When Death rides, none can hide.
The original Darksiders was a game that was relatively underrated by both critics and gamers alike, and at the same time, criticized for being a "rip-off" of multiple major franchises such as the Legend of Zelda and God of War. Yet, I liked to see it for what it did correctly. Instead of blatantly ripping off such popular games, Vigil Games instead chose to brilliantly craft certain ideals from those games and blend them together with an extremely engaging story to create a new IP well deserving of your attention. Evidently, Darksiders was popular enough to warrant a sequel but has it surpassed the original? Let's find out.
Without spoiling anything, Darksiders II picks up where the first left off. War, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, has been convicted for the apparent extinction of the entire human race and his elder brother Death has set out to clear his name. Death's quest will take him to world's unbeknownst to even himself as he struggles to reveal the truth while battling his own inner demons and his facing his mysterious past. Alongside the main quest, which leads you to several different sprawling worlds, each location holding their own cast of characters and side quests to complete. Even though they're all optional, the rewards give a suitable incentive to complete them. Each world you visit is roughly the same size but each has their own gorgeous artistic style and boasts different enemies to face. It's a treat to explore these expertly crafted worlds as they all have their fair share of loot and mysteries to uncover.
The side quests themselves range from simple retrieval missions to fighting in a death arena where each wave becomes drastically harder and harder as you face every enemy encountered throughout the game. In turn, Darksiders II adds in an interesting incentive for collecting the various collectibles scattered around the world. They are all tied into separate side quests, with some being extremely difficult to complete as it requires nearly complete exploration of the worlds you travel through, while others are merely found along the way.
Death himself is the complete opposite of his younger brother War. Where War is quiet, respectful and honourable, Death on the other hand is sarcastic, cocky, and calculating. His mere presence among the beings he encounters exudes power and strikes fear into those who dare to defy him. Death's unearthly calm and piercing gaze always seem to garner him the respect that he demands and despite his appearance, which is evidently smaller than that of War's, makes him no less imposing. Time and time again, I found myself grinning at how almost every character seemingly undermines Death's reputation and pays for it in the end.
In terms of gameplay, Darksiders II retains the action packed combat from the first game, but being that you play as Death instead of War, the style changes drastically. War was a hulking brute able to take hits and counter the strongest of attacks. Death on the other hand, is far more agile and prefers to evade rather than counter or block. In addition, Darksiders II introduces new ways to traverse the world and it's plentiful dungeons. Taking inspiration from the Prince of Persia games, Death is able to seamlessly climb, run and jump off walls to reach areas that would've been inaccessible to War. While it's integrated brilliantly doesn't mean it's without faults. Occasionally, you'll find yourself running or jumping in a direction in an undesirable direction, sometimes leading to a death during scenes where you must escape an oncoming flow of lava or a rising death trap. It's a minor annoyance but far from game breaking. Alongside this, there is no sprint mechanic in the game so besides the open area's of the world, you won't be able to use your horse and you'll find yourself using the evade mechanic as means to move around faster.
The combat system itself is so deeply fleshed out that it never becomes a tiresome chore to engage in combat. Death has the ability to wield both a main weapon, which is unchangeable, but his secondary can range from heavy axes to hammers, gauntlets, maces, claws and far, far more. The rarer the weapons picked up or purchased, the better they are, although it's almost impossible to compete with possessed weapons. The rarest of all weapons, receiving one of these allows you to upgrade by sacrificing other items in your inventory. In turn, it improves the base stats of the weapon while allowing you to add on stats of your own choice that vary from defence, elemental damage, health, strength, critical damage/chance, etc. Alongside the items and weapons comes an in-depth skill tree. It's split into two halves with one side focusing mainly on Death's physical powers as a warrior and includes skills such as teleport dashing, a spinning scythe attack, etc. The other half focuses on Death's experience as a spellcaster which allows powers such as summoning ghouls to fight for Death.
To help diversify the combat and dungeon crawling, the cleverly crafted puzzles return and help provide a breathe of fresh air between epic boss battles and the hordes of enemies you'll be constantly be facing. Most of the puzzles involve using the environment to your advantage and some require abilities that can only be unlocked by playing through the main quest, which in turn, creates an incentive for back-tracking. None of the puzzles will leave you completely boggled but they do require quick thinking and are extremely satisfying when solved.
The graphics are a stand-out improvement over the first game. The world and it's fantastically intriguing characters are wonderfully rendered and there are times where you'll find yourself just staring off into the distance, completely enamoured with what revolves around you. While the artistic graphics are a wonder to behold, technically, they aren't anything to brag about. Textures still could've needed more tweaking, but the near perfectly consistant frame-rate easily makes up for it. Easily the most admirable portion of the game has to be the voice acting. Each actor plays their part superbly and helps bring life to the character they portray. The dialogue has it's humorous moments but can suddenly become just as grim as the situation around the characters.
Now brings us to the loot. The original Darksiders had no such thing. You unlocked different weapons as you made your way through the story, but besides that, you had no option to alter War's appearance or change the weapons he wielded. Darksiders II changes that, and for the better. Loot is never scarce and you'll find yourself spending hours just trying to build the perfect character as each piece of loot has it's own unique set of stats that help strengthen Death. To be honest, loot has never been done so well outside of games such as Diablo and Borderlands and it's easily the most impressive part of the game. Although, considering how much loot you receive throughout the games various dungeons and quests, it also makes the majority of the items that merchants provide completely obsolete., but a minor gripe in the grand scheme of all things. Death is completely customizable from his shoulder armour, the gauntlets he wears, boots, pants, and even talismans.
To put it simply, Darksiders II is quite easily one of the best action/aventure-role playing games of it's generation and can be easily held up to the likes of the Elder Scrolls, The Legend of Zelda and the Witcher 2. With a story that can last up between 15-20 hours without completing the majority of side-quests, arguably the best combat system to ever grace an action-RPG and a universe with such rich lore, it will leave you researching and begging for more.