Humanity is no more. Wiped out by a prematurely initiated Armageddon, the only salvation for Mankind lies with the Grim Reaper himself: Death. The Pale Rider’s fellow Horseman, War, has been accused of this crime and if Death can resurrect Mankind, then perhaps his brother’s innocence will be recognized by both Heaven and Hell. This is the ambitious set up for the equally ambitious game: Darksiders II. The original Darksiders was a buffet table of various video game genres that were all distilled into one incredibly cohesive and enjoyable experience but Darksiders II takes what was already in place and adds even more variety into the mix.
The most noteworthy addition to the series is the Role Playing Game elements. You can now level the character up, customize his gear and have conversations with NPCs. Loot whores will love all of the randomly generated loot that the game has to offer. Enemies, treasure chests and even crates and pottery could all drop loot. Most of the loot is pretty useless but you may find some cool surprises every now and again. You can also buy and sell weapons, equipment and talismans from and to certain NPCs. The gear isn’t just for aesthetic purposes since all of it will augment your abilities in one form or another.
Leveling up earns you skill points which can then be used in the ability tree sub-menu. There are two main branches to the tree, one that has arcane attacks and one that has weapon/melee attacks. You can choose to put all of your skill points into one of the branches or pick abilities from either. It’s completely up to you whether you want a character that specializes in one branch or is a jack of all trades. If you’re not happy with how you’ve evolved Death you can always respec him, so feel free to experiment with all of his abilities. You can assign up to four skills to access on the fly and the rest can be used by opening up the radial menu.
Death is a more nimble character than his brother War, therefore his combat and platforming styles are a bit different. Death doesn’t have the ability to counter attacks but instead dodges out of the way. He wields two scythes as his main weapons but can also use secondary weapons that are found in the wild or bought from merchants. You can level up certain weapons by feeding it other weapons. Yes, you read that correctly. You can also buy new combos to really dish out the pain. Death’s dodge can also be used to close the distance between him and his foes so while he may not be able to take or deal as much damage as War could, he is in some ways a more lethal and cunning warrior. Combat is mostly solid but it does run into problems when you lock on to foes and you get a camera angle that makes it hard to tell what is happening. Locking on is essential to pulling off combos so you’ll just have to deal with the occasional bad camera angle that comes from using it.
Platforming feels slightly different this time around due to Death’s aforementioned nimbleness. The game’s platforming sections are tailor made for Death and are pretty fun to play through. You’ll do the standard climbing up pillars and running on walls but things like grapple points and conveniently placed protruding blocks that help you extend your wall run keep things interesting. Darksiders II has some of the smoothest platforming you’ll find in a game.
You’ll do most platforming in one of the dozens of dungeons scattered throughout the lands. Each dungeon has a wide variety of intricate puzzles to solve. The puzzles aren’t too difficult to figure out but one or two may get you from time to time. As the game progresses you’ll gain new abilities that open up different types of puzzles or that help you get to items you couldn’t before.
The world, or rather, worlds are simply enormous. The game isn’t quite open world but it sure does feel like it due to the vast size of the realms you explore. To keep you from getting lost, there is a helpful mini map and an even more helpful Raven that can show you the way to your objective. Even if you ride around on top of your horse it can still take a long time to get to places but thankfully there is a fast travel option to get you to locations you’ve previously visited. If you want to leave a dungeon at any point, you can always return to one of the dungeon’s checkpoints via fast travel.
Darksiders II is without a doubt one of the most beautiful games out there. This is due in no small part to the art design that is created or inspired by the art style of the legendary comic book artist, Joe Madureira. The man’s design sensibilities permeate everything from the characters to the environments. The game is a visual feast and you’ll often stop what you’re doing just to gaze upon the fantastic otherworldly vistas. From angelic cities, barren wastelands, lush forests and hellish castles, every inch of this game is a marvel to behold. The scope and depth of the world is magnified thanks to the exceptional soundtrack that always plays the perfect music for any given occasion.
Unfortunately the biggest let down of Darksiders II is with its story or rather, the way the plot is constructed. The actual mythology of the world is great and I love how it takes myths from Judeo/Christianity, Norse and Hinduism and mixes them up to create something familiarly original (new term!) but the way it is told leaves much to be desired. The story structure is like a caricature of a JRPG. You have main objectives but in order to complete them you must do a series of other objectives, each with their own sub objectives. It’s hard to stay engaged in a story when endless side objectives keep distracting you from the main ones. You can definitely tell that the gameplay was created first and then the story was placed on top of it later. This is fine for other games but for a title as lore heavy as Darksiders II, the story should have been front and center just like it was in the first game.
Darksiders II doesn’t skimp on the amount of things it offers. You can accept quests from NPCs, collect items, find hidden dungeons that contain brutally hard enemies and bosses and even have fights in an arena. “The crucible” arena is your basic survival mode but the deeper you get into its 100 levels, the better the loot you’ll receive. You can also play a New Game Plus with all of the levels and gear from your previous playthrough(s) intact. The amount of quests thrown at you can get a bit overwhelming but considering how few games out there offer this much, it’s a good problem to have. The main story will take you about 20 hours to complete but if you engage in all of the extra activities you could easily see your playthrough go into the 50 hour range.
While I admire the folks at Vigil games for cramming so much stuff into Darksiders II it wasn’t entirely necessary. This game could have been a regular 3rd person Action Adventure game like its predecessor and I would have been happy. I love RPGs but the game didn’t really need those mechanics. I would have liked it if more work was done to create a more cohesive and meaningful story instead of seeing how much loot and items the game could throw at players. That aside, Darksiders II is a great game that fans of RPGs and Action Adventure games should highly enjoy. Despite some of its faults, Death smiles upon this game.
Special thanks to Sergio Curiel and Emilio Lopez for creating the featured image. Sergio did the line art and Emilio did clean ups and coloring. You can go to Segio’s DeviantArt page here and Emilio’s here.
Check out my unboxing of the Darksiders II Collector’s edition here.
Darksiders II was developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ. It is available now for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. A Wii U version will be released later this year.