GAME NAME: Darksiders II
DEVELOPER(S): Vigil Games
PLATFORM(S): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
GENRE(S): Action adventure with RPG elements
RELEASE DATE(S): 21/8/2012 (EU), 14/08/2012 (NA)
The new season’s games lineup kicked off impressively. We were presented with Sleeping Dogs, which I will review in the following days, and Darksiders II. THQ is desperate to reach the days of seeing profit again, and while it might sound harsh, their status benefitted us, gamers. Because, when desperate, they do the best they can to attract people, and Darksiders II stands as one of the best games I’ve gotten my hands onto, and one of the best sequels I can think of.
Starring War’s brother, Death, the game is set in parallel with the first game’s events. To sum up, without spoiling, the Apocalypse has started on Earth, and everyone blames the Horseman of the Apocalypse, War. But is he really to blame? In the first game, we had to play as War, and try to prove we didn’t start any war, and any Apocalypse. In the sequel, Death, the oldest of the Four Horsemen, sets on a journey to revive all the humans that died during the Apocalypse, as an attempt to prove the Horsemen are not behind it. The other two Horsemen, the gun-wielding Strife and the only female of the group, Fury, also make an appearance, for the first time in the games, as they were shown in the comics during the first game’s release. And thus, another lengthy quest starts, one that reminds you of the first game, but is better by leaps and bounds.
While the second game doesn’t focus that much on story, since you’re expected to at least know the storyline from the first game if you haven’t played it yourself, that doesn’t mean its story is weak. At first glance, some of it looks like a series of fetch-quests, something very common in modern games. You might be the Messiah, you might be Death himself, but random X guy orders you to fetch something for him, and you must do it. It’s true that some of Darksiders II’s quests follow that structure, but there’s reasoning given behind it, which I can’t reveal without spoiling the story.
To put it bluntly; you know the story. You are not playing Darksiders II to learn the story, but to witness it from Death’s point of view. Darksiders II didn’t wow me because of its story, but because of everything Death can do, and everything that shapes around your actions. The environments are far more appealing, and the color palette is much more diverse. In the first game, you had fiery dungeons, the modern city, or anything else there was – the environments were not really varied, visually, and for me, were forgettable. In Darksiders II, you have a beautiful, big forest, more delighting dungeons, and a more lively world in general. You have a world tempting you to explore it. Although, the fact that the world is bigger and prettier does not always mean it’s better. Sometimes, the beautiful environments feel barren, and devoid of something meaningful to do. You are free to ride around on Despair, your otherwordly horse, but sometimes, you’ll gallop on and on until you find a chest, some enemies, or a dungeon to explore. The very clever addition of Fast Traveling to certain spots on the map from everywhere is more innovative than you might think. It’s one of the first such games that comes to mind when I think of this feature, simply because the games in its genre do not follow its world structure, and thus, do not have the need for Fast Traveling. But if a game is big enough, and you have to walk your way everywhere – especially if the worlds are lifeless – Fast Traveling can save it from total doom, which keeps me wondering why haven’t more games implemented it in the way Darksiders II did.
The game borrows heavily from other games, and is not shy to show that. It’s not outright stealing, but rather, building upon tried and true mechanics and themes. You get Zelda’s world structure, you get God of War’s weapon-based combat, you get Prince of Persia’s brand-new (for this franchise) wall running abilities, you get a Diablo-like loot system, but they’re woven together in such a good way that you don’t mind having seen them first in other games. Simply put; Death is War 2.0. Exploration is now both vertical and horizontal, with combinations sometimes needed to reach ground you otherwise never would be able to. And the puzzles, the dungeons, they feel more diverse and appealing, and climbing the difficulty ladder as you progress through the game. It’s one of those games that has puzzles challenging you, in a good manner; you want to solve them yourself instead of going the easy, internet way, and that, in my opinion, is good design. The game also has a cleverly implemented “hinting system”, Death’s loyal crow, Dust. By clicking in the left stick, you get Dust to point you in the right direction, where you need to go to complete your quest. Don’t expect Dust sitting on things you need to interact with though, or anything similar; the crow is not holding your hand, it merely points you to the right direction, and lets you find your path. A clever feature, if you ask me, which I’d also love to see in other games. The dungeons are no longer looking the same and the same after a while, as they did for me in the first game. While it’s true that the area design was not too repetitive, I was bored of the same colors and props over and over again during long sessions. In Darksiders II, this is mended. You get to see a lot of dungeons, explore them, battle in them, but how Death’s actions change the world around him and breathe life into it is what sucks you in to continue. Speaking of battles…
Darksiders always had much in common with God of War, but to be perfectly honest, I think the combat was, at least initially, lackluster. And if the first impression is not that good nor inviting, you are wondering whether you should continue or not. Thankfully, Vigil listened, and the second game is much improved in that aspect, too. War’s primary weapon was a sword, and another button was mapped to his secondary weapon. This hasn’t changed in Darksiders II; what has changed is the tools being offered to the player. Instead of executing the same combos over and over to get your enemy into a critical state and execute them, you now have a lot more to think of before heading into battle. Death’s primary weapons are dual, short scythes, of medium attack speed and moderate damage. The improvements, though, kick in when you get your hands on valuable secondary weapons. Axes, hammers, glaives, huge scythes, claws – there’s just a whole lot of items to choose from, and each has its own set of variables that affect Death and his enemies in battle. For example, a big hammer is extremely slow, but you know each hit will be devastating. But there you are, split between thinking whether you should search for that one big blow, or spend a lot of time cancelling attacks mid-way because you want to dodge, or even have them cancelled because you were surprise-attacked. That’s when you think, “should I equip my claws?”, which grant you a better Execution Chance percentage, or a better Critical Attack percentage, or some elemental damage. Sure, you sacrifice a lot of your damage, but are far quicker and agile, and that might suit your playstyle. Plus, there’s also Possessed Weapons in play, which basically means, upgradeable, powerful weapons. To upgrade them, you can “feed” them with other weapons or armor pieces, and more rare pieces grant more experience to it. As the weapon levels up, you are presented with 3 different upgrade choices, varying from better Defence rates to better Critical Attack rates, and much more.
And then, there are the bosses, an integral part of such a game. You can imagine what the menu has for you: giant, ugly creatures that can break you in one hit, or smaller, more versatile predators. They’re not the typical “hit to kill” types of bosses, though, at least for the biggest part. You have to understand their pattern, or work out a strategy using the environment, in order to defeat them, and claim the valuable loot they drop for yourself. Although, in their vast majority, the bosses are far from disappointing, I have to say the final boss was not as impressive as I believed it would be. My expectations were rising and rising after each beast I defeated, leading me to believe there would be a showdown of epic scale for me at the end, but ultimately, it was just not what I believed it would be, in terms of difficulty and strategy.
As in the first game, there’s also the abilities, and Darksiders II is improved in that part, too. Instead of having a single skill tree, you get the Harbinger (warrior) and the Necromancer (mage) trees, and you can either focus on one, or get abilities from both. That way, Death becomes much more versatile, and it’s incredible to see how you can successfully chain abilities into your combos. There’s a range of them, too; from summoning minions to performing fatal blows, or transforming Death into his real form, which is very similar to our interpretation of the Grim Reaper visually.
A wholly new feature for the game is the loot system. Death can be equipped with a ton of varied weapons, as well as armor covering the sections of: neck, chest, legs, gloves, and a slot for talismans. Loot can be gained from chests and opponents, and it also includes Gold, which can be spent to buy equipment and consumables from the various vendors present throughout the game. But loot can also be sold at these same vendors, or used to feed the aforementioned Possessed Weapons. Loot can also be sent to or from your online friends, giving you something to do long-term. Who doesn’t like boasting to their friends about their loot? And it’s not there just to be there – loot actually scales as you do, and has level requirements before you can use it. That means, have to make progress if you want to see what the game has for you, which serves as a constant incentive to keep playing on and on, and see Death’s journey come to an end.
Covering the voice and music sections, there isn’t much to say apart from that they’re brilliant. It’s amazing how Death’s voice is calm, and he’s sometimes a sarcastic jerk, but still, you get to feel for him. He is the one who takes souls, but to save his brother, he is willing to revive everyone. Who thought Death had a heart? But we wouldn’t feel anything for him, if the voice acting present in the game was not as good as it is, and the music wasn’t as awe-inspiring as it is. I’ve already said how its landscapes are great, artistically, but if they weren’t accompanied by fitting music, they would be soulless. The general sounds are also great, from your horse to the sound of steel clashing with steel, you get a feeling of satisfaction when triumphing over your enemies.
In terms of content, the game is simply excellent. A lengthy adventure, with a lot of great gameplay in it, which can be played again through a New Game+, granting you the Death you finished with as he is to play the game again, in a more difficult setting. Plus, we got the Crucible Arena mode, which is, as its name suggests, an arena. That can be played over and over again, and given how well-implemented the game’s combat mechanics are, I’m sure people will stick with it for a long time, considering it even has stat-tracking so you can compare with your friends or people worldwide. Carrying over your character to the NG+ also means that the scaling loot system will give you more rewarding items, giving you another incentive to play the game further.
The game is not without its share of bugs, though, which is a shame. Random bugs appear throughout, but at least in my experience, nothing game-breaking. It’s a shame though, being immersed in the world that Vigil created, and then instantly getting sucked out because of a random bug that might make an enemy’s death cry loop, or the framerate drop for a couple of seconds. It should be noted, the game was reviewed on the Playstation 3, and thus, I have no knowledge of technical hiccups on the other two platforms. It should also be noted that the game will be joining Nintendo’s console, the Wii U, on launch.
Regarding the Collector’s Edition, which was priced at 93€ here in Greece, it included a replica of Death’s mask, in real size, a rather big artbook, and a ton of DLC for me to get my hands onto. Ranging from new dungeons, equipment pieces, or the game’s soundtrack, I feel the DLC codes I was offered with my purchase were worth the extra 33€, since I also got the artbook that showcases the game’s really strong art style, and a mask that adds a whole new level of creepiness to my “Collector’s Shelf”.
To sum up and close: Darksiders II improves vastly upon its predecessor, to the point of it feeling like a brand new game. An array of new features, modes and mechanics are inviting you to witness the Apocalypse, through Death’s eyes, and save your brother from the treacherous plot organized against him, and everyone. Vigil and THQ’s game is one of the best, and richest, Action Adventure RPG’s I’ve played in years, and I’ve played a lot of games.
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