GAME NAME: Darksiders II
DEVELOPER(S): Vigil Games
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
GENRE(S): Action Adventure
RELEASE DATE(S): August 14, 2012
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Armageddon has come and gone, the human race is no more and it’s up to the Pale Rider himself to undo the damage and save his brother in the process. That, in a nut shell is the setup for Darksiders II from Vigil Games. A sequel to the great (if not underappreciated) 2010 original which starred the brutish horseman War whom is awaiting his judgement from the Charred Council following the events of the first game. This time out you’ll be stepping into the boney boots of the most feared horsemen of all, Death.
Darksiders II picks up in parallel to the events of the first game as Death sets out to prove that War is the victim of a deep rooted conspiracy involving all sorts of angelic and demonic creatures. In order to save War, Death has the fairly simple task of undoing the Apocalypse, no biggie right? Achieving this involves traversing through several realms, some old and some new and meeting a colourful cast of angels, demons and every kind of creature in between. You may even learn a thing or two about how the horsemen cam to be. The first Darksiders got a great deal of favorable comparisons to some truly classic games but many seemed a bit put off that it didn’t have a true identity and while Darksiders II doesn’t reinvent the wheel it does enough to stand out from the pile and is a much more entertaining game because of it.
Thankfully the gameplay hasn’t been altered too much, the combat is still as fast and furious as ever if not more so do to the fact that Death is a much more agile fighter than his brother. Using his twin scythes and an arsenal of secondary weapons ranging from speedy yet weak gauntlets to powerful, yet slow hammers Death makes short work of most of his foes. While it was a blast to slash through crowds with War’s sword in the original it did manage to feel stale by the end, a problem that Darksiders II avoids due to the variety of styles you can use in combat. Starting a battle by slicing and dicing with your trusty scythes before effortlessly switching to a large mace and clobbering a demon into next week proves very rewarding and once that starts to get old you can switch things up to one of Death’s other secondary weapons and let’s not forget that you’ll also be packing some heat in the form of a handgun called Redemption. Throw in some of Death’s special gear abilities coupled with a huge range of combat moves and skills to learn and you can see how the possibilities are nearly endless.
It’s not all about the combat though, you’ll recall if you played the first game that Darksiders like its sequel is filled with all manner of puzzle filled dungeons. It’s in these dungeons that Darksiders II wears its influences on its sleeve much in the same way as its predecessor, which again is not a bad thing. In addition the challenge presented by dungeons has been bumped up a few notches as over the original, finding your way to whatever boss awaits you is no easy task. Death, like War before him comes packed with an array of gear for solving puzzles including favourites from the first game such as the Voidwalker (think Portal) and some cool new toys, such as the Soul Splitter which literally splits Death into two versions of himself while leaving behind a stone representation of his true form. Trust me when I say this tool leads to some innovative puzzles which at times will leave you scratching your head for a while before slapping yourself for missing the obvious. Some of these tools also come into play in combat like the Death Grip, which like the hook shot can be used to pull Death closer to larger objects or grab smaller ones from afar. As you progress through the game and earn new tools the dungeons will become more varied and require the use of many if not all of the items at your disposal and while they are no cake walk they also won’t have you too lost for too long. The team at Vigil found a nice middle ground that at times didn’t exist in the first game.
One of the most striking aspects of the original Darksiders was Joe Madureira’s style which thankfully has been carried over and improved. If you loved the way the first game looked back then, then you’ll find more to love as there is a greater variety in the characters you’ll meet and realms you’ll explore but if for whatever reason you were wishing for something a bit different, sadly you’re out of luck. The color palette has been greatly expanded as you’ll find yourself in a lush forest one minute and the next you’ll quite literally find yourself in hell. There is even a small portion of the game which brings Death to post-apocalyptic Earth bringing back fond memories of the first game although this section does change the gameplay slightly making the game more a shooter for a short time, the change doesn’t really make sense and feels a bit out of place but not enough to hurt the game.
The cast of characters you’ll bump into are also aided by some fine voice acting led by Death himself voiced by Michael Wincott (The Crow, Alien: Resurrection) whom does a fantastic job, probably one of the better voice acting roles this year and while they may not exactly be reading Shakespeare they never disappoint or come off as cheesy. It’s also nice not hearing Nolan North for once, sorry Nolan but give some other people work will ya?! Jesper Kyd (Assassins Creed, Hitman) does fine work as the games composer hitting all the right notes at all the right times without becoming too overbearing in the process. Sadly Mark Hamill’s The Watcher is no where to be seen (or heard).
Surely there are some stumbles along the way, right? Well yes but only a few, one of my few complaints with Darksiders II would have to be that some of the realms are not as expansive as others. The Forge Lands is the first realm you’ll travel to and you should get used to it because you’ll find yourself there for a large chunk of time. While there is a decent amount of variety from one end of the Forge Lands to the other you still spend far too much time there, time that I would have liked to spend exploring the heavenly Lostlight or hellish Blackstone…maybe in a another sequel? Overall there is a fair amount of ground to cover on your trusty steed, fittingly named Despair. However, if you’re one of the impatient among us (guilty) then the team at Vigil has you covered as they decided to include a fast travel system, a feature that was sorely lacking from the first game. No longer will you be riding through the same long stretches of plains to get from point A to point B and back again, unless of course that is you want to in which case enjoy. Once you enter a new location it is placed on your map and you’ll be able to zip around in no time, it makes completing secondary missions much less painful.
Some of the new gameplay additions to Darksiders II are the customization and loot systems. These two additions work in tandem as once you cut through a wave of baddies or smash up a few pots you’ll more than likely be presented with a wealth of gold, potions, armor and weapons. Armor loot comes in several types including shoulder guards, gauntlets, boots and body armor. Weapon loot comes in two varieties, your primary scythe drops and secondary heavy or light weapon drops. Each item has its own unique attributes with some giving Death more powerful attacks and others granting him buffs like health regen or elemental effects. The armor and weapons also change Death’s appearance allowing you to not only customize to your taste in play style but also to your preference in appearance. There is a mass amount of loot, so much so that by the end of Darksiders II I’d imagine no two Death’s looking the same. Among the loot are also special ‘Possessed’ weapons which devour any weapon you wish to feed to it, in turn leveling the possessed weapon up and granting it special abilities. The chance of finding or earning elite loot will keep you coming back for more.
Speaking of elite loot, if you want the best of the best you’ll have to fight your way through the The Crucible. Announced not long before release, The Crucible is Darksiders’ take on Horde Mode. As Death you will be thrown into the arena and fight wave after of wave of baddie all the way up to level 100. Vigil has put in a bit or risk/reward as after every fifth wave (5,10,15,etc…) you will be given the choice to quit and take a prize or continue on for the chance to win something better, failing before the next fifth wave will mean you go home empty handed. Having given it a whirl I can say that I’ll have a great deal of respect for players who complete all 100 waves and those lucky few will be rewarded handsomely for their time and effort with some Legendary items and other rewards.
If you do happen to get to wave 100 you’re going to want to show off to your friends which is made all the easier by online leader boards which in addition to Crucible stats will also track categories including Highest Combo, Total Kills, Fastest Completion and others. There is further online functionality with the games in-game emailing system in the form of Serpent Tomes. These Tomes are found around various dungeons and hubs and allow for in-game messaging and gifting. That’s right, if you’ve got some of your old armor just lying around you can be a good friend and send it off to one of your buds, so that he/she might have an easier go of things. I say spread the wealth!
Darksiders II is a great game but it’s missing something, that knockout punch that would make it one of the best of this generation. It is filled with lots of cool moments but there isn’t that one event that stands out above and beyond. Sure you’ll fight a boss or two that fills the screen with its size but the wow factor just isn’t there, there are too many similar events. It’s as if the big payoff is being saved for a sequel down the road especially when you consider how this game ends. At the end of the day the fact that the ‘sequel’ takes place during the events of the first game holds it back from exploring any truly new territory story wise, we know that the seal has been broken and the horsemen have finally, truly been summoned but what’s next? I hope that Darksiders II does well enough for us to find out because I’ve had a blast with both games and if I’m counting correctly we still have two riders to play as, bring it on!
A copy of the game was provided to us by Activision for reviewing purposes.
To find out more about the PixelJumpers Rating Guide Click Here.