deathpooky's Darksiders II (Limited Edition) (Xbox 360) review

Sequel takes a few steps forward, many steps back

The first Darksiders was a surprise hit, unexpectedly overcoming its pigeonholing as a "dark Zelda" and crafting a game that successfully incorporated and outdid many of its inspirations. The result is a sequel that comes in with higher expectations and a fanbase excited by an amazing ending that left us all wanting more. Darksiders 2 improves on elements from the first game, adds whole new elements which expand the gameplay greatly, but also breaks some of the better parts of its predecessor and is ultimately uneven in its plot and gameplay.

Darksiders 2's major change is grafting loot, leveling, and skill trees onto the adventure formula of the first game. These changes are successful in their own right. Finding and developing your own weapons is fun and satisfying, and the combination of customizing loot and skills gives you a wide variety of potential strategies to develop Death outside of battle and to try to survive in battle.

You can go more action-oriented, with skills that help you get close and dodge around doing damage, and gather loot that will help you do so, or you can go more spell-oriented and get loot that likewise supports those efforts. The result is that combat and movement itself is fun and satisfying most of the time. Death moves much quicker than War from the first game, and getting around the environments and dodging around in battle are more enjoyable for those reasons.

However, despite the fun and variety that these changes add, they also break things that worked before. It's easy to run up against battles that are far too difficult or easy, simply because of your loot and level. Fly through the game without stopping to upgrade your loot much and you'll run up against impossible battles later on. Go through a bunch of sidequests and spend significant time developing Death's equipment, and you can easily create a character that is practically invulnerable. The result is a game which takes away the required player skill that was present in the first game.

The loot system also wreaks havoc on the once-fun exploration elements of the first game. Instead of being rewarded for exploration and sidequests with heart pieces, useful items, or other permanent upgrades to your character, you are almost always rewarded with random loot, gold, and experience. The incentive to go explore and find hidden items is far decreased when you know that nine times out of ten you'll merely get another generic chest filled with gold and a trash piece of loot. Loot lust can be its own compelling system, but it simply doesn't work here, especially when I was forced to go to vendors for almost all the items I ended up using. You do find unique items with unique effects, but those effects are almost always ill-described and useless compared to raw stat improving items.

Complicating this, the world of Darksiders 2, while larger than its predecessor, is less fun to explore. Seeming to reflect a lack of time in development, the first world is by far the best and most fully realized, while the remainder rapidly go downhill in terms of interesting items, areas, and dungeons. The second world in particular drags on endlessly with repetitive dungeons, and the final third of the game has almost no open-ended exploration whatsoever, rushing you towards a lackluster conclusion. The game likewise is lacking in terms of items found in dungeons, with most of the interesting and helpful items found in the first third, and the remaining few items being useless outside of very specific situations. It doesn't help that the items are mostly a rehash of the previous Darksiders, and your final Death comes across as more limited than the previous game. And loot simply doesn't fill that hole.

The narrative of the game follows a similar arc. While the worlds of Darksiders 2 flesh out a lot of the lore behind the series in interesting ways, Death's actual journey is, for the most part, incredibly boring. The first third is, again, the most compelling, the second third is filled with plotless fetch quests, and the last third contains minimal interactions that rush you to a conclusion. And for those hoping for a conclusion that matches Darksiders 1, you will be sorely disappointed. The result is a game that peaks about ten hours in, limps to its ending, and feels almost as an inconsequential sideplot compared to the previous game.

As a further caution, at least on the 360 version, the game contains many technical faults. I encountered at least 5 lockups requiring a system restart, and while none lost me that much progress, each drained my enjoyment greatly when I realized I'd have to reslog through 10 minutes of combat. The final boss battle was marred by a bug which caused another restart. Jumping and movement, while often faster and fluid, also occasionally has you jumping the wrong direction. Combined with some timed climbing sections, I came close to breaking my controller in frustration and the controls didn't seem to match up with what I was being asked to do.

If you enjoyed the first game, despite the above, I do recommend picking this one up. It's fun to dive back into the narrative, the dungeons for the most part still scratch that Zelda itch, the combat is better, the loot and character customization are fun, and you'll want to fill in the story for what, hopefully, will be a stronger conclusion. But the sequel simply doesn't match up to the expectations set for it. The world is less interesting to explore, the loot breaks elements that worked before, the game drags in many parts, and far from leaving you excited for more, the game leaves you with a sour taste, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. While the first game became a cult hit as word spread throughout gaming communities, the sequel does not seem destined for the same result.

3 Comments Refresh
Edited by Chaser324

I agree with pretty much everything you said.

I can respect that this game is fairly well constructed, the combat and puzzle design in particular still show moments of brilliance, but the overall package just isn't that compelling. The inconsistent pacing is specifically what impacted my enjoyment the most. There are a few moments in the first and third acts that I felt like I got into a good groove with the game, but there are far too many places, especially in the overly protracted second act, where things just drags.

The expanded open world and the new loot system mostly serve to just bring down the game as well. There's not much of interest in the open environs to make them worth exploring, so traversing them quickly becomes mostly a chore. The segmented organization of that open world is also a bit annoying when you're trying to tackle sidequests that require you to move between areas. Even if you use the fast travel system, you're going to end up staring at three loading screens while moving between two areas.

The plot also isn't that compelling. I like the initial concept. Death setting out to resurrect humanity so that War can avoid punishment from the Charred Council certainly seems like the starting point for an epic quest, and the opening of this game delivers on that. However, the following 15+ hours of gameplay feel largely disconnected from that central plot and feel mostly like pointless fetch quests. There's no payoff in the ending either. When the credits rolled, my jaw was on the floor, but not because of some shocking plot revelation. It was just due to my shock at how rushed and anti-climactic the ending was.

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Posted by Deathpooky

@Chaser324: Yeah, I'm surprised by the positive reviews the game has gotten for the most part. The first world was great for the most part and had an amazing concluding boss battle and the loot was fun at first, but I almost quit halfway through during the Land of the Dead out of boredom. I pushed through to see the rest of the plot, and the third and fourth worlds do have interesting environments even though they're incredibly short and linear. But then the plot never picks back up and it ends so poorly.

I loved the first game and was glad to see it become a sleeper hit. This had some fun combat, interesting ideas, and fun dungeons, but just doesn't have that same spark. If the rest of the worlds had the same depth as the first, maybe, but even that wouldn't fix the plot problems.

Posted by Chaser324

@Deathpooky: Yeah, I'm still recovering from that ending. When I passed the point of no return, I was expecting some sort of final dungeon, a big multi-stage boss, and then some sort of big conclusion similar in impact to the first game...but there's none of that. One simple boss battle, a short cutscene, roll credits.

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