Death delivers killer gameplay
Darksiders II is the embodiment of how a sequel should be done. The original Darksiders was one of the surprise hits of 2010, an eclectic blend of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the scribbled drawings from the margins of a 14-year old boy’s notebook. By taking the somewhat stagnating conventions of such an eternally classic title and thrusting it kicking and screaming into the cold light of modernity, the team at Vigil Games created a wonderful, albeit highly derivative, action adventure game. Darksiders II continues the modernisation process of its predecessor. Through logical iteration and the introduction of deep customization options, Darksiders II distances itself from the derivative nature of its forefather and stands tall as a great game on its own merit.
Following on from the story of the original Darksiders, players control Death, one of the four Riders of the Apocalypse. War, protagonist of the original title and fellow Rider, is held by the Charred Council for damning humanity and destroying the balance between Heaven and Hell. Death, in an effort to exonerate the actions of his brother, seeks to resurrect the lost souls of humanity and sets off on a journey to the Well of Souls to complete his task. The simplicity of the core tenet behind the narrative is to the games advantage, as it creates a strong, well-defined end goal to work towards, whilst simultaneously allowing Death to pursue other tasks from the cast of characters met along the way. Even though the conclusion may be comparatively limp, it would have been almost impossible to live up to the testosterone-fuelled, machismo madness of the first title. The net result is a strong, thematically consistent narrative that consistently drives the action forward, and one that will keep the player interested for the lengthy, 24-hour long campaign.
The core gameplay of Darksiders returns largely unchanged, combining a heady mix of third-person action and exploration. Combat is a fast and challenging combo-based affair, where the use of finesse and clever execution of special attacks are rewarded. A deep and varied tech-tree allows for the player to customize their powers to complement their own skills, and create a combat style unique to them. Whilst the combat might be far from a cakewalk, it strongly rewards intelligent play and is extremely enjoyable to take part in.
The exploration and traversal elements of Darksiders II are, unfortunately, one of the few stumbling blocks throughout the entire experience. Climbing upon the crumbling ruins of humanity represents a large portion of the total time within the game; however, the controls for doing so are a little too clunky for their own good. When there is no time limit imposed, this is a problem that can be easily avoided through caution and a reduced speed. As soon as the limit rears its ugly head, however, the imprecise, heavy controls create a significant burden upon the gameplay. Even though it only causes a problem a handful of times across the length of the entire experience, it is definitely something that will require work in a sequel.
Perhaps the biggest new introduction comes in the form of equippable loot. Enemies will drop random weapons and armor that provide bonuses to over two dozen different stats and abilities for Death during combat. This allows for the creation of incredibly precise, individualised combat scenarios tailored to each player, so that no two Deaths will play quite the same. Furthermore, each piece will provide a cosmetic alteration, so that as Death levels up and changes combat styles, so too does his armor. It’s a staggeringly deep system that has been added, and easily one of the most enjoyable features within the game.
A particularly novel loot-based addition comes in the form of upgradeable weapons. By “feeding” the weapon another item from Death’s inventory, it gains experience and will eventually level up. The buffs and bonuses upon the items that are fed to the weapon dictate what skills are improved when it levels up, adding an intriguing level of strategy to the upgrade mechanic. It’s a phenomenally unique system that is disappointingly underrepresented, with less than a dozen surfacing through an ordinary playthough. Even in limited quantities, though, it is a fantastic addition and an interesting twist on traditional loot-based mechanics.
A newly reworked quest system in Darksiders II allows for Death to undertake a series of side missions and stray from the story-based path. Various characters across the many realms Death traverses will offer great rewards for the completion of unique side-dungeons unrelated to the core quest. These are oftentimes more challenging than their main-quested kin, but contain some of the most striking visuals and challenging puzzles within the product. Dust, Death’s avian friend, serves as the in-game hint system to assist with challenging puzzles and dungeons. When summoned, Dust will fly off and act as a waypoint for where to go. The hints provided are extremely cryptic, only pointing you where to solve the puzzle, not how. By only providing a modicum of assistance, it ensures that a dash of logic will have to applied by the player to progress. This can be frustrating; however, it is a rewarding system that encourages careful analysis and problem-solving.
Darksiders II is an aural and visual treat, presenting some of the most stunning landscapes seen in this generation of hardware. The unique worlds that Death traverses are wonderfully realized, and full of incredible art and level design. From climbing inside of a lava-spewing volcano to traipsing across the decks of a skeleton pirate’s airship, each zone looks and sounds completely different. The soundtrack is suitably epic, but not particularly notable. The voice acting within is quite good also, with each performance helping to further elucidate those on-screen beyond their seemingly simplistic caricatures. Death, especially, benefits from a strong vocal performance and becomes a far deeper, nuanced character than is likely expected.
Darksiders II might be a long journey, but one that is enjoyable the whole way through. Developers Vigil Games have built upon the core framework of its predecessor in some intelligent ways, sculpting one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year so far. Whilst some slight technical glitches and control issues mar what would otherwise be an incredible title, Darksiders II is a true delight and a game well worth playing.