Death is a total badass. But that was to be expected from such an imperative facet of life, humanised in witty horseman form. The new protagonist is just one of many reasons Vigil Games has improved upon what was already a solid, but under-appreciated, foundation.
Darksiders did a commendable job of drawing noticeable inspiration from Zelda’s dungeon exploration and God of War’s ultra violence and mashing them together against the odds. Darksiders II doesn’t shy away from the comparisons, but instead embraces them as it looks to craft yet another unique experience from familiar ideals, with a hefty dose of Prince of Persia. Death scales walls and traverses perilous ledges with apparent ease. There is some accidental jumping into a sea of nothingness to certain death, but after you come to grips with the controls and the need to aim before jumping, you’ll be negating harsh terrains Sands of Time style.
However, it’s by no means a clone. A wise man once told me imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Darksiders II is just that: flattering as a homage to the revered multi-million dollar franchises it draws inspiration from, whilst crafting its own unique adventure. If you’ve ever played any of the aforementioned juggernauts, you’ll feel at home with Darksiders II, but at no point does it slip into blatant copy territory. Solving a challenging puzzle after minutes of confused frustration comes with the nostalgic satisfaction of progressing in a famed Zelda game, and yet a deep analysis will uncover it’s nothing like the conundrums presented to the spiky-eared Link.
Death carries a gun, for one, and there’s lots of wall scaling. It just comes with the same sense of satisfaction and progress when the solution to a puzzle finally makes itself obvious.
Puzzles begin with fairly standard wall-scaling, hitting switches from afar and pulling levers, but soon enough you’ll be grappling around and even splitting into multiple entities.
Darksiders II takes the curious path of running a parallel story to Death’s brother, and fellow horseman, War’s troubles in the original Darksiders. Accused of causing the apocalypse, War was, or should I say is, on a mission to clear his name, whilst Death is doing all he can to acquit his brother from the allege misdemeanors. You by no means have to play the original game, but you’ll have a better time with the surprisingly complicated story if you’re up to date with War’s saga.
The angels versus demons theme is still very much alive, but this time it comes in the midst of a more diverse landscape, injected with much needed colour and inhabited with diverse enemies and allies formed out of necessity. We begin in an icy mountain that soon makes way for an ancient rainforest-esque dungeon, before deserts, creepy blackness and fire. Each area brings with it a new aesthetic appeal in a game world that is around three times the size of its predecessor, which also rings true for the pacing, clocking in at just over 20 hours.
The new map and its pushy fast travel system is both a blessing and a curse. While the overall game map is considerably bigger, outside of the dungeons and main areas there’s little but a baron landscape. You can run around collecting loot, but after being spoilt by the likes of Skyrim, following the active quest line is more enticing than exploring by horse. Within the first hour you’re introduced to the fast travel system, which allows you to return to any previously visited landmark instantly, including merchants to restock supplies from within a dungeon. As a side-effect, however, the bigger world is lost amidst the lure of teleporting everywhere, leaving less incentive to explore.
With that in mind, you’re being sent form A to be B to complete a task, not loiter throughout the journey; there’s no need to linger on horseback. Key locations are brimming with characters willing to help you for something in return. They’ll happily send you on a perilous quest — Darksiders II is primarily a series of fetch quests — and most are even up for a chat, should you give them the option, which Death will soon end with a burst of sarcastic wit.
Death’s adventure is a fairly standard action-dungeon-exploring affair. He is always equipped with a light and heavy but slow weapon that can be used in conjunction to execute some pretty nasty combos, especially when combined with one of the four special moves currently activated. Button-mashing works reasonably well, but only if you’re timing dodges and using special attacks at the opportune moment. He also carries a gun, but this is more prevalent as a solution to the testing puzzles that act as much needed respite between all of the mass murdering.
Darksiders II opens action-heavy, but settles down as you progress and get more involved in the puzzle and adventure elements. They begin with fairly standard wall-scaling, hitting switches from afar and pulling levers, but soon enough you’ll be grappling around and even splitting into multiple entities. Each is cleverly crafted and just that little bit more challenging than the last.
Killing enemies will earn you loot, which can be spent on items, weapons and upgrades. Weapons and items found in the course of play can be equipped immediately or sent to the easy to navigate inventory. It’s nice to be saved the hassle of having to go into the menu every time you want to equip a new item, but to also have the option to stash it away for later. The decision is made simple by an obvious green number representing improvement and red signally a decrease in ability.
That extends to the rudimentary RPG levelling system that implements a two-sided skill tree. With each level-up, comes a skill point that can be spent on warrior or spell-caster abilities. Once unlocked, special attacks can be mapped to a button of your choosing. These are restricted by the Wrath meter, which essentially acts as magic, and is drawn upon each time you activate a special ability, and replenished by killing bad guys or using a potion.
The only striking blemish in Darksiders II’s design is its awkward use of aim and gun control. You never have great control over the firearm, as this isn’t a shooter, but a few unfortunate moments play as if it is. These can be largely overlooked, but I can’t help but wonder if some of the puzzles could have been restructured so the gun could have been replaced by something more appropriate.
The voice acting for its comical wit and art direction deserve to be showered in praise, but unfortunately the latter is let down by disappointing textures that look as if they were ported from the Wii. The use of colours and general design is fantastic, but with some pixelated backgrounds and oddly basic effects keep it from looking as good as it should.
Darksiders II is the game we’ve desperately been awaiting to break the game drought of 2012. It’s clearly inspired by the likes of Zelda, God of War and Prince of Persia, but implements these foundations in its own unique and interesting way that’s just plain fun. The combat system is great, as is the new loot and level implementation that compliments some very clever puzzles. It does have a few minor issues, but in the grand scheme of things, and with a protagonist as inspiring as Death, it’s must play for fans of action-adventure puzzle games.