My Thoughts on Darksiders 2
Back in 2010, Vigil Games did something very bold; they took various elements from other popular games and mashed them together to form something of their own. It was more than just a shameless rip-off and it created one of the best games of that year. Two years later they've managed to do it again, only its bigger and better in almost every way.
Darksiders 2 takes gameplay from many different games. It takes combat from God of War/Devil May Cry, platforming from Prince of Persia (2008), a loot system from the Diablo series, dungeon design from Zelda with a sprinkling of "Metroidvania" and various other games added in. Hell, its even got two distinct skill trees. Sound awesome? It is.
Death dishes out damage by use of primary and secondary weapons. The primary weapons are always a set of bad-ass, fast moving Scythes, while the secondary weapons can be either huge, slow moving maces/axes/glaives or very fast fist weapons. Both primary and secondary weapons have their own set of combos and you can switch from primary to secondary on the fly, making combat feel very fluid. There is no block button, but instead there is a dodge move than Death can use to get out of almost any situation. I was actually very impressed with the dodging in this game as it felt very reactive. Any time I got hit, i felt as though it was my fault for being too greedy with my attacks, not because I was locked into an animation. In addition to melee combat, Death also has access to various "Wrath" abilities depending on which skill tree you go down. The Harbinger tree focuses more on melee style abilities such as teleport slash, while the Necromancer tree gives you more magic-based attacks, like the ability to summon ghouls to fight for you. Once you combine all of these mechanics, you get a combat system that is extremely fun to use and you'll find yourself looking forward to every battle.
When your not dealing out punishment, you'll be puzzling and platforming your way through one of the games various dungeons. These all feel very well designed and they flow very nicely. It is always clear on which way you are supposed to go next and I almost never found myself not knowing where to go , although most of the puzzles were a little too easy to figure out. If you have read previous reviews, you've probably heard that this game sticks to the "rule of three" way too often. This is very true as most of the time, in order to progress the story, you need to complete 3 objectives each with 3 separate objectives of their own. While this sounds tedious, I never found it to be a problem, mostly because the rest of the game play was so much fun. In this case, more is better.
As I said above, the platforming feels just like it did in Prince of Persia. For the most part, it flowed very well together. You can run up or along walls, climb beams and swing across gaps, but it was never challenging at all. The only challenge came when Death didnt feel like dropping to a ledge below him, or when he would simply walk off the edge of a cliff instead of grabbing onto something. Thankfully these situations didn't pop up very often.
Vigil decided to add RPG elements into this instalment, and it was a good addition. You kill enemies, complete quests, get XP and level up. Every time you level up, your stats automatically increase and you are given a skill point to spend in the above mentioned skill trees. The only way to change your stats manually is to equip whatever gear suits your play style. Every chest you open, as well as some enemies, will toss out loot for you. The loot in this game is colour coded from white to orange, where white is the lowest quality and orange is the highest. Its the same kind of thing you would see in Diablo or Borderlands. The main problem with this kind of system is that most of what you find is garbage and you end up just selling it. While you'll still do a fair amount of selling in this game, it also offers another way to put that loot to use via Possessed Weapons. These are weapons that normally start out with no stats but can be level'd up by "feeding" your other gear to them. Every piece of loot you feed a possessed weapon gives it xp and if you feed it enough it will level up. You can level it up to 5 times and each time it levels, the stats get better and you get to choose a stat to add to the weapon. Which stats you get to choose from depends on the stats of the weapons you fed it. By doing this, you can create your own custom weapons and even name them whatever you want. It's a very cool system and I hope other developers are taking notes.
As for replayability, this game has plenty of it. There are over 100 items to collect, dozens of sidequest and extra dungeons to explore, an arena with 100 waves of enemies to fight, a new game + system and a "Nightmare" mode where you play through the game with 1 life only before your save file is wiped and you have to start over again. I pumped 30 hours into my first playthrough and I didn't even finish everything. I will point out though, that the game is not as big as rumours have made it out to be. Before release people were saying that each of the games four main areas were just as big as the first game. While the first two areas are definitely comparable, the third and fourth areas are nowhere near as large and honestly, they feel kind of rushed. These last two areas are devoid of any extra dungeons and the last area only has 1 main dungeon to do and it was very short which is sad because it had a cool time mechanic that could have been very awesome had it been more fleshed out. I also want to say that one of the "dungeons" in the third world basically just turned the game into a linear third person shooter. The shooting wasn't bad gameplay-wise, but I spent the past 20 or so hours making my character a bad ass and the game just throws all that out the window, tosses you a gun and says go. Thankfully that section wasn't very long.
I know I've spent a lot of time talking about gameplay, but I have to mention some of the technical issues this game has. Darksiders 2is a pretty glitchy game and if you take a look at some of the message boards out ther, you'll see that this is no lie. Many people are experiencing glitches ranging from graphical and audio to worse things that are game breaking. I myself encountered 2 glitches and both times it was a cut-scene that refused to trigger and this prevented me from progressing the game. I had to head to the internet and search game forums to find my answers and in one case this tacked an extra hour onto my game time because I was just running back and forth from area to area trying to get the scene to trigger. I was able to get past them both, but I have to wonder how things like this made it through testing. I can only hope that Vigil releases an update soon.
The story in Darksiders 2 takes place along side the first one. At the beginning, War is accused of starting the Apocalypse early and is trying to prove his innocence, while Death sets out to erase his crime by trying to resurrect the human race (this is stated right at the beginning of the game, it's not a spoiler). The story starts strong enough and manages to keep it going until near the end where it, like most other things in the game, started to feel rushed. Characters were introduced who seemed like they should have a pretty big impact on things, but were given very little screen time and I am sad to say that the end of the story was probably the games worst part. I can't really go into too much detail but I was very let down and I am sad that I have to wait for another game to get any more story elements.
The main character, Death, is pretty well done. He is a cold, calculated bad-ass who obviously has some regrets about things he has done in the past. He can be pretty arrogant and he never backs down from a fight, mostly because he knows he can always win, and he does do a lot of winning! We don't really get ot see his character evolve through the game though. At the end of the story, he's pretty much the same guy as he was at the beginning but honestly would you really expect anything different? He's Death for crying out loud!
The side characters you meet throughout the game are decent, but nobody's back story is every really explored at great detail. Don't get me wrong, there is enough story to make some of them semi-interesting, but don't expect to get lengthy conversations out of anyone detailing their life story.
The world(s) you explore in Darksiders 2 is massive. The game is made up of about 4 or 5 different realms for you to explore and each one has it's own distinct look and feel. You'll explore everything from thriving forests, with huge mountains, to the lands of the dead where the bones of the fallen litter the ground. Not only is each realm very distinct from one another, each also has an epic sense of scale. Many times I would just stop and pan the camera around to stare at some of the sights. Some beautiful, some just simply awe-inspiring.
As I said above, the first two worlds are massive and are filled with extra dungeons and little nooks to explore. Sadly, when your not in a dungeon or hub town, the worlds can feel a little...empty. Sometimes you'll be riding your horse (Despair) around and there will be nothing else there, not even enemies. It wasn't a huge deal as Despair looks pretty awesome, but it would have been nice to see these huge worlds a little more heavily populated in some way.
And the last two worlds feel, you guessed it, rushed. In both cases it's a straight path to the main dungeon with 1 or 2 vendor NPC's thrown in and there are no extra dungeons to explore.
This is a very pretty looking game. It doesn't try to be super realistic, but instead opts to be a more cartoony/stylised game. The man behind the look is Joe Madureira who has done work for Marvel Comics and while I've never seen any of his comic book work (not a comic book fan) I gotta say he does a great job at making everything in the game look awesome. Everything from the terrain to the awesome armor Death wears looks amazing. Not once did I come across something and thought "man, this isn't very interesting", which can be a hard thing to do through a 30 hour game.
The music in Darksiders 2 is done by Jesper Kyd (Assassin's Creed Series) and it is one hell of a soundtrack. The music ranges from epic to peaceful and I loved every second of it which is a good thing because some of the tracks can repeat a lot. I've listened to the whole soundtrack several times now and while some songs are better than others, there aren't any that I skip and I don't think there is another soundtrack like that except for maybe the Nier soundtrack. If you like awesome game music, this is definitely one for you.
As with the first game, voice acting in this game is top notch. Michael Wincott does the voice for Death and he does a great job. He gives Death a voice that sounds like he's been hitting the booze and smokes hard for many years so it sounds like he's got gravel in his throat. It sounds...well...like Death! I don't think I could imagine Death sounding any other way, honestly. There are a few other voice I recognized from other games, and each one performs their roles well, not a single voice felt out of place.
Darksiders 2 takes elements from various other games as well as some of it's own and mixes them into something that is very competent and fun to play, but it is far from great. A rushed 2nd half, a disappointing ending and some technical issues prevent it from reaching true video game greatness. Those let downs do not spoil everything though and I have already started my new game + in which I fully intend to reach max level, complete all quests, get all collectibles and complete all waves in the arena. If you're looking for a really good game to sink some time into give this one a try, but at the same time it might be a good idea to wait for a patch to come out. Once that's out there really is no reason to not have this game, unless you don't like fun.