The original Darksiders was critically acclaimed but sadly got a bit of bum deal, having performed poorly at retail. Effortlessly mixing God of War style combat with the adventuring of The Legend of Zelda it really should have sold more, luckily this did not deter Vigil Games and to their credit the money men at THQ. War, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse began the end of days on Earth or at least that is what they’d like us to think - if you haven’t played the original, pick it up for a tenner as it is a great game and will only enhance your enjoyment of this sequel. Players of the original know full well that all is not what it seems and enter stage left Death, brother of War, riding to the aid of his brother. Can the game be as good as the original and this time actually do well at retail, ultimately (as some have reported) save THQ from their end of days?
In this sequel you play as Death, brother of War and another of the four horseman. Death’s key objectives are twofold, clear his brother’s name and comically, save humanity - ignoring the irony the premise is sound and so our story begins. The story is told on a grand scale with a very straight face and the beginning of this tale is for the most part muted. As you begin War rides his faithful steed to meet the Crowfather, demanding answers and a means to save his brother, to save us all (don’t laugh at the irony, just let it go). We are treated to a small glimpse into the character of Death with the obligatory “so be it” moment and a minor battle occurs to kick start our story, moving you neatly into the first third of the tale. The lore is a mish-mash of The Bible, Lord of the Rings and any other popular fantasy novel you can think of but initially at least it is delivered with purpose and by voices you will likely recognise.
Whilst the original neatly blended the Zelda and God of War elements together the team at Vigil have taken the bigger is better approach with the sequel. RPG elements litter the game and there is enough loot found within the three absolutely huge overworlds to make the Torchlight or Diablo crowds look up from their keyboards, albeit most likely just briefly. Death is blessed with a plethora of moves from the off and throughout the worlds are multiple opportunities to be trained in the ever expanding world of kicking ass, utilising sometimes completely bonkers combos, all gloriously animated on screen.
The RPG elements found within add an awful lot of depth to the gameplay, allowing gamers to adopt varying play styles and generally mixing it up as you work through the mammoth adventure. We are treated to dual skill trees which can be upgraded using skill points obtained through levelling up and levelling up occurs by completing quests, the ‘new for the sequel’ side quests and generally beating the crap out of everything you encounter. Each skill tree has a mixture of offensive and defensive options which range from the always reliable teleport dash which can be upgraded to absorb health and also deal out fire/ice damage, to the summoning of a crew of skeletons or crows to beat on the enemy while you circle waiting for the critical strike. It all adds to the experience and gives you an awful lot of variety during the combat.
Controlling Death is simple enough, quick light attack, huge slow heavy attack and dodge will see you through the majority of the adventure, there is also an additional grab function as well as a deadly pistol for ranged situations. Whilst the controls are simple enough they would easily become a tad stale if the weapons didn’t add further variety to the mix. The amount of loot in the game is ridiculous and frankly Death is spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing his pain bringing tools. Each weapon, armour piece (head to toe, each limb has separate armour which can be changed) and trinket has a wealth of stats ranging from simple damage and defence to the more varied arcane damage or critical hit chance and damage. This could all sound like a game where you will spend most of your time in the menu messing about with your kit but the developers have added a lovely little feature which compares the loot to what you have equipped while you look at it on the ground, thus saving an awful lot of time and easily ensuring that Death has the top gear on at all times.
So how do all these wonderful weapons control in the heat of battle...beautifully that’s how. The combat in the original was heavy, hard hitting and befitting the character of War - he was a brute, an unstoppable force and the combat reflected that. In Darksiders II Death is nimble, quick and agile, he very much strikes you as the kind of dirty fighter that would distract you by shouting “hey there’s Jessica Ennis” and before you know it his scythe is planted in your forehead. His agility is complemented by his tools of choice, dual scythes and the speed at which they can be utilised is often a sight to behold. The combat is a delight and at least for the first half of the game you will wish there was more of it.
As touched on earlier the opening sequences are fairly muted and that can be said for arguably the initial half of the game - in its place is an absolute truck load of Prince of Persia style platforming and more puzzles than I’ve ever seen in a game, even in puzzle games. Things heat up after a while but for quite a few hours you are treated to puzzle after puzzle after puzzle and the urge to break necks can become overwhelming, stick with it though because there is plenty of action in there.
Keep in mind then that Darksiders II is not a ‘quick blast’, it isn’t a linear God of War style sub ten hour experience and if you include the side quests this game is easily twenty five hours. Bigger yes, better for it...meh, different is probably more accurate. There does sometimes feel like there is a lot of padding within the game, especially when looking at the puzzles and main fetch quests. For someone who loves button bashers, sure the combat is there but it becomes a little tough to recommend unless you know said button basher is happy to do ten hours of platforming and puzzle solving in between. The game is essentially split into three huge overworlds and for the most part, the second is quite a chore. Sure there are huge boss battles, a truck load of mini boss battles and as always killer loot but the main quest line feels like a bit of a grind.
The rule of three in games is a tradition that few ever break but sadly what happens in Darksiders II is it is completely taken to the extreme. There is nothing particularly wrong with the rule of three, it has graced some of the greatest games ever to be released on the market. Annoyingly though if you are asked to find three items to progress the main story which to complete requires three lots of platforming, three reasonably complex puzzles, three reasonably tough mini bosses all culminating in a big boss fight only to find that upon completion you are rewarded with another request for three different items, within which you will find a request for three items (honestly), a feeling of rinse and repeat smacks you in the face eating away at your enthusiasm and overall desire to keep playing.
There are other negatives which whilst not game breaking do stop Darksiders II from being as stellar as it possibly could have been. Graphically it is for the most part gorgeous but there are some odd bugs throughout the game, from the wireframe of an enemy being seen and heard in the same room as you all the way to the random audio glitches during key plot moments or boss battles. It isn’t perfect and sadly coupled with the design issues touched upon earlier it simply isn’t as brilliant as some hoped it would be.
If you have the stamina to battle through the puzzle intensive sections the rest of Darksiders II is a delight. The combat is so responsive, to the point where you completely feel Death’s every movement that you are able battle through the sometimes excessive elements of the game as deep down you want more and you just know that ultimately it will be worth it. Yes it has issues but they all wash away once you have levelled Death up to the point that he is conducting a sadistic ballet on the screen, cracking skulls and ripping enemies limb from limb at will.
The original Darksiders was criticised by many as derivative and there is little doubt that this sequel will have that same said about it in many a review, the key questions though are surely: Does it matter? Is that even relevant? One could argue that derivative is pretty much all we are treated to these days as the big players try and suck every last drop out of the current console generation there isn’t a great deal of innovation to be found, just iteration. Darksiders II is not original, it even has its own problems but by the power of greyskull it is gorgeous, gory fun.
Darksiders II is epic in scale, easy on the eyes, heavy on the combat but with a few problems which hold it back from those elusive full marks. That said it is bloody good fun, a fantastic continuation of the story told in the first installment and a credit to Vigil Games.
Oh, and if you were wondering, Death is a bit of a dick