Darksiders 2 Review: Death Lives
After playing the original Darksiders to completion in preparation for the sequel I was very interested in how Darksiders 2 would turn out. Vigil are still a fledgling developer and with the troubles of THQ in the backdrop I was concerned yet anticipating how the changes that were being made to the game would turn out. Luckily Darksiders 2 is one of the most refreshing titles I have played this year so far for numerous reasons, and is a game that deserves a lot of attention despite the problems its publisher and developer are experiencing because of its status as a breath of fresh air at a time when many games feel like they are stagnant.
Darksiders 2 leaves War behind and places players into the role of another one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death. The game story begins at the same point as the original game, with the destruction of mankind in a premature Armageddon and War taking the blame. Death, knowing that his brother is honourable and innocent of the charges levelled against him resolves to free his brother by undoing the crime itself and restoring the entire race of humanity from the grave. However he does not know how to do this and so sets out on a journey of impressive scale and scope. Its a story that actually runs parallel to the events of the first game, and as such is not a true story sequel to the conclusion of Darksiders but rather a related adventure in the same universe.
Darksiders 2 greatly expands on the already impressive lore of the first game by bringing players away from the ruins of Earth to explore other realms and worlds that add a great amount of fantasy settings to this universe. Other races beyond the scope of angels and demons are encountered and places like the Forge Lands feel alive and vibrant thanks to the level of effort and detail that has been invested into them. The appearance of key characters to compliment this expanded lore really makes the Darksiders universe come across as much bigger and more impressive than the first game. The demonic legions of the Destroyer were the main foes in the first game but Death must face a new and enigmatic force known as Corruption in Darksiders 2. In addition we learn a lot about the origins of the Horsemen and their extinct race of Nephilim, all thanks to the increased background information.
The pacing of the story is a little off as events feel like they drag out longer than they should at points, especially the amount of small scale fetch quests in between major story points, but its a well written and developed narrative that is fantastic to invest into. Death is a decent protagonist as he wrestles with his own past deeds throughout his journey to redeem his fallen brother. He is a witty and cynical figure, very different from the portrayal of War in the first game, but endearing nonetheless. Other characters are striking, and though not well developed the character interactions and main story moments are captivating to witness and Darksiders 2 is a story you will want to play to its conclusion. I did find the ending of the game to be a disappointment, especially considering the way the first Darksiders ends things compared with the petering out of the Darksiders 2 tale, but overall the strength of the lore and likeability of the characters drives things forward nicely in Darksiders 2's ironically noble tale. Its just a pity that not much is done with the actual characters in this story.
Darksiders 2 takes full advantage of its change in setting from the first game by creating incredible looking areas and possessing an unforgettable art style and striking aesthetic appearance. The slightly cartoonish look of the first game is continued in Darksiders 2, elevating it above the masses of gritty and "realistic" looking games on the market. Its a game full of colour and life, with an incredible level of detail in its levels for their size and scope. The Forge Lands is the first major area of the game and is a mystical and lush landscape filled with plants and beautiful sunlight. This sharply contrasts with the dark and barren Kingdom of the Dead. Darksiders 2 also has incredible character model design, with characters like the Makers being akin to fantastical Dwarfs but much larger in size. Death himself looks lean and swift and nicely compares with the heavily built War of the original. It is the fantastic design of the mythical locations that makes Darksiders 2 really stand out as a visual treat.
Unfortunately the game is also tarnished by some technical blemishes. Textures are often poor in detail and fidelity, looking all to SD for my liking. Death looks very low resolution as do many of the character models throughout the games duration. The broad backgrounds and skyboxes of the levels are beautiful but close up objects will lack the little details that shows a game has been polished to a minute level. There is also some frame rate issues at sections of the game, especially one area in the late part of the game that seems to be quite buggy. These are not game breaking issues but they are a tarnish on a title that came so close to being a truly incredible title thanks to getting so many other aspects right.
The soundtrack of Darksiders 2 by Jesper Kyd is one of the best of this year and stands as one of the games strongest points. The music is emotive and brilliant throughout the game, with some truly incredible ambient tracks that serve to bring events to life. Its a subtle and inspirational mix of tracks with some incredible instrumentation and completely succeeds in capturing the spirit and themes of the story and setting. Voice work is also top knotch throughout, with all the main characters being perfect for their roles.
Darksiders 2 still has the broad gameplay strokes and mechanics of the original title, but like the story the gameplay has been greatly expanded in ways that I did not expect. Darksiders drew a lot of comparisons to both God of War and The Legend of Zelda, but Darksiders 2 struck me as being much more like the Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Death is a similar character to Raziel of the Soul Reaver games, but Darksiders 2 has a faster and more open combat system than its predecessor. The combos and style of Death's capabilities are incredibly fluid and fun to experience, easily exceeding the first game and being a match for the most polished games in the genre like Bayonetta and God of War 3. The enemy variety is strong throughout the game, with combinations of foes that demand strategy and on the cuff tactics by the player.
Darksiders 2 is a much more open world experience than the first title, and even grants you a horse from the beginning. While not truly an open world game it does have a lot of exploration and side missions spread throughout its major open areas. There is also a loot system in Darksiders 2 and a level of customisability for Death that War never had in the first title. Different weapons will grant Death different benefits and levels of damage output in a way not dissimilar from loot focused RPG titles like Diablo. Darksiders 2 incorporates many RPG elements into its structure, including a limited conversation wheel system that actually fits into the game really well and naturally. Death also levels up as the game goes on, even having an experience bar and skill trees that will grant new abilities to the player as they see fit. Merchants are in the game who will provide items and supplies for the player.
The puzzles that were such a major aspect of the first game are back again but this time they are more fluent and environmentally focused as well as being less padded and obstructive of the main game experience. Death will acquire items and powers which will make him more potent at traversing dungeons as the game progresses, and its a rewarding way to break up the combat sequences while being a massive improvement over the original Darksiders. Death is also an extremely nimble character with level traversal abilities that would not be out of place in a Prince of Persia title. The game actually reminded me of 2008's Prince of Persia thanks to its simple and elegant platforming along with a forgiving respawn system if you miss a jump. To further help players through its plethora of dungeon areas Darksiders 2 provides another guide in the vein of the Watcher from the original game in the form of a magical crow named Dust. Dust will provide Death with hints of where to go next at the touch of a button and is generally very useful to have available for aid.
Darksiders 2 has a generally excellent level layout and design, with open explorable landscapes that dwarf the original title contrasted with tightly paced dungeon areas ripe for Death. The menu system has been greatly improved over the original, with a map that is now actually usable and a fast travel system that is sorely needed in a game this size. Changing and comparing items is simple and accessible and the lack of the back tracking I hated in the first game is a true blessing.
Unfortunately the menu system is a bit sluggish to get rolling and load times can be annoying at times, but Darksiders 2 is an elegantly and smartly designed title. When you load your game file after taking a break Death will be standing in the place you left him in on the menu screen, which struck me as a stylish and attractive way to introduce players to their game file. Boss fights are back in Darksiders 2 and they are largely excellent, with some truly memorable ones in the early sections of the game. The last boss was a bit of a let down admittedly but overall they again manage to be the big highlight moments of a game that is just begging for such moments thanks to its rich setting and the potential for some really creative enemies. There is one point that stands out where the game turns into a third person shooter, and that entire sequence is pretty awful, but when Darksiders 2 stays to what it does right it is an excellent example of game design.
Darksiders 2 is a game that took all the positives of its predecessor and improved in all the areas that matter. It is the perfect example of how to push a series forward thanks to its improved menu and questing systems, faster and more fun combat and its brilliant integration of RPG features that truly enrich the experience and make it a different beast from any comparisons to Zelda or any other franchise. It is truly its own title and its 20 hour length means it is well worth full price. It has a new game plus mode for players who want another run through its excellent campaign and its only real let downs are its ill paced story and its few technical blemished. If Vigil had more time and resources I am convinced that Darksiders 2 would have been an incredible title, but as it is it is still a truly great game that is a fantastic improvement over the first Darksiders and is a game I would recommend worth your time to play through such an ambitious title despite not being quite as tight as it could have been. The only thing I would mention is that people looking for a direct successor to the first Darksiders could be thrown off by the role playing elements of Darksiders 2 as well as its status as a parallel story rather than a direct sequel.
- Lovely art style and aesthetic design
- Smart RPG elements
- Gorgeous soundtrack
- Fluid and responsive combat that evolves throughout the campaign
- Low texture resolutions
- Poor pacing and padding
- Weak ending
- The shooting section
- 8/10 - Great