REVIEW: Darksiders II
Title: Darksiders II
Platform: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Developer: Vigil Games
TL;DR: Death lives, but he ironically dies too.
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When Vigil’s first Darksiders game came riding into the fray atop Ruin in 2010, it made its debut shadowed by other games that were coming off the tail end of the holiday rush. The game was unceremoniously swept under the rug, but for those of us who dared to try it, we were in for a treat.
Sure, it was kind of like Zelda. Sure, it had flavors of Portal running through it. Above all though, it was a nice offering by fresh-faced Vigil Games, and the game was fun.
War was an angry guy. He’d been set up. He’d been framed. He started something he really shouldn’t have, he started it way too early, and it was probably because of a misplaced Post-It note on the Apocalyptic Horsemen’s break room fridge.
Those damn Post-Its.
While the first Darksiders was all about War and his struggle to redeem himself and stop the Apocalypse, the story of Darksiders II introduces us to another horseman and brother to War. This guy’s name is Death, and he looks like he just stepped off of a Metallica CD cover. With an “I give a shit why?” attitude and a mean pair of scythes, Death is set to ride on and clear his brothers name.
After an introduction recapping events from the first Darksiders, players are thrust into the world with Death upon his faithful steed Despair. Death has to find a way to clear War’s name, and his first task is to confront the Crow Father, a miserable old man who holds secrets to worlds and also the key to War’s redemption.
Upon your initial confrontation with the old man, one thing’s apparent: Death isn’t some silent skeletal man wearing a hood, sitting aloof of a white horse and scaring the living shit out of everyone he comes into contact with. He’s not traditional in any sense of the word at all. We’re pretty sure early iterations of Death didn’t have him sporting locks that would turn grunge bands green with envy.
Confronting the Crow Father results in an interesting battle. The Crow Father won’t give up his secrets so easily, and transforms himself into a shadowy form of your brother, hoping to make you question your motives. Death, being the snarky little bastard that he is, doesn’t hesitate. Upon defeat, Death is told to investigate the Forge Lands, and that he can find his answer there.
It’s never so easy in the world of Darksiders, however. Stepping into the Forge Lands presents Death with even more problems than answers. Evil in the form of The Corruption has taken over the once pure lands, and talking to nearby inhabitants of the Forge Lands reveals that Death has to go to the Tree of Life. From there, he can presumably have access to any world he wants, any dimension, and can clear War’s name right up.
Here’s the catch: Death has to help out and clean up The Corruption before he can even think about accessing the Tree. And so, your real adventure begins.
One of the loveliest features of Darksiders II is the artistic stylings of master comic-book-and-Vigil-Games-artist Joe Madd. The character designs are definitely paramount of his style. There’s just enough detail to keep the eyes busy, but not enough to overwhelm you with “What the fuck” moments. The amazing amounts of saturation and contrast in the colors also remind us that this could be a living comic book. It’s beautiful and dynamic, and Madd shows that he knows his stuff when it comes to art.
I’ll only say this once: I almost fell off a ledge because I was too busy admiring the scenery.
The gameplay of Darksiders II is very simple and remarkably familiar. This is, by no means, a detriment to the game. It plays a lot like Kingdoms of Amalur, with Death’s ability to carry a primary and secondary weapon. Different button combinations result in different weapon attacks, spectacular combos, and it’s not too difficult or involving. This isn’t Bayonetta, but it also isn’t LEGO Batman.
Abilities can be assigned to different button combinations, allowing Death to create havoc on the fly. Weapons now have perks that will give you EXP bonuses, boosted defenses, or stronger magic. And there’s a skill tree now, allowing you to perfect your killing skills however your death-dealing little heart desires.
There’s a dodge mechanic, there’s jumping, there’s everything you’d need and want with a third-person hack and slash. There’s a gun to be had, and there’s things that a lot of gamers will stop and say, “…wow, that’s very Zelda.”
There, I made the comparison again. There really is no better way to explain it: Darksiders II does feel a lot like a Zelda game with multiple “You need to collect this to open this way, and you need to do this in order to go here” missions. You also have the ubiquitous “Find a new weapon/tool/ability, go back and find more stuff and more secrets” side of things. But that’s exactly why I love this game: I haven’t played a decent Zelda game in so long that this is exactly what I want. And it’s excellent.
One thing that does truly set Death apart from his brother is his mobility. War was a big, bulky guy, the kind of guy who would tank his way through a dungeon. He had the big broad shoulders, the big chest, and an imposing glare that would make an Iron Golem piss its pants. If it had any pants.
Death is skinny, lithe, and could shimmy up a wooden pole faster than a ninja. Gabriel Belmont could learn a thing or two from him when it comes to beating the lava rush, but that’s another story on its own. It’s almost as if Death took a few pages out of Prince of Persia‘s book, as he can run along walls, seamlessly grab a chain and run along it like a cat, and do all sorts of other acrobatics. Ezio is applauding from somewhere, but we haven’t found him yet.
Now, with all of the improvements over the first, Darksiders II still has its fair share of flaws. Between getting stuck in a pillar and missing a wooden beam by two centimeters, it feels as if the gaming gods are indeed having a good chuckle at your expense while cracking open a beer. For those of us wishing for a flawless, smooth experience, this won’t be a pleasant ride through the Forge Lands.
I wasn’t kidding about the “getting stuck in a pillar” comment. There will be moments when a horde of monsters force you into a corner and suddenly your arm and leg are sticking out of a pillar. The rest of you is stuck somewhere in the texture mapping and there’s no way out unless you reset to the last checkpoint. It also suffers from “I missed the wall cling by half a centimeter and plunged to an untimely death.” There will be plenty of moments like that.
War didn’t need much precision in anything, as the first Darksiders didn’t have cleverly placed beams, hand grips, and climbable wall dressings. Death’s adventure is a completely different story. Some instances might have you feeling like you accidentally wormed your way back into a Romulus Lair in Rome. There’s plenty of climbing puzzles abound, and some of them will have you thinking that Vigil was totally doing it on purpose, but perhaps more frustrating still is the dread hanging over you that if you miss by a hair, you’re staring at a screen that ironically tells you that you’re dead. Apparently we never got the memo that Death can still…er, die.
For some of us, the impeccable timing and technical issues will be a turn off. Nobody likes trying over and over again to pull off that wall jump and keep on failing thanks to missing the landing point by a mere inch. Nobody likes losing a couple minutes of play time either because they got stuck in the wall and couldn’t get out. We won’t even mention how terrible shooting your gun can be.
However, it’s not all bad. In fact, if you’re willing to fight through the difficulties, the game itself is entertaining and quite the adventure. Death’s corny quips may have you cracking a smile from time to time, and the dungeon puzzles are challenging. Fighting some of the bigger monsters will also leave you with that great sense of exhilaration, especially after taking down a towering stone Guardian that covers up three-quarters of your screen.
So go on. Take a ride on Despair on make your way to the Forge Lands. Just don’t forget that there might be some misery along the way.
- Lots of great move sets, weapon combos, and stuff to do.
- The gameplay is fun and reminiscent of Zelda. No, this isn’t a bad thing.
- Great aesthetics sets a nice tone for the game.
- Death’s mobility opens up the world more than the first Darksiders.
And Death Also…Dies?!
- Glitches like suddenly finding yourself inside of a wall or inescapable pillars will happen.
- Never did like those climb-a-thing puzzles only to find out if you miss by a fraction of an inch, you’re dead. A lot.
- Uncontrollable enemy hordes overwhelm a jittery camera, and shooting things won’t be your best friend.
There isn’t an abundance of cussing, but there’s plenty of bloodshed and mature themes going on. Not to mention that some character designs may be questionable. With an ESRB M and PEGI 18 rating, this one is a definite “No” for the family.