Darksiders II Blurs Genre Lines
The original Darksiders truly was a surprise to many when it hit store shelves in January of 2010. It was quickly applauded for delivering a game not unlike the ones seen in The Legend of Zelda series, albeit with a darker tone and combat more akin to God of War than anything seen in latter-day Zelda titles. That was two and a half years ago, and Darksiders has gone from cult hit to full-on franchise. However, not content with retreading the same formula with the sequel, Vigil Games has stepped out of the box a bit to blur the lines of the action-adventure genre with Darksiders II. Sure the game is still highly derivative of the Zelda games, but it's so much more than that.
The first thing you'll notice about Darksiders II is that the game isn't really a sequel in the traditional sense. The protagonist is no longer War, but War's brother and fellow horsemen of the apocalypse Death. The game itself takes place concurrently with it's predecessor. War has been blamed for prematurely starting the apocalypse, leading to the destruction of humanity, however Death is certain that his brother could not be responsible for this, and begins a quest to resurrect humanity and absolve his brother of wrong doing.
Darksiders II's primary quest will send Death across multiple realms in an effort to gain access to the Well of Souls, where he hopes to resurrect all of humanity. However unlike the original game, Darksiders II isn't quite as linear. In addition to the story quest, there is a plethora of side quests for Death to complete, all with their own unique rewards. You'll be aided on these quests by Death's trusty steed Despair. Unlike War's horse Ruin, Despair is available from the game's outset, although I found myself using Despair far less than I ever used Ruin, thanks to the addition of a fast travel system.
The combat system has also been greatly improved from the original Darksiders. Death isn't quite as burly as his brother, and is a more agile fighter as a result, using dodges instead of blocks and counters. Death's primary tools of destruction are dual-scythes, although you'll acquire other secondary weapons that range from quick-striking claws to the slower two-handed hammers and axes. I gravitated towards the larger weapons early in the game, as I found the powerful and long-reaching attacks to be useful, but as the game wore on and dodging became more important, I began to prefer the quicker scythes and claw weapons. Much like the first game, Death has a more powerful form - Reaper form - which allows Death to dish devastating and large-scale punishment to his foes.
Also returning is the lock-on targeting, which frustrated me from time to time, as it would occasionally place the camera directly behind Death, obstructing my view and leaving me unable to see certain incoming attacks. This issue isn't helped by the game's frame rate, which gets awfully spotty during some of the boss fights. In addition, there is one section of the adventure where the game briefly transforms into second-rate third-person shooter. The first Darksiders also featured a segment like this; I didn't like it then and I liked it even less in the sequel. The game spends most of the game emphasizing Death's quickness and agility, and then suddenly plucks you out of that environment and has you lumbering around with a two-handed cannon. The aiming of the gun is imprecise, and the lock-on targeting is unavailable while it's in your hands. This isn't just a short section of the game either - it takes the place of a full-blown dungeon. I didn't find this part of the game to even remotely entertaining, and was very thankful when it concluded.
The game's combat is also supported by a two skill trees. As you level up, you'll earn skill points which can be placed on either side of the tree. One side of the tree focuses on direct combat, granting you attacks which can siphon health from your enemies or increase Death's combat strength for a short time. The other tree improves Death's magical abilities, allowing you to spawn minions to fight by your side.
Perhaps the biggest change to the Darksiders formula is the addition of a color-coded loot, a system that should be intimately familiar to anyone that's played a modern MMO. Enemies and chests have the chance to drop this loot, and vendors have a plentiful stock of it as well. Each piece of loot comes with an array of statistical affixes, most of which coincide with the game's two skill trees. Items that feature strength and critical damage bonuses will be useful to those that prefer the combat tree, and items heavy in arcane power boosts are preferable for folks that chose the magic tree. The game's rarest loot comes in the form of "possessed" weapons. Possessed weapons can be upgraded by "feeding" other items to the weapon, allowing it to gain power as well as one stat affix from the item it was fed.
These changes aside, the formula from the original Darksiders is still intact. You'll still find yourself in dungeons full of puzzles that can only be solved - and bosses that can only be defeated - through the use of conveniently acquired items. Fans of the first game will instantly recognize Death's Death Grip as the equivalent of War's Abyssal Chain, which in itself was essentially The Legend of Zelda's hookshot. Death also gets his own unique puzzle-solving tools, such as the Soul Splitter, which splits Death into two entities allowing him to flip multiple switches at once.
Darksiders II didn't have the benefit of coming out of left field like it's predecessor, but the combination of Zelda-style gameplay with the new loot system, improved combat, and far more interesting protagonist provides an equally engaging experience.