Death lacks identity, but it’s his sacrifice that propels the horsemen forward
When War ends, Death is the result. Given that there are four horsemen of the apocalypse, we can expect some snake-eating subsistence with Famine, while Pestilence engulfs the world with the bubonic plague. Jokes aside, everything that the original Darksiders did well is improved upon, with several (though not all) of its biggest issues fixed. Vigil Games have created a better experience which shouldn’t be missed by those who are either invested in the series or simply a sucker for hack ‘n’ slash.
The sequel’s biggest strength is in its gameplay, as one would hope for a game with a heavy emphasis on combat. While it could be considered one of the most derivative games ever, nearly every aspect of its borrowed complex is stellar, with the highlight being its combat.
Yes the combat is essentially the love-child of Zelda and God of War, but boy (or girl?!) what a beautiful gene pool to have been procreate in. Nuanced yet familiar, the use of heavy and fast weaponry, as well as the usual timed button pressing, delivers a highly gratifying experience in which skill is rewarded. While it would have been nice to vary some of the enemy types and the attack methods they use, the multiple ways to dispose of them means the combat never gets too repetitive.
Introduced is a relatively multi-faceted skill tree, delivering some genuinely unique abilities that play a more prominent role the further you get through the game. Again, such an implementation adds an extra layer of strategy and freedom, as you will most likely want to play through the game a couple of times to explore all the possible abilities to unlock.
To break up the intense bouts of combat are several puzzles, though they require little by way of imagination. They are competent and serve their purpose, but too many of the puzzles are deciphered in a similar manner, with little challenge to be found and little satisfaction gained in solving them.
Looting has now been introduced and while looting is not everyone’s idea of ‘fun’, this gives license for the player to explore a beautifully crafted world more than twice the size of the first Darksiders. Obviously a deterrent for those who want a focused, more linear experience, most players will appreciate the true benefits of searching for abilities and weaponry that’s simply not available in the main story arc, with the prize almost always being well worth the extra couple of hours dedicated to ransacking a particular dungeon.
An area where Darksiders 2 falls short however is in traversing the environment. It isn’t bad per se, but it’s simply done better by its contemporaries such as Prince of Persia. Desperately wanting to deviate through somewhat ‘distinctive’– i.e. unnecessarily convoluted – button commands, it unfortunately renders the platforming experience troublesome at best, exasperating at worst. Being so separated from the core gameplay element of combat only accentuates the weaknesses in Death’s navigational capabilities.
Aside from the aforementioned issues regarding navigation, Darksiders 2 generally controls extremely well. Combat is highly responsive to your commands, giving a greater sense of satisfaction when a complex combo is executed.
While reports of the game failing to recognise some commands have been noted in a small number of reviews online, I can only reflect upon my experience which was almost flawless. Such glitches and bugs need to be made aware of, but these seem intermittent issues which resurface unpredictably. A patch should solve these issues, so I hope those who had such problems can revisit the game and experience what it is really like to play.
Games that are combat-heavy can often suffer from camera inconsistencies. Darksiders 2 does suffer at times but such incidents are few and far between. The camera is free-moving of course, so simple adjustments can be made as desired, but for the most part the camera is well implemented; panning out when exposing the vast nature of the open environments, honing in on Death to intensify the sense of claustrophobia in confined dungeons.
Visually, Darksiders 2 is far more reliant on its art than polygon count to try and forge its own identity. Looking at the game objectively it is certainly rough around the edges. Some textures are flat and blurry, animations are weak in places, and noticeable frame rate issues are apparent. Imagine the MMO-style graphics of World of Warcraft and you get the gist of why the game fails to impress graphically.
Fortunately the original art design does much to detract from the technical limitations. The scope of the environments is vast, with truly inspired architecture littering the open world. Even if you can’t imagine what Heaven or Hell would look like – if they existed of course – it’s impossible to argue or criticise Vigil’s representations.
One criticism that could be brought forward is the sparse areas in-between larger settlements, but I don’t find this a particular issue as the barren landscapes emphasize the scale of the environment in which you can explore. Darksiders 2 certainly won’t impress from a technical standpoint, but the distinctive setting and excellent art direction is just about enough to prevent the game from being ugly.
The premise can be best summed up in one word: ironic. We expect Death to be nothing but torturer to humanity. Instead however, his goal is to restore humanity as a means to clear War’s wrongful accusation of annihilating mankind. Yes Death does lots of killing, but for the sake of humanity?! You’ve lost your edge mate.
Regardless of the plot it is delivered in a satisfying manner, if not taken too literally. Recurrent soliloquizing does little to immerse you in the narrative, being somewhat melodramatic in a largely trivial story. The lack of a satisfying conclusion is what really hurts though. While not quite the slap in the face that Halo 2’s ending was, it leaves the story too open-ended, with ultimately more questions than answers left to consider.
However, the story is entertaining if you allow yourself to be tickled by its lack of seriousness. It won’t be a compelling reason for you to play the game, but neither will it be a justified excuse to dismiss it either.
MUSIC AND SOUND FX
The score for Darksiders 2 is for the most part excellent and somewhat intriguing. At first some areas seem to be misrepresented by the music that accompanies, 30 seconds later though and all seems to make sense. Nothing here is overly produced or heavily modified from its core, most evident in the liberal use of all things antiquated and analogue.
It’s sci-fi, but not; gothic, but not; Brian Eno, but not: unique in every aspect. Remarkably all these individual components amalgamate into something bizarre but wholly gratifying at the same time. Plaudits must be made for such experimentation; environments receive new, invigorating identities far removed from the unfortunate generalisations they are often victims of.
Sound effects are rather standard, but by no means weak. Every swing of your blade and desperate leap to another ledge sounds meaningful and weighty, with real effort and force exhibited in the actions Death carries out.
Voice-acting is predominantly excellent, but the script is the culprit for such great performances failing to resonate. Little more could be done to improve upon this from an oral perspective, which is unfortunate as a compelling story would have brought these characters to life instead of being nothing more than a presence.
Darksiders 2 is quite simply a gargantuan game. Weighing in between 20-50 hours, you are certainly getting a huge piece of entertainment for your money. With so much content to offer most gamers will never see every environment initially; therefore a second play-through is definitely required if you want to fully expose the detailed world that has been crafted. Add the deep and complex skill tree into the mix, and you potentially have several playthroughs needed in order to explore all components in the skill tree. Subsequent playthroughs might not be fully distinguished, but there is enough in the upgrading system to make further completions worthwhile.
Once is enough to warrant the price, but for completionists the journey could last for several weeks. In an age where 6-8 hours of single player content is the norm, Darksiders 2 smashes conventions with a truly massive game which should be completed at least twice.
For everything Darksiders 2 gets wrong, it gets several things right. A game of such scale and longevity (20-25 hours for main quest, perhaps an extra 30 in side quests and further exploration) is almost impossible to perfect, so it is easy to overlook the weaker aspects of Darksiders 2. Fans of the first game can dive straight into the sequel knowing this is bigger, better, and more rewarding. Those sitting on the fence should still give this a whirl for the tight combat and vast world to appreciate.
Darksiders 2 is very much a jack-of-all-trades: action-RPG, platformer and even MMO-dungeon crawler. Though master of none of these trades, there is no denying how ambitious the game is in trying to encompass all trends into one cohesive experience, and for the most part it succeeds.
Satisfying, nuanced combat
Vast world to explore
Great music and voice-acting
Deep RPG mechanics
Platforming is weak at times
Plot is under-developed
Too MMO-esque for casual gamers