Darksiders 2: A Side Sequel
Death. The word itself conjures immediate images in our psyche. We picture the night-shrouded scythe-wielding skeleton appearing out of nothingness, hand outstretched to collect what’s owed. Maybe death is a nice, pleasant sleep that is simply never awakened from, or even a riotous blaze of glory sung about in annuls of rock and roll. The image may even be of the horrible, black vomit that accompanies Ebola, the dreaded retching, blood oozing from your orifices as you pray for relief and receive nothing but more pain.
Thankfully, Vigil Games went with the first image, coloring their well developed world with a Joe Madureira designed reaper. Vigil’s Death, rider of the pale horse Despair, is one of the Four Horseman, who, along with his brothers (War, protagonist of the first Darksiders, Strife and Fury) keep the balance as dictated by the Charred Council. That was until War boned the whole shebang by summoning the Apocalypse early, ensuring the destruction of Humanity by way of an epic war between the Angels of the (Heaven or the ) and the Demons of Hell (The Second Kingdom, or more colloquially, Hell).
Anything for my Brother
Darksiders 2 opens with two items of import, a brief history of a race known as the Nephilim, of who the Horseman are the last four still living, and the events of Darksiders, explaining War’s crime and its aftermath, the destruction of humanity and the death of War, his soul banished to the void.
Death, knowing that his brother, being the most honorable of the Horseman, would never have caused the Apocalypse on his own, sets out to right the wrong by bringing the Third Kingdom (Humanity) back.
Thus the story is set. Taking place within the hundred years that War remains in the void, Darksiders 2 isn’t so much a sequel as an alternate tale, played out over a few different and varied realms that make up an open, yet fairly empty, world.
One of the strengths of the first Darksiders was the simplicity of its narrative. A single main quest, eventually split into the inevitable “bring me (insert number of requisite items here) things and I’ll get your where you need to go” quests which itself was split between a number of Zelda-esque dungeons, each gifting War with an item that was immediately useful in solving both that dungeon's particular puzzles and many going forward. This simple structure really allowed the characters, in both voice acting and design, to shine, as War’s goal was always clear.
The goal in Darksiders 2 is not always as clear, though the journey to it is lit by characters just as entertaining as the first game. Death's voice, given it's own spectacular life by Michael Wincott (“Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?”), drips with a deserved arrogance, wielding both sarcasm and annoyance as deftly as his twin scythes.
In fact, it was through Death’s voice that I became aware of this game’s reliance on the fetch quest. In a mid-game conversation with the Lord of Bones, in which said Lord orders Death to retrieve his three servants who have left his court, Death is very audibly annoyed that again he is being sent out of his way to retrieve something that has nothing to do with this ultimate goal. He eventually does it, as the story must move forward, but it is a very telling sign that perhaps this type of questing is being over used when even the main character questions it.
To make matters even a slight bit worse, travelling through the massive open world is not fun. Despair’s run speed is only marginally faster than Death’s, and while the acting of summoning the horse out of the ground looks cool, the, sadly, preferred method is the game’s Fast Travel system. There is also very little to see outside of the main dungeons, with only a few points of interest for collectible hunters (NEWS ALERT: This game has a ton of collectibles). In contrast to the semi-empty world, Darksiders 2’s dungeons are a sight to behold. Even the earlier ones, which are missing the item specific nature of some of the latter ones, are all beautifully designed, and getting around them with Death’s Prince of Persia-like agility is glorious. There were a few times when the artistry of his motions combined with timed traversal sections is a bit of a pain, but I found them easily overcome by just making sure that my motions were deliberate in their intent.
When one scythe is not enough
Where War is a tank in combat, his movements both heavy and direct, Death is an acrobat, nimbly dodging (to the point where he doesn’t have the option to block) between enemy strikes while delivering pain though his scythes or one of the many secondary weapons available. Just like War, Death also has an “Ultimate” form, appearing as the Grim Reaper. Able to call upon this form when his “reaper gauge” is filled, it’s also the form used in most of death animations for the major bosses (not bad, per say, but a bit of a letdown given the creatively brutal ways his brother finished things).
To help him in combat, Vigil has added loot (Diablo-like in both color and scope) to Darksiders 2. As a card carrying member of the Guild of Professional Loot Whores, I initially found the change to be… glorious. There is nothing quite like greens, blues and purples dropping out of dead bodies and chests with equal abandon. This is especially true of the rare “Possessed” weapons, items that level up by consuming other weapons, allowing the customization of the weapon to fit your play style.
It’s the possessed weapons that create the most excitement while simultaneously breaking the system upon which it is built. Once you find your perfect combination of stats (for me it was Health Steal, Ice Damage and Crit Chance) loot drops go from being “Neat, what’s this?” to “Son of a bitch, why do I keep getting this garbage?”
The combination of stats I chose for my possessed scythes also led to a rather peculiar problem. Darksiders 2 gives the option of a New Game +, allowing the user to carry over all his equipment, money, and skill points into a new game. There are two caveats to this option. First, none of the collectables carry over, so if you are a completionist, finish collecting first before starting it. Second, experience gains from enemies are capped at level 20 during the initial play through. That means that in order to fully open the “optional” Crucible arena, you need to start a New Game + (the Crucible is split into 4 sections that are gated, the last section being made available at level 25).
So, being able to carry over my equipment, I kicked up the difficulty to Apocalyptic, both to make it a bit more challenging and to fulfill the trophy/achievement. It wasn’t more challenging. In fact, it was easier than playing through the first time on . Again, it may just be specific to my case, but I felt it was worth mentioning.
Death is a synonym for Bad-ass
Overall, I am quite pleased with Darksiders 2. Quite pleased. Even through some middling quest issues, and an ultimately exploitable loot system, the game carved its own path, adding to the Darksiders world in more ways than just a side story. It was a fantastic voyage, and while Coolio may not have been present, I will revisit this world when the eventual DLC is released.
I say this with one exception to the above experience… the ending. I don’t quite know how to express my disappointment with it without completely spoiling it, and I don’t want to do that, because the first time you see it, you get the same chills that the first Darksiders delivered. But after having experienced it three times, all I will say is that, if there is a Darksiders 3, Vigil had better come with nothing less than a true sequel that picks up where this ends.