Darksiders II – Review
Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC | August 7, 2012
Developed by Vigil Games
Published by THQ
Awakened by the End of Days, Death, the most feared of the legendary Four Horsemen, embarks upon a quest to restore mankind, and redeem his brother’s name. Along the way, the Horseman discovers that there are far worse things than an earthly Apocalypse, and that an ancient grudge may threaten all of Creation
Sequels are tricky. A developer needs to move their franchise forward by introducing new ideas to keep it from getting stale, while making sure they retain the core elements that made the first game a success. Vigil Games took a leap of faith with the second installment of the Darksiders series, and luckily their ambitions paid off. Death’s tale is a grandiose action RPG that surpasses the original Darksiders in almost every regard.
Just like the original Darksiders received countless comparisons to God of War and Legend of Zelda, so shall Darksiders 2. It’s certainly a derivative game, cherry picking the best mechanics and tropes from a number of other action adventure titles. What struck me most was how it felt like a spiritual successor to my favorite adventure franchise of all time, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Death bears striking similarities to Raziel. He is a skeletal, cloaked figure who drains souls from his enemies with various necromantic powers, and even scrambles up walls with the same animalistic animations. He is also a consummate anti-hero, and a likeable one at that. Vigil has injected far more personality into Death than they ever did with War.
Sarcastic and quick-witted, Death is a delight to control. He is single-minded in his mission, with a general disdain for the living. He is also a finesse fighter compared to the Kratos-like style of War. Death can’t block, so he’ll dodge and flip around his enemies, making short work of them with his scythes and the innumerable other weapons you’ll pick up. The loot system is a huge upgrade from the previous game, with an almost “MMO” like quality to it. You’ll constantly be finding better gear, including powerful “possessed” weapons that can be upgraded by sacrificing other pieces of gear into them to raise their stats. You will also gain the odd piece of legendary gear as drops off some of the massive bosses that inhabit the world. While some of the standard combat can get a bit repetitive, the boss fights are always a welcome spectacle.
Like most adventure titles, Death will earn new special moves and skills while progressing through the game. This will unlock abilities like the “death grip” (grappling hook), and “soul splitter” that allows you to split into three forms to solve puzzles conveniently designed for three participants. Oh, and the “portal gun” is back too, only this time it can be upgraded with time travel capabilities. As you earn these upgrades there is the option to travel back to prior dungeons and points in the world, solving clever puzzles to get those treasures you were incapable of snatching up before. While collecting all these items (and their attached side quests) adds replay value for completionists, they won’t always be of much use in the main story due to the quick pace of gear upgrades from standard chests and enemy drops.
In addition to the array of mandatory skills he learns, Death can be heavily customized along two additional skill trees. You can invest skill points into either the “Harbinger” and “Necromancer” path, or both, to add a touch of individuality to your Death build. Full re-specs are allowed any time you have the “gilt” (gold) to pay for them, and with very few pre-requisite skills in either tree there is a large of amount of flexibility to suit different play styles. The majority of these skills focus on combat, which allows you to change things up if you start to get bored dispatching armies of demons in one particular way.
A particularly useful time to re-spec is when you take on the challenging “Crucible”; the built in arena mode that can be accessed at anytime once unlocking it through the campaign. Players must fight through one hundred waves of increasingly difficult foes in order to earn rewards. This was a nice addition that was well integrated into the story, and I’m thankful Vigil chose this rather than shoehorning in a competitive multiplayer or “horde” mode. The one multiplayer aspect to the game is the ability to mail your friends items via the “Serpent Tomes” scattered about the world, and these gifts are always a welcome sight.
While most of Darksiders 2 is very well executed, it’s not without flaws. The camera can be unwieldy when combat gets intense, causing frustration. The graphics are starting to look a bit long in the tooth, although the excellent art style is generally enough of a distraction to keep you from noticing. Finally, I noticed a few glitches here and there when Death would “hover run” over the ground, or worse yet, get stuck in the landscape. These were annoying at the time, but never showstoppers that kept me from enjoying my time with the game.
What Darksiders 2 lacks in technical originality, it makes up for in style and fun factor. The original took the best parts of many popular action-adventure titles and rolled them into a competent game. This second edition polishes and expands on those things, while adding an ambitious amount of new features as well. This combined with an awesome soundtrack by Jesper Kyd makes for one of the better releases for this genre in 2012. For fans of the original Darksiders this one is a no-brainer, and it’s definitely something any fan of the action-adventure genre should keep on their radar to pick up as soon as they can.