The original Darksiders was one of the surprise hits of 2010, an eclectic blend of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the scribbled drawings from the margins of a 14-year old boy’s notebook. By taking the somewhat stagnant conventions of such an eternally classic title and thrusting it kicking and screaming into the cold light of a new generation, the team at Vigil Games created a wonderful, albeit highly derivative, action adventure game. Darksiders II continues the modernisation process of its predecessor. Through logical changes and the adding of deep customization options, Darksiders II distances itself from the derivative nature of its progenitor and stands tall as a great game on its own merit.
Following on from the story of the original Darksiders, players control Death, one of the four Riders of the Apocalypse. War, protagonist of the original title and fellow Rider, is held by the Charred Council for damning humanity and destroying the balance between Heaven and Hell. Death, in an effort to exonerate his brother, seeks to resurrect the lost souls of humanity and sets off on a journey to the Well of Souls to complete his task. The simplicity of the core goal behind the narrative is to the game’s advantage, as it creates a strong, well-defined end point to work towards. It also simultaneously allows Death to pursue other tasks from the cast of characters met along the way.
Even though the conclusion may be comparatively limp, it would have been almost impossible to live up to the testosterone-fuelled, machismo madness of the first title. The net result is a strong, thematically consistent narrative that consistently drives the action forward, and one that will keep the player interested for the lengthy, 24-hour long campaign.
The core gameplay of Darksiders returns largely unchanged, combining a mix of third-person action and exploration. Combat is a fast and challenging combo-based affair, where precise timing and clever execution of special attacks is rewarded. A deep and varied tech-tree allows the player to customize their powers to complement their own skills, and create a combat style unique to them. While the combat is challenging, it strongly rewards intelligent play and is extremely enjoyable.
The exploration and traversal elements of Darksiders II are, unfortunately, one of the few stumbling blocks throughout the entire experience. Climbing upon the crumbling ruins of humanity represents a large portion of the total time within the game; however, the controls for doing so are a little clunky. When there is no time limit imposed, this is a problem that can be easily avoided with a slower and more cautious approach. However, as soon as a limit rears its ugly head, the imprecise, heavy controls create a significant burden on the gameplay. Even though it only causes a problem a handful of times across the length of the entire experience, it is definitely something that will require work in a sequel.
Perhaps the biggest new introduction comes in the form of equippable loot. Enemies will drop random weapons and armor that provide bonuses to over two dozen different stats and abilities for Death during combat. This allows for the creation of precise, individualised combat scenarios tailored to each player, so that no two Deaths will play quite the same. Furthermore, each piece will provide a cosmetic alteration, so that as Death levels up and changes combat styles, so too does his armour. It’s a staggeringly deep system that has been added, and easily one of the most enjoyable features within the game.
A particularly novel loot-based addition comes in the form of upgradeable weapons. By “feeding” the weapon another item from Death’s inventory, it gains experience and will eventually level up. The buffs and bonuses upon the items that are fed to the weapon dictate what skills are improved when it levels up, adding an intriguing level of strategy to the upgrade mechanic. It’s a unique system that is disappointingly underrepresented, with less than a dozen instances surfacing through an ordinary playthough. Even in limited quantities, though, it is a fantastic addition and an interesting twist on traditional loot-based mechanics.
A newly reworked quest system in Darksiders II allows for Death to undertake a series of side missions and stray from the story-based path. Various characters across the many realms Death traverses will offer great rewards for the completion of unique side-dungeons unrelated to the core quest. These are often more challenging than their main-quested kin, but contain some of the most striking visuals and challenging puzzles within the product. Dust, Death’s friendly bird, serves as the in-game hint system to assist with challenging puzzles and dungeons. When summoned, Dust will fly off and act as a waypoint for where to go. The hints provided can be extremely cryptic, only pointing you where to solve the puzzle, not how. By only providing a small amount of assistance, it ensures that a dash of logic will have to applied by the player to progress. This can be frustrating; however, it is a rewarding system that encourages careful analysis and problem-solving.
Darksiders II is an aural and visual treat, presenting some of the most stunning landscapes seen in this generation of hardware. The unique worlds that Death passes through are wonderfully realized, and full of incredible art and level design. From climbing inside of a lava-spewing volcano to traipsing across the decks of a skeleton pirate’s airship, each zone looks and sounds completely different. The soundtrack is suitably epic, but not particularly notable. The voice acting is quite good also, with each performance helping to further elucidate those on-screen beyond their seemingly simplistic caricatures. Death, especially, benefits from a strong vocal performance and becomes a far deeper, more nuanced character than might be expected.
Darksiders II might be a long journey, but it is one that is enjoyable the whole way through. Developers Vigil Games have built upon the core established by its predecessor in some intelligent ways, sculpting one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year so far. While some slight technical glitches and control issues mar what would otherwise be an incredible title, Darksiders II is a true delight and a game well worth playing.