Darksiders II: review

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  • Format: PS3 (version reviewed), 360, PC, OnLive, Wii U
  • Unleashed: Out Now (NA), 21st August (EU), ? (WIi U)
  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Vigil Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site: www.darksiders.com

 

We really enjoyed Darksiders. Placing you as it did in the stomping boots of War (of apocalypse fame), we weren’t much surprised to find most of the game involved shouting and/or turning living things to mulch. It was great fun though, and the sequel promises to do everything bigger and better – this time giving you control of another grumpy horseman, a surprisingly hunky incarnation of Death. Does it deliver?

The basics remain the same. What we have here is a third person platformer, with plenty of melee combat and a major emphasis on a fantasy apocalypse-flavoured story. While the first game “borrowed” heavily from the Zelda series however, the second largely takes its cue from the 21st Century Prince of Persia games. You’ll often find yourself running up and across walls, leaping from superfluous wooden beam to superfluous wooden beam, or bouncing between opposing walls. It does mean Darksiders II often plays very differently from its prequel, and the system usually works brilliantly. Two or three overly ambitious sequences, however, shine an unwelcome spotlight on how tightly scripted your supernatural parkour is. Jumps that look like they should work don’t, because that’s not the exact route the developers expect you to take.

Following on directly from the first game, Death is attempting to redeem War, who was unfairly accused of prematurely triggering the apocalypse. Rather than prove his innocence, Death decides it would be easier and more sensible to reverse Armageddon by resurrecting the whole of humanity. The story is enjoyable hokum which revolves around the idea of balance (mainly guilt & redemption and life & death) – as does the gameplay. This is mainly due to the new RPG-style levelling system.

At the beginning of the game, Death is fairly vulnerable (especially on Hard). His deceptively long health bar can lose large chunks quickly, his attacks are fairly weak, and he’s missing almost all of his special abilities. Items and abilities are acquired as you progress through the story, but Death’s strengths and weaknesses are ultimately determined by choices you make as you play. Every time you level up, you’re awarded one skill point with which you can upgrade an existing ability or unlock a new one. Do you want to have a wide range of weaker special attacks – which require Wrath, replenished by potions or landing successive hits on enemies – or concentrate on maxing out a few of your favourite ones? More importantly, which weapons will you use?

“Impress us with your breakdancing skills, and we may spare your life.”

Darksiders had just a few things to hit monsters in the face with, handed to you as you made your way through the story. Darksiders II has an impressively huge range of both primary and secondary weapons, found or bought throughout the game world. It’s not as simple as choosing the ones which deal out the most damage. Many buff stats such as strength, health, defence and Wrath – and it’s very rare to find something that benefits all three. Then some deal additional damage through fire or frost, some award you a certain amount of health or Wrath for every kill… the primary/secondary weapon combination you choose can make a big difference to gameplay. On top of that, stats are buffed in a similar way by the apparel you wear. This does, of course, mean you’ll be diving in and out of the menus throughout your journey.

As in the first game, the plentiful combat is wonderfully designed. You feel every successful swing as it makes contact with a monstrous foe, and watching their movements carefully is rewarded with a golden opportunity to dodge at the perfect moment to retaliate with a tidal wave of pain. That said, at the times when you find yourself surrounded by a dozen enemies or so, button bashing is sometimes the best – or even only – option. There are also plenty of bosses which, while extremely satisfying to defeat, don’t usually live up to the consistent ‘wow’ factor of the prequel.

Darksiders II places a greater emphasis on dungeons. There are many more than in the first game, and most of them are bigger than Jeremy Clarkson’s ego. Nonetheless they feel slightly more focussed than those War found himself in, a factor helped by Death’s crow Dust – who you can call on to show you where to go next at any time, should you ever be unsure of where you should be going. There are also many more puzzles and, unlike the original Darksiders, some of these actually require you to think. They’re just challenging enough for you to give yourself a pat on the back every now and then.

Eep.

The pre-release boasts of a longer experience and bigger game world were far from unwarranted. On normal difficulty, it took us about nineteen hours to see the end, stopping off for just a brief stint at the Crucible on the way. Ah yes, the Crucible; an arena where you’ll face waves of increasingly tough enemies, which offers you a prize at intervals should you wish to wimp out before the end. We wouldn’t recommend even attempting this before you’ve put in at least a dozen hours of play however, else you won’t stand a chance of getting very far.

As for the side quests, there are fourteen of those. Some, sadly, are prolonged fetch quests with little to no indication of exactly where you should be looking. Others however direct you to unique areas and dungeons, which you’ll be more than happy to play through. Once you’ve been through the story and have the full gamut of special abilities, you can then revisit areas to find previously hidden loot should you so wish – sometimes necessary for the aforementioned (entirely optional) fetch quests.

Fans of the original should snap this up and, though some plot points will be unclear, it’s a good starting point for newcomers too. A game that (usually) only manages to get better as it goes on, we say: roll on Darksiders III.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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