Back in early 2010, Vigil Games released Darksiders; a smash hit that sold over 1.2 million copies in just the first week. It merged many unique gameplay features from Zelda, Devil May Cry and even God of War. Along with this near-plagiarism, Darksiders also introduced a rather interesting story and set the stage for its own world, building upon their own mythology based around the Book of Revelations, classic fantasy troupes as well a few of own original concepts. With it being over two and a half years since the original, Vigil had quite a task before them creating a sequel that outshines its predecessor. While Darksiders II has its ups and downs, I think it’s fair to call this sequel a success.
In a nutshell, you play as Death, one of the four Horseman of the Apocalypse and brother to the original game’s protagonist War. War is imprisoned by the Charred Council, for his part in prematurely causing the ‘End War’ and extinction of mankind, a charge War denies. Death, knowing his brother to be a creature of honor and not malice, sets out to find proof of War’s innocence.
While the original Darksiders was able to suck you into a new and interesting world, this time around it fails at bringing the same sense of wonder and awe. Rather than create anything new with the overarching storyline, it seems that it would rather build around its own mythology and it’s because of this, that Darksiders II almost feels like a side-story, rather than a full-on sequel. It narrowly avoids this pitfall by bringing in just enough information to move the story along, as well as give some subtle hints as what is to come in the next entry.
Considering how each Darksiders game stars one of the Four Horsemen, it seems apparent that the game is looking to be around four titles in length, so the concept of using the second game in the series to expand on the universe rather than tell more about the War’s imprisonment, the End War and the conspiracy surrounding it, isn’t surprising at all. However, most of the story-related issues are highlighted by a lackluster script that contain all of the stock sayings and expressions.
Some of the few complaints I had with the original were the stiff controls as well as the random spikes in difficulty. This is where Darksiders II truly rights its predecessor’s wrongs. Combat is much more fluid, as Death is the nimbler and quicker fighter than his hulking brute of brother War. It is helped by the controls being responsive and spot-on, giving you ample time to dodge or block attacks as you hack and slash your way to the end of the game. Better controls mean that the difficulty spikes have been made manageable as the game feels rounded out as a whole, with any increase in difficulty feeling appropriate.
The Darksiders franchise continues its “borrowing not stealing” philosophy by combining several “new” elements into the world. With the original, combat was primarily driven by combo-oriented series such as Devil May Cry and God of War. Darksiders II actually takes a page from RPGs like World of Warcraft. Enemies and chests now drop random pieces of armor and secondary weapons such as axes, hammers or claws. Coupled with this is a leveling system that includes skill trees, multiple side-quests for new areas, hidden chests, and even back-tracking to previously-unattainable chests. At the end of the day, you’ll stop to wonder if you are playing an action game or an RPG.
While hacking and slashing is a load of fun, the volume gets turned up to 11 when boss-battles are thrown into the mix. Most fights are huge, hulking, and creative that can involve whittling down individual segments before they are defeated (a concept that was taken from multiple games but originated with Shadow of the Colossus). It’s an incredible feeling of victory when you actually defeat one of these colossal behemoths.
There are loads of different areas to explore, different vistas to view, and levels which take you to heaven, hell and everything inbetween. The downside to this is that there just isn’t a lot to do in those large open areas. There is something to be said when it comes to having the freedom to traverse incredibly large maps, roaming to wherever you want. If there isn’t a lot to actually do in them, it feels like the purpose has been thoroughly defeated.
Much like the original, dungeon-crawling is also a large part of Darksiders II’s repertoire, with the biggest addition having to do with wall leaping and walking skills that are similar to Prince of Persia’s. The downside is that most of the dungeons, though different in design, feel awfully similar to one-another. Near the end of the game, the areas really open up and offer some diversity but until then, it feels slightly repetitive.
It wouldn’t be an adventure game without puzzles and Darksiders II certainly has enough but around the halfway point, you will notice that the puzzles seem to repeat themselves, it’s just that instead of picking up and moving a statue, you repeat these motions with a large gem, etc.
However, the presentation really brings Darksiders II down a peg. The art design, much like the original, is fantastic. However, and as much as it pains me to say this, some of the individual textures look incredibly bland and standard. Even though graphics don’t mean much to me, it’s almost impossible to ignore. It would even be forgivable if there weren’t random frame-rate issues that can slow the game down to the a crawl.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect are the glitches. While there aren’t a large amount of game-breaking ones, there are certainly enough to make you sigh as you are forced to start over from an overly cheap death or from the music cutting out or even if the game just freezes up on you. That being said, it’s still fair to say that the glitches are a distraction and they don’t hinder the overall experience. While it’s understandable for games to be released with a few bugs, remember, Darksiders II was delayed to polish these issues out.
Where Darksiders II completely shines is pretty much anything related to the sound department. It seems that every piece of music fits whether it’s a battle anthem or even just peaceful ambience. The voicework is on par with what you’d expect from the series, even if Death has a completely different accent from his brother, War.
In terms of rating, Darksiders II is a pretty big toss up and it’s something where people’s flavors will vary greatly. A so-so script/story won’t hold your interest but the expanding mythology just might. Upgrading weapons, gear and skills is incredibly addicting, but the empty large and open areas may bore you just as much. The gameplay is incredibly fun and addicting but it’s only until late in the game do the dungeons feel very unique. The sound and art design is fantastic but the glitches will make you grumble.
However, looking at my time spent in this universe that’s at the end of all creation, I have to say I still had a blast. For every negative, there was a positive that really helped bring the game out of the red. Considering how the series just borrows more and more from other series to make their own game (attempt to) feel all the more unique, I can’t wait to see what Darksiders III is going to have in store.