mento's Darksiders II (Limited Edition) (Xbox 360) review

Darksiders II has no dearth of depth, but suffers from its size.

Darksiders left our anti-hero War contemplating his options as his brothers (and sister) caught the last few express meteors to Earth to help in what promised to be an Alamo style stand-off between the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and apparently every other force in the universe. Darksiders 2 doesn't quite pick up there, however, electing to roll back the clock a few years before the first game begins and follow the redemptive arc of War's more emaciated and guilt-ridden sibling Death instead, ensuring he has all his baggage in check before his Earthly sojourn. While it weaves in extant Darksiders lore in some interesting and clever ways, such as seeing what major Darksiders 1 characters like Uriel and Samael were up to prior to them meeting War, the game is a largely separate entity that nonetheless fills in more about this Todd McFarlane-esque multiverse's politics, lore and major players. As a way to expand the Darksiders mythos without quite committing to that apocalyptic showdown, it's an interesting compromise, but one that perhaps has players (or at least me personally) wondering how long the series intends to spin its wheels. There are two other Riders, of course, and it doesn't exactly assuage concerns about the franchise continuing to reap the souls of dead horses that they've now been rebranded as the synonym-tastic Strife and Fury.

What's most immediately striking about Darksiders 2 is how much bigger it is. Not only is the game considerably lengthier, clocking in at some 30+ hours, but the game also has Death travelling across four (well, five) very distinctive worlds, from the once-peaceful halcyon realm of the universe's enormous Scottish creator deities, to the foreboding and monochromatic land of the dead, to lands both angelic and demonic and, of course, a quick stop-over on Earth to see how our doomed home dimension is faring. Each realm's distinctiveness, however, is largely superficial: The dungeons themselves, for instance, all have a familiar mix of traversal ledges and switch puzzles, with rooms that lock you in until you've defeated a few waves of enemies and more than a few chests and collectibles hidden in every nook and cranny. Because, as it turns out, this longevity is a double-edged scythe; while the cost-to-hours ratio is overwhelmingly in the green, it has the unfortunate effect of artificially stretching out the game, turning it into an exhausting series of errands that tend to branch ever outwards, as each of Death's new tasks are simply additional steps to resolve the previous, with even more burdens added in as the game's many capricious NPCs have you run around solving their eons-old problems for them before lending their assistance. While Death does admittedly have a somewhat selfish chief concern--that of vindicating War and his innocence regarding Earth's premature abjudication--it does happen to happily coincide with eliminating a consternating all-encompassing corruption that threatens to destroy, well, everything. Despite the danger to absolutely everyone, it seems NPCs can't help but force Death to trot down to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes, figuratively speaking, before providing him the means to remove this slowly encroaching unnatural annihilation.

There's also a plethora of other issues, though admittedly minor ones: The game doesn't pause when the controller batteries give out; a few glitches here and there, including one where I was trapped inside an enemy's weapon for a fun, helpless few seconds until the game mercifully killed me; there's often no explanation behind for a legendary weapon's unique powers, making them a gamble at best; traversal can be uncooperative, as Death will climb vertically instead of laterally unless he's right at the edge of the handhold when the jump button is tapped; major narrative cutscenes are skippable, but the several-second-long establishing shot cutscenes that present challenges (that have already killed you a few times at this point, let's say) are not. A laundry list of gripes--mere quibbles even--they might be, but as the player spends more time with the game those cracks become ever more apparent and aggravating as that aforementioned errand fatigue slowly sets in.

That isn't to say the game isn't competently put together: The game's combat is as punchy as ever, with some goofy OTT cinematic kills and a bevvy of different powers and diverse enemy types and behaviors. The puzzles that require the power du jour are very clever; my favorite being those revolving around the "Soul Splitter" ability that provides three elements - that of two identical clones and Death's now immovable statue-form - with which to work out the solution. There's also a brief, curious divergence into third-person shooter territory as Death makes his way across Earth with powerful Hellguard firearms for a McGuffin that is a neat change of pace, analogous to the flying sequences of Darksiders. It is, at its core, a lot more Darksiders; both in terms of the sheer amount of content it provides and what new elements it has to offer disciples of the first game's mix of brutal God of War combat and imaginative Legend of Zelda puzzle-solving and dungeon exploring. In this regard at least, it fulfills the criteria of being a bigger and better sequel with accomplished aplomb.

Overall, though, the changes to the formula aren't notably significant. The game's most heralded new feature - that of the RPG loot and equipment customization - doesn't make as much of an impact as it might, creating excuses to hunt around for chests and the like without adding a whole lot to the game's core appeal of its puzzles and combat. War was incrementally improved by simply killing things and the net effect here, where Death is constantly finding incrementally better equipment, is pretty much the same just with more inventory micromanagement. The innovative "Possessed Weapons" feature creates an interesting system for powering up weapons while simultaneously disposing of obsolete vendor trash that the more loot-driven games such as Torchlight or Borderlands would be wise to pay attention to, but on the whole it's just not an aspect this game particularly required. Other additions, such as the new powers and new enemies, are either too minor to be worth noting or entirely expected from a sequel; that it looks prettier, is more confident in its execution and raises the dramatic stakes are all improvements that we take for granted. What can I say? We're an entitled bunch at times.

If I sound too harsh on this game, it's from a place of weary enervation. It's simply too long by half and that's perhaps the most damning (and perhaps subjective) complaint one could level at this game. Regardless, I would still recommend Darksiders II. Both to fans of the first game since it definitely does nothing wrong by them; but to newcomers too as this game's prequel status doesn't give too much away for anyone unfamiliar with the first game and its story. Just be aware of the above caveats and you should find it a worthwhile, if lengthy, venture.

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