Darksiders 2 - A welcome home.
Vigil Game’s Darksiders franchise is often described as a retrospective look at adventure games. Brimming with nostalgia and familiar mechanics, Darksiders was a game that many fans either liked or disliked for its sincere homage to the past. In the second installment of the franchise, Vigil Game’s approach places more emphasis on an iterative process.
Darksiders 2 remains mechanically similar to it’s predecessors. We are still collecting keys to open locked doors, dodge-rolling out of harms way, and acquiring items to solve puzzles. While it may not be the freshest game experience, it feels informed and enlightened. It has an eclectic attitude, pulling in a list of “best of” concepts from various games across genres such as animation cancelling, scrolling combat text, and Prince of Persia style platforming. Darksiders 2 takes a traditional but perhaps stale framework and injects a wealth of mechanics that avid gamers know intuitively.
The sequel breaks from some of the traditions held dear in the first game. It departs from archetypal dungeons: large compartmentalized environments that are married to specific items necessary to overcome obstacles and defeat a boss. Whereas Darksiders 2 favors larger open world that are perforated with smaller, loosely defined dungeons. It also gradual shifts on typical genre pacing rather than any radical changes. The first half is paced slower allowing for exploration of environments in the tradition of the genre. Breaking from that tradition, revisiting old areas to collect the final key is exchanged for a more linear second half. This increases the pace which helps to emphasize the story’s rising action.
The game is broken into four acts that span across four thematically different settings. You can clearly see each act as an homage to current video games (e.g. Shadow of the Colossus, Left 4 Dead) and how they relate to this antiquated genre. It creates a conversation between games in the genre across generations of fans and developers, akin to movie directors showing their own influences in their movies.
Typically stories in video games are severely lacking; they often favor style over substance. One of the biggest surprises from the first game was the strong storytelling aspect. Darksiders 2’s story deals primarily with Death’s quest to absolve his brother War. The main conflict comes in the form of Death’s unsettled past and secrets hidden from him and the other Horsemen. It does little to move forward the main plot, instead focusing more on the Horsemens’ history.
Darksiders 2 feels like coming home. It feels like iterative design applied to a nostalgic genre. It’s not attempting to wildly depart common conventions in favor of something new; it’s methodical in approach to improvements. Vigil took adventure games and made them relevant once again while maintaining the heart and soul of this tradition. After all these years I can sit down on a couch and play a game that feels like it was made for me today, but reminiscing about my childhood experiences in gaming that I had long ago.