Darksiders II Manages to Overcome its own Demons
Put quite simply, Darksiders II is a fantastic game. But no game can claim to be perfect, and Darksiders II proves this quite handily. Between weird pacing issues and terrible console optimization on what most people would consider to be the game’s primary platform, the game has its issues. These flaws take an excellent game and somewhat chip away at the finish, but these small blemishes are not anywhere near enough to make it aggravating or unplayable. Vigil manages to create a cohesive experience out of truly varied components, and the merging of these systems is where the game shines the brightest.
The gameplay elements that Vigil brought over from the first Darksiders remain more or less completely intact, still functioning exactly the way they should, from the jumping puzzles to the myriad selection of items ripped straight from Zelda games that each have a dungeon built specifically for them. Beyond the gameplay design, Darksiders II even manages to nail the look and feel of the first game even at a base visual design level, implementing things such as worn walls that mark where (and how) you should traverse the dungeon.
With all the old features dropping perfectly into place, it is reasonable to worry about whether are not anything new can fit into such a carefully designed world. Surprisingly enough, the new features fit in quite well with the game’s existing aesthetic, far better than I could have ever expected. When I first heard that Darksiders II was going to implement a loot system, I honestly expected it to be a completely different type of game, so I was shocked the first time I booted it up and the combat worked almost exactly the same as it had in the first game. For most games, this would be a bad thing, but Vigil manages to freshen up the formula just enough, trading War’s heavy hitting, bulky nature for a far more agile character in Death, who effortlessly does back flips and spins in the air. This new character’s set of moves and abilities are bolstered by the addition of loot, which, along with a talent tree system, allow you to tune exactly what your specific character is good at, whether that is summoning mobs to do your dirty work for you with the necromancer tree or simply beating every monster in your path to a bloody pulp with the harbinger tree.
With such cohesiveness between most of the game’s elements, perhaps the game’s largest failure is its constantly oscillating difficulty, particularly when it comes to the boss encounters. As expected from a game of this type, some bosses can simply be beaten into submission, while
others require a bit more finesse, their core mechanic very strongly suggesting the use of an item that you just acquired. The problem is that these types of bosses constantly alternate back and forth, almost to the point of predictability. There is absolutely no progression as far as the difficulty is concerned, making the combat feel inconsistent, particularly when you decide to try and complete one of the many side quests. These side quests put you in combat scenarios and dungeon puzzles that are leaps beyond anything you ever encounter in the main line of quests. On the one hand, it’s a nice optional challenge for those people who feel up to it, but on the other hand, as far as a difficulty curve is concerned, it is an absolute slap in the face.
While this constantly changing level of difficulty manages to damage the flow of the game quite well, one final thing manages to completely destroy it. At a certain point, you are forced to go to a completely different world than the ones you have been in, which under normal circumstances would have been a nice change of pace from the onslaught of dungeons you had been completing up until this point. But instead of giving you a nice break from the puzzle solving and platforming, the game forces you into a drawn out level that consists of nothing but horrific third person shooting, forcing you to shoot hundreds of enemies before you can finally get back to the standard gameplay. In fact, if the purpose of this level was to make you appreciate the core gameplay more, it did its job admirably.
Something that remains inexcusable though, are performance issues. On the Xbox 360, the platform that the first Darksiders performed the best on, the game suffers with serious shadow problems, extremely bad framerate, and infrequent freezing/crashing issues. While all of these problems are extremely annoying, none of them really bothered me once I was immersed in the game. In fact, I would become more disturbed when the frame rate reached its cap than when it was chugging along below it. However, these are problems you need to consider before choosing a platform to play this game on, and I would highly recommend the PC version if you can run it.
Thankfully, there is quite a bit about the rest of the game to enjoy beyond technical glitches and substandard shooting sections, and the strength of the combat systems manage to carry you through much of the rough patches. Perhaps Vigil needs to realize that third person shooting segments are not fun in an action RPG, but to ravage Darksiders II for a half hour segment of ill-conceived gameplay within a twenty hour long game would just be silly. The amount of good content simply overwhelms the bad content, which is short and relatively inconsequential to the game as a whole.