide the capital necessary to create the visions fans will expect for new sequels. I’m all for empowering smaller games to reach new audiences, but if these franchises couldn’t sell under THQ, there’s no way they’ll sell under Nordic’s leadership.
Darksiders is one of my favorite franchises. I will root for it to return until Nordic tells me it’s axed. I’m not holding my breath though; the economic reality of the situation is that Darksiders will probably never return with the proper sequel fans expect.
Perhaps Vigil should have chosen Strife for their second entry, Death now appears an unfair foreshadow of the franchise’s fate. THQ marketed Darksiders II with the tagline, “Death lives”. Now it seems a cruel prescient oxymoron.