Darksiders won over fans and critics alike with a dark story and gameplay that felt like a Zelda game, only with God of War combat. Darksiders II tweaks that formula, adds some new elements and wraps the whole thing in a bigger, deeper package. While the game isn’t perfect in all of its pursuits, it’s very good and something both fans of the original and those new to the series should play.
Darksiders II features Death, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. The story runs parallel to the events of the first game, and centers around Death’s quest to save his fellow horseman War. The story provides information on the origins of the horsemen, as well as giving a surprisingly deep look into the character of Death.
Unlike its fairly linear predecessor, Darksiders II is set in a huge open world, similar to the setting of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Large worlds can be both good and bad, and the developers have done a nice job balancing the scale with ease of movement. Death can summon his horse, Despair, in almost any outdoor area, enabling him to move quickly through new territories. Once an area has been discovered, Death can fast travel to it at any time from the map, which keeps the action from being broken up by long stretches of travel.
The game is quest based, and many of those will take you to dungeons all over the world. Death’s crow companion Dust is a big help in dungeons – at Death’s command Dust will fly in the direction of your next objective, effectively pointing you in the right direction. It’s a great mechanic that is really useful when you’re not sure which direction to go in next, or may have missed a switch somewhere.
Fast travel works in dungeons too, so you can pop out for healing potions and come right back to where you were. One of the best features of the game is, whether in the overworld or a dungeon, you can save and then resume your game from that exact spot. All of these features work together to keep the game from getting stale, because it eliminates the need to replay an area you left or had to quit before finishing.
In addition to the main story, there are plenty of side quests, ranging from fetching ingredients for a merchant to entire extra dungeons. It feels crazy to finish the game and still have several more dungeons and bosses that you haven’t even seen yet, but it just serves as proof of how big Darksiders II really is.
In truth, the main game is actually a little too big. I spent 22 hours finishing the main story with no side quests, and while I enjoyed myself the whole time I was ready for it to be over a few hours before it actually was. The lack of quest variety doesn’t help, as an inordinate number of them involve needing to find three of something in order to proceed. Some quests being trimmed or changed up a bit would definitely have helped.
As one might expect, Death is pretty accomplished when it comes to killing things, and the combat in Darksiders II is smooth and responsive. Whether swinging his dual scythes or one of several secondary weapons, Death can dodge enemy attacks and chain together combos and powerful special moves to take down one enemy or a large group. When his Reaper gauge is full Death can take his true form as the Grim Reaper, and do massive damage for a limited time.
Enemy kills earn experience, and as Death gains levels he earns skill points that can be used to upgrade abilities in one of two skill trees. The Harbinger tree focuses on direct attacks, while the Necromancer tree is more indirect, allowing Death to do things like summon the dead to fight alongside him. Skills are powered by Wrath, which can be earned through combat or replenished with a potion.
Like items and acquired abilities, skills can be mapped to button combinations, so they can be easily used in combat. For a small price the right merchant will allow you to re-assign all of your skill points, giving you the ability to change your approach to meet different challenges. It’s not required (I never moved any of my points), but it’s nice to have the ability to experiment with the different skills to see what suits you best.
The controls in Darksiders II are similar to the original, and Death can grip certain areas of the environment to climb, or run along walls for a short distance. The pale rider is more agile than his brother War though; he can use stones jutting out from walls to extend wall runs, leap from wall to wall as he runs down a hallway, or jump back and forth between walls to gain height. Movement is quick and responsive, although at times Death can be a little too agile – if you accidentally jump onto a wall Death can’t climb he will still grip and hang for a few seconds before dropping, which can be enough of a delay to get you in trouble.
In addition to the skill tree, Darksiders II adds another staple of action RPGs: loot. Everything from Death’s scythes to his boots can be replaced with items found in chests or dropped by enemies. Like other games, loot comes in several varieties, including enchanted, rare and elite. Death can also find possessed weapons, which can be fed other weapons to level up and increase in power. As possessed weapons level up and gain attributes you have some control, so you might be able to choose between increased critical damage or extra fire damage. It’s very cool, and I found myself hanging onto everything I found so I would have plenty to sacrifice to any possessed weapon I found.
Item management is good, but could have been better. Standing over an item will show you how it compares to what you already have equipped, but it only shows whether the changes are positive of negative, and not by how much. For example, if an item adds several bonuses but has lower defense, the only way to see how much lower the defense is and decide if the trade-off is worth it is by going into your inventory and examining what you currently have. Unwanted items can be sold to merchants, but there is no sell all option, meaning you have to manually select and then confirm each item to sell it, which is a nuisance.
Darksiders II looks very nice. Some sections of the world are expansive and beautiful, while the dark atmosphere in dungeons helps to set the mood. Death himself looks great in combat, and the enemies attacking him are nicely varied and look great, especially when Death is slaughtering them with one of his execution moves. Some of the bosses in the game are huge, really adding to the epic feel to your quest. The impressive visuals carry some technical drawbacks though; framerate drops are not uncommon, and I noticed several instances of minor screen tearing, especially when rounding corners in large areas.
The game sounds great as well. All of the characters are well voiced, and the background music, whether light ballad or mournful cello works very well. The clashing of weapons and the sound of scythe meeting bone really add to the combat, making it that much more fun to take down your enemies.
For as well designed as it is Darksiders II is, it does have its flaws. When fighting if you get too close to a corner or pillar the camera can zoom in so close that it’s impossible to see what’s going on. I also encountered some puzzling technical flaws. In some sections beams of light must be pointed at a door to open it, and a few times the door didn’t open the first time I pointed the beam; only after I turned it away and then pointed it back again did the door unlock. There was an instance where it seemed like a cinematic cut off too early, and another where a section of dialog was skipped in my conversation with an NPC.
New copies of the game come with codes to unlock the Crucible, an arena where you can fight your way through waves of enemies to earn new items. Every five waves you have a choice – stop there and take your prize, or press on, knowing that if you die you’ll get nothing for your efforts. When you finish the main game you have the option to return and finish any outstanding side quests, or start a new game plus, carrying over your stats and equipment.
Darksiders II is a huge, fun game. Vigil had a lot of expectations to live up to, and despite some design and technical issues they delivered. Whether or not you played the original it’s an excellent game, and one that I highly recommend.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.