“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come and see!’ I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.” — Revelation 6:7-8
Now that that’s out the way: in 2010, gamers the world over were still revelling in the phenomenon known as the seventh generation of consoles; namely the PS3, Xbox 360 and that Wii thing. Of course, with new technology came new innovation and so Darksiders entered the scene and what an entrance it had what with its awesomeness spraying everywhere and what not. Using a biblical prophecy as a story basis and drawing from the similar God of War series for gameplay inspiration, the game struck the right kind of chord with many a gamer, but yet, people still felt something was missing. Using this feedback, Vigil Games and THQ have once again joined forces as developer and publisher respectively to rectify this and deliver the next iteration in the Darksiders franchise, but just how well did they do with this sequel?
Truthfully, it’s hard to call this a sequel because it doesn’t really follow the previous game. Instead, Darksiders II’s timeline runs parallel to the first and the story at first revolves around Death, brother to War and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, journeying to the world between Heaven and Hell known as the Veil where he seeks to clear his brother of the crimes of which he has been accused of. But as he progresses through his quest, it becomes more personal and his past deeds catch up to him and demands he face the consequences. Overall, the stories Darksiders II presents aren’t as scintillating at first, but as you progress, they become more engrossing and are ones which will engage the player and make them want to see the game through to its end – however, the biggest problem in this area is that the pacing is irregular. It takes some time to get from one plot point to the next and it’s easy to lose sight of your goals as you adventure your way through that hidden dungeon you just stumbled across.
But exactly how does one go about adventuring in Darksiders II, you ask? With a plethora of equipment that you shall find during your, well, adventuring. New to the franchise is a wide variety of loot you’ll get from chests, enemies and breakable objects. These items range from both primary and secondary weapons to gauntlets and boots to even complete armour sets and all of these have unique attributes, abilities and levels. Every now and then, special weapons known as Possessed [insert weapon type here] will pop up and these can be “fed” other pieces of equipment to make them stronger. Death is also able to wall run and jump to reach the unreachable. Yes, unlike his brother, Death is quite the fashionista and no two players will have the same look nor weapons with which to butcher those who oppose them.
And butchering is still as easy as in the first game. As mentioned above, Death utilizes both a primary weapon (always in the form of a scythe) which delivers light attacks and secondary weapon (varies between axes, hammers and gauntlets) for heavy attacks in combat which he can switch between smoothly and effortlessly at a tap of a button. Combining this with the nimbleness and magical abilities Death possesses, you get a more than capable fighter. But even though Death lives up to his name, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in some areas trying to remember a (underwhelming) combo you just purchased or taking on too many enemies at once in a moment of testosterone driven Chuck Norrisism. But those nitpicks aside, combat is a pleasant and fun experience that is actually surprisingly addictive and players might find themselves looking for hordes of demons to bully. But take note that Death doesn’t really have a locked weapon set. He’ll – or really you’ll – use whichever scythe he can find which leads me to believe he’s the bane of many a wheat farmer the world over.
Combat doesn’t go unrewarded either. Also new to the series is the ability to earn XP to level up Death’s Harbinger (warrior) or Necromancer (magic) skill trees which in turn provide more abilities to dispatch enemies with. The previous game did include XP gain, but it was limited to weapons. This time around, Death is the benefactor. This levelling up system adds to the replay value of the title because you won’t max out your skills the first time you play. The only way to max out Death is in the New Game+ mode which allows you to keep everything from the first playthrough and it’s in this run that you’ll feel like a true incarnation of death. And don’t fret if you max out Death, the world of Darksiders II is a massive one with hundreds of hidden chests and collectables to find. Most of these require something that you’ll probably not have the first time you come across it, but thanks to a fast travel option, you can get what you need and get back to where you want to be in mere minutes. And if you feel you’d rather make the journey, you can summon Despair, Death’s faithful horse to gallivant around while being guided by Dust, your raven.
As to how it all looks, the answer would have to be awesome. The art style of the game takes the comic-inspired route and though things aren’t in ultra face melting HD, they remain vibrant and detailed. You get generic enemy models, but they make sense seeing as they are grouped and of a species, so it can be overlooked. But other models such as Death, the NPCs and more so the bosses all look excellent and quite well done. There are numerous dungeons to crawl through but yet they each look unique and distinctive, which is a welcome surprise. It isn’t just the dungeons which shine though, the outside world is a colourful and pretty one. Each region of the map might boast a different look and feel, but regardless of where you are, you can tell a lot of thought and effort has been put into it. But there are the occasional glitches where you’ll fall through maps or sound would mysteriously disappear. Speaking of which… In the sound department, the game doesn’t fare as well. Although the voice acting is impressive – especially Death and his charming devil-may-care attitude – and the characters are well crafted, the actual score isn’t as haunting as it should be. Sure combat and the various actions you’ll perform all have their respective sound effects (all sounding good, worry not), the music isn’t really that… impressive. In fact it’s quite the mellow affair because there are situations where it would pick up, but it would still remain largely on the mellow side and it tends to detach players from any sense of urgency. The score isn’t bad, just out-of-place and underwhelming.
Overall, Darksiders II is an amazing game. It plays, looks and somewhat sounds great and you can see Vigil put a lot of effort into it. They’ve done enough to differentiate it from the first, yet not too much to alienate it and this provides a familiar yet vastly different experience. The future looks bright for the franchise and I look forward to what else Vigil and THQ have lined up for Darksiders III.