Developer: Vigil Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
It’s been about two and a half years since Darksiders, where we saw War riding out in a premature apocalypse. Whereas the first game was centered on War, Darksiders II focuses on Death, another of the four horsemen. Darksiders II also takes place alongside the first game but in a different locale; the Underworld instead of Earth.
In Darksiders II, Death journeys to the Underworld in order to prove his brother’s innocence. In order to do this, he must revive humanity from its extinction brought upon by the early apocalypse. That’s not an easy task as Death soon learns. He travels through huge open spaces, currying favor with those that can help him reach his goal.
Through the game’s story, we find that the four horsemen have been denied many secrets by those above them in order to keep them as the pawns they are. Because of this, the player’s knowledge is closely tied with Death. Most things that we’re learning for the first time, Death is too.
“I have to go alone.”
Death’s journey, much like War’s, is one of solitude. For the most part Death travels alone, riding upon his horse Despair only when the distances are great. His raven, Dust, accompanies him from far above, searching for new passages for Death to traverse.
This solitude gives weight to the enormity of Death’s task. The sweeping vistas of the Underworld rise high above our hero, dwarfing the power that we may associate with a character bearing such an infinite name.
What I’ve found especially fascinating is how easily the franchise has stepped away from the apocalypse being a human event, instead concerning itself with the other powers in conflict. Humans are but a weak cog in the machine. And again, looking at how imposing the environments are when depicted alongside Death, I realize that the horsemen are in the same boat. That makes Death’s journey extra fantastic.
The encounters that Death has with the talking denizens of the Underworld have a tone of curiosity and frustration. No one is willing to give Death a straight answer and everyone has a problem for him to solve. This is the same way that War was treated in the first game. All moments are tense.
I am told by some that the Darksiders series reminds them of The Legend of Zelda games but with different trappings. Burning warhorses and necrotic powers instead of gleaming shields and pointy hats. I’m not comfortable making that comparison since I don’t follow the Zelda games at all.
I will say that Darksiders II is an explorer’s tome. The lore that the first game introduced us to has been dutifully fleshed out and filled with numerous other details. Everything in the game has both a satisfying concept and execution. The story is simply hard to step away from, with Death being strung along into new areas every hour. Each area has its own personality and story, difficult for a game based so much upon the idea of death and the Underworld.
At its core, Darksiders II is a very well done comic book game.
That is, it looks very good. It’s obvious that a lot of effort was put into the game’s art. Except for a few dingy spots with flat textures and no decorations, Darksiders II knocks it out of the park with huge polished landscapes. The various dungeons you traverse are rightly sinister in their look.
Every character you encounter is fluidly animated. Rock monsters, zombies and of course skeleton warriors all stand in your way with detailed models and sharp effects. I especially liked how the corrupted rock monsters would rebuild themselves after being knocked down. The first time I saw those black tentacles that pulled the being together once more, I was in awe enough to miss a dodge from a different adversary.
The game is played in the traditional third-person angle but the camera makes a few choice cuts here and there in order to show off awesome views. Each of these great moments could be captured as a frame and put into a comic book. The staging was very well done.
Speed is emphasized in Darksiders II. Whereas War had overwhelming power and high impact bashes and blocks, Death is content to flash around the battlefield picking off individual enemies with juggle combos and evasive attacks. Most enemies are staggered when you attack them, which makes for easy pickings in group battles.
In the beginning, combat is effortless to engage in. Death and his arsenal are both easy to wield in melee combat. Though you may know Death to wield dual scythes in the promotional material you’ve seen about the game, Death also mixes in secondary weapons like glaives, bucklers and hammers. You even get a gun early on in the game. As time goes on, things get more complicated, with resilient enemies to be wary of.
Dodging is fun in this title, especially when you’re locked onto a single target. There’s a cinematic flair to it that is hard to match.
As I sit here and tell you how fun it was to perform combos in the triple digits, I do feel that it’s a bit easy. Playing on Apocalyptic difficulty is a cinch considering how easy it is to evade and take advantage of your enemies. I actually recommend bumping up to that difficulty if you’re a reasonably experienced action game fan since the standard difficulty will not provide much of a challenge.
That said, I’m quite pleased with it overall and am especially grateful that the enemies in this game are quick on their feet. Keeping your distance in this game just won’t do when each enemy moves as fast as you.
Darksiders II gives us a looting system, a first for the series. Since your stats are dependent upon your equipment, collecting new pieces is important to overall progress. By that I mean that it’s a good idea to have new gear (and potions) before tackling a new boss. You don’t want to be chipping away at your enemies do you?
Darksiders II has the standard offensive and defensive stats along with a few fun ones including elemental attributes and wrath on crit. Weapon-wise, you can also expect to run into what’s known as Possessed Weapons. These are customizable weapons that can eat your unwanted gear in order to level up. Each level up comes with static upgrades as well as a choice between a few options. For instance, the claws that I used for a while allowed me to upgrade them with resistance and health on crit along with a very good damage range.
Darksiders II comes with a healthy variety of boss fights. Instead of being purely hack and slash affairs, the boss fights are done with a few gimmicks and moments of good timing. If you can’t figure it out quick enough, the game has this way of zooming in on exactly what you need to do.
Honestly, the biggest part of Darksiders II is probably the traversal and puzzle mechanics. Let me put it this way: if you get stuck, it will be because of the puzzles and not a particularly hard combat encounter.
As with combat, Death is very agile when it comes to climbing. If you’re used to our old friend Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, you’ll notice that Death is much quicker on his feet and I would say a lot easier to control. Part of that comes from the obvious parkour paths that you are meant to follow. They’re very easy to spot once you get used to them. Tip: look for wooden beams and ledges, that’s where you want to go.
You can probably tell from my glowing review that I put Darksiders II in high regard. What little I found wrong with it stemmed more from being highly scrutinizing than anything else. That is to say, this game is very well polished and very fun. After having only a decent experience with the first game, I’m happily surprised with how well put together the sequel is.
It’s fleshed out, it’s huge and it’s rewarding. Darksiders II is a perfect display of what gamers deserve in a sequel. I can’t wait to see how the franchise continues with the next installment.