I loved the first Darksiders. From the whodunnit storyline, to the dungeon crawling, to the hacks and slashes, the experience was surprising as it was thrilling. I am a man of simple needs and when I heard that a sequel was in development, I would have been extremely happy to play one with mechanics similar to the first, just with a different character. But without change there is no progress as some people would say. And in Darksiders 2, Vigil Games were not horsing around when they added wholly new gameplay elements to the mix. Do these new elements dilute the experience? Do they welcome new types of players to the game but alienate others? Does bigger mean it’s better? Let’s dance with Death and find out.
Darksiders 2 tells the rather nebulous story of Death, brother to the horseman War, who prematurely started the downfall of mankind in the first game. Death must embark on an epic journey to remove the dark stain on his brother’s name, accepting help from those who would give it and laying waste to anyone who obstructs his path.
The first Darksiders game was categorized as an action adventure title. Imagine Darksiders were a delicious iced cake. Darksiders 2 takes that cake, crumbles chocolate over it, adds another layer of icing atop that, places strawberries in the shape of a letter D, and drizzles honey all over the top. [Ed: That’s….monstrous!] While some people like the new taste, it’s a little too much for others.
Darksiders 2 builds on the first game by adding a layer of RPG that seeps through to the core of game. In a similar vein to the first game, Death wields a pair of scythes as the fast primary weapon, and has access to secondary weapon that can either deliver fast devastating combos or are bulky and slow but extremely powerful. What’s new is the vast amount of attributes you now presented with. With values for defence, resistance, strength, arcane, critical chance counter, critical damage, wrath regeneration, Darksiders 2 can overwhelm some players with information about the weapons that can change Death’s stats. There’s also the myriad of boots, cowls, gauntlets, pauldrons, greaves, talismans, and other bits and bobs that Death can use to make himself more powerful.
For someone who doesn’t ordinarily play RPG titles, choosing the correct combinations of weapons and items proved rather time-consuming for me. Given this new addition to the game, I had hoped there might be a helpful page in the printed manual or in the menu system to give me a basic rundown of what the different attributes meant. Granted some of them might be easy, but I would have benefited from finding out what the less-than-obvious attributes were from within the game rather than having to break myself away from it to visit IGN’s wiki page (which is very helpful! Thanks IGN!) In the end, I resorted to a simple colour-coded system: if the weapon resulted in more of Death’s attributes lighting up green (good!) and less of them turning red (bad!), then I’d choose it. Changing weapons and items in Darksiders 2 involves going to the clunky tabbed menu and pressing a combination shoulder buttons to access the correct sub-tab of the relevant weapon. However, if slain enemies were to drop weapons or if you were to open a loot chest that contains some equipment, their stats are shown to you directly, making it easier for you to equip the item or leave it.
In addition to the weapons, Darksiders 2 features an upgrade system that doles out XP to Death for vanquishing enemies and completing sidequests. Going up an experience level nets a valuable point than can be used to unlock special skills that either increase Death’s offensive abilities or attempt to shield him from the attacks of others. There’s also the helpful gear that Death acquires at various juncture at the game. He is really armed to the proverbial teeth in this one.
As it did in the past, the combat in Darksiders 2 delivers. Even though there are specific combos that you can perform, the liberal mashing of the buttons is enough to get Death extravagantly slashing, swiping, and pounding on his hapless enemies. However, one can’t do this with gay abandon. Evasion becomes very necessary if you want to live, but there is little in the way of strategy when it comes to dispatching your foes. The bosses in the game provide a little more to do than a mindlessly repetitive cycle of “dodge, attack, wash, rinse, repeat”, but these are few and far between. The difficulty curve goes a little wonky at times and coupled with the game’s length (30+ hours for main campaign), the combat can become irritating/tedious/frustrating, or any handy combination of those.
Just as in the first game, Darksiders 2 offers a wonderful sense of freedom. There are remote dungeons to explore, loot chests ready to be plundered, sidequests aplently, and many a weapon to be purchased. There are hundreds of items to be found (263 is the reported number) so it’s a collector’s paradise. All this is strewn across a vast landscape. It really is quite big, as Ryan Stefanelli, producer at Vigil Games aptly put it, “If Darksiders was the Moon, Darksiders 2 is the Earth.” Once again the superb Joe Madureira applies his considerable talents to bring life to Death [Ed: I see what you did there]! and the supporting characters in this fantastical world. From icy fortresses to the lush green vale to the fiery bowels of the earth, the environments feel natural and fit together wonderfully. Jesper Kyd, known for his sweeping musical scores on the Assassin’s Creed franchise (amongst others), effortlessly blends the soundtrack to the various themes in the game. The voice direction, however, is plainly on par.
One of the criticisms levelled against Vigil Games is its insistence on borrowing ideas from other popular franchises. The plus, of course, is that they manage combine these combat, puzzle, and platforming elements well enough to prevent the game from being derivative. It works less well here, where the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its borrowed parts. I felt the passage of time more so than I did in the previous title, and in the end, the challenge seemed more of a chore. Still, the world is beautifully crafted and there is a lot to do. Darksiders 2 is truly bigger and longer than the first. But is it necessarily better? I don’t think so.
Final score: 7 death-warmed-up prawns out of 10
Developer: Vigil Games
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox360, PC, Wii U (version to launch later this year)
Age Rating: 16+