Review: Darksiders II
Darksiders 2 shouldn’t work. At first glance, it seems like a hodgepodge of many other games, taking the best parts of Zelda, God of War, Portal, Diablo, and even Shadow of the Colossus. The game looks like a 90s comic, with heavy emphasis of things looking as radical as possible, a far cry from todays trend of hyper realism. On the surface, this seems like a paint-by-numbers exercise, but the reality is much different. Vigil have proven that they can take all these elements, mix them up, and come up with a sum far greater than its parts. Darksiders 2 may be a copycat, but my word if it isn’t good at it.
The plot revolves around Death, brother to War, and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War, the protagonist of DS1, has just mistakenly started Armageddon, kicking off a huge war between angels and demons which has destroyed the human race. War has been imprisoned for this crime, and Death seeks to redeem him by restoring the human race to life.
The whole game takes place in the 100 years that War was imprisoned, at the beginning of DS1. As you travel across the lands, many other characters will require your help, and soon all manner of plot-lines and magical races will be intertwining with each other, creating a complex, but rich world to play in. The dungeons blend wonderfully with the great plains, and the whole world has a cohesiveness to it that keeps you hooked. Some of your tasks can devolve into run of the mill fetch quests, but for the most part the addictive gameplay more than makes up for this.
Death is a nimble chap, making traversal and combat a breeze. Simple lock on mechanics, combined with normal attacks and customisable specials form a solid base for the fighting. Fights can get bonkers, with attacks, evades and counters going off in every direction, in a brutal ballet of butchery. As you progress, you’ll uncover more tools, abilities and gear to aid your combat effectiveness. Not only do these tools improve your fighting ability, most of them also offer new options for traversing the labyrinthine dungeons you’ll encounter.
Every chamber you reach in Darksiders 2 has been carefully crafted to make the most of your current equipment. Gear is obtained throughout the game, and is mixed into every puzzle you have to solve. Early on you have simple tools, like throwable bombs and a gun to shoot them with. Later puzzles require you to utilise time travel, portals, grabbing arms and more. The game makes you really think about what you need to do, and every area links together sensibly. Dungeons loop back on themselves, and old areas can be seen as you progress, enforcing the feeling that you’re not just traipsing through a series of corridors.
Not only does Darksiders 2 give you mental challenges to overcome, it also provides some top notch physical work too. The parkour sections flow beautifully, making full use of your many traversal mechanics. You’ll spot chests from afar, and then spend a few minutes working out how to get over to them, utilising wall runs, ledge jumps, pole climbs and swing points. The animations are super smooth, and flow wonderfully into each other, making traversal a constant pleasure.
Of course, superb animation can only take you so far. Luckily, the visuals don’t disappoint. Artist Joe Madureira, of Uncanny X-Men and Battle Chasers fame is the creative director for the franchise, and his influence is easy to see. Death looks awesome, less bogged down with tiny details like War was, and benefits from this more focused direction. The other characters look chunky and tough, and all the enemies have a cool visual flair to them. The world looks great too, with grand plains, towering castles and runic ruins everywhere. Everything fits together nicely, and serves the design perfectly. A shirtless dude with long black hair, a pair of backwards scythes, chunky boots and a deaths head mask on shouldn’t look as cool as Death does, but somehow Vigil have pulled it off, and it’s totally rad.
As you progress, you’ll gather loot, mainly in the form of weapons and armor. Every bit of loot you find is randomised, much like Diablo, and you’ll find varying properties from piece to piece. Equipment is reflected on Death, and you’ll see his appearance alter as you play, with big, spiky plates for melee gear, and cowls for magical apparel. You can also find Possessed items, which you can “feed” with other gear, improving their abilities. This loot system adds yet another layer of addictiveness to the cocktail, making every single chest worth searching out.
It will take you some time to search out those chests. The world is huge, and it stuffed full of nooks and crannies. There are vast dungeons, smaller tombs, plains to stride over and more hidden areas than you can shake a stick at. The games plot will last you 20-30 hours, and hunting down every last side-quest will add a large chunk to that number. Once you’re done, you can also attempt The Crucible, an arena mode, and compare your top scores with your friends. It’s a nice touch, and gives more emphasis on getting your own build of Death perfect.
Over the long course of your journey, you’ll probably run into Darksiders 2′s biggest flaw, the engine. While everything looks great, and runs smooth, you’ll encounter a few bugs as you play, with occasional screen tearing too. In my time Death got stuck falling off a ledge constantly, the game froze twice, and I managed to catapult Death through the floor into the aether. The menus chug a bit too, and take just a bit too long to navigate for my liking.
Darksiders 2 may be a bit buggy. It may crib ideas from all kinds of sources. It may even look like the comics you read as a teenager. But here’s the thing: none of that matters. It’s fun, it’s addicting, it looks great, and it’s a rollocking good time from start to finish. You’ll grow to love your own Death, and though his appearance and skills may differ from player to player, one fact remains.
Death rides, and it’s totally sweet.