One of the best surprises of 2010 had to have been Darksiders. The action-adventure game combined elements from a lot of our favorite games and brought them together into one apocalyptic package. While it was no Game of the Year, it was a fun experience. Now Vigil Games and THQ have given us Darksiders II, the long awaited sequel that offers even more places to explore, weapons, loot drops, and side quests than the previous game. On top of that, we get an even cooler protagonist in Death, who offers a much different gameplay experience. Was all this enough to make Darksiders a money franchise to make it to the third act of the trilogy?
Darksiders II takes place during the Darksiders timeline, meaning it takes place parallel to War’s story. The story follows Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as he rides to prove his brother War’s innocence. For those of you who may not have played the first title, the original game involved the first of the Four Horsemen, War, being tricked by demons in Hell to bringing the Apocalypse to humanity before the appointed battle between good and evil, wiping out the human race. War is charged by a council of neutral overseers called the “Charred Council” and charged with this genocide. In Darksiders II, we follow War’s brother, Death as he races across the world to fix what has happened and save his brother. Death’s plan is simple: if he restores mankind, than War’s name will be cleared.
Along the way he’ll encounter and sometimes battle against an impressive cast of characters, a few were even from the first game. Players of Darksiders will notice a tremendous difference playing Death. The character is much more agile, very reminiscent of Prince of Persia (even has the wall run). There is more focus on evasion and countering with impressive combos from your scythes and secondary weapons. Death, while he can be a bit of a jerk, is a likable enough character. His mission to save his brother and humanity in the process, is a noble one. Along the way, you’ll find out he has some demons of his own to face, and it adds even more dimensions to his character.
The story here is excellent and continues nicely from the first title. While we were all a little disappointed that they didn’t continue directly from the end of Darksiders, you’ll be happy that Vigil Games told Death’s tale. You’ll find out that Death did quite a bit behind the scenes and adds to everything that happened in Darksiders. While the story is about redemption and saving humanity, the story finds a way to maintain a small sophomoric sense of humor. Unfortunately, players will find themselves lost if they jump straight into Darksiders II. There’s plenty of references to the previous game, so you may want to finish the first one before you dive into this one.
Darksiders II can be described as a Jack-of-all-Trades, it’s good at a lot of things but ultimately isn’t great. For every good thing about Darksiders II (and there is a lot) that can be said, there is a negative that prevents it from being something great. For instance, the map and campaign is three times bigger from that of the original Darksiders. The campaign is about three times as big now, and you’ll have lots to do including 20 side-quests. These quests can range from slaying optional bosses to collecting Book of the Dead pages to gathering ingredients. The campaign is full of quests, but a word of warning: about 90% of them are fetch quests. Never before has there ever been more requests to gather three of something and return it to someone in a game that didn’t have the words “online role playing game” in its description. These quests aren’t too bad…until you realize aside from those missions, there’s nothing else to do in these areas. Yes, perhaps you’ll find a chest here and there, but you’re ultimately better off sticking with one of the quests, which gets you more experience and items. Level grinding is even boring as most of the wandering monsters are very weak. It’s a shame as games like Borderlands and Diablo III have shown that you can make exploring a map entertaining and provide a ton of replay value.
Those expecting to take on a fighting-focused game maybe disappointed with this one. You not only have fighting, you have a lot of wall exploration and puzzles here too. The puzzles in here fall under two categories: Simple and Frustrating. The simple ones take little thought and you’ll be on your way. The frustrating puzzles, which come across least once a level, will have you pulling out your hair. A lot of said puzzles are difficult because they require you to notice something. You’ll have to go a room back, scan the ceiling until you notice a ledge you can grab, and then use it to jump to a ledge that let’s you solve a puzzle. These puzzles can be be both good and bad. You’ll feel like a genius when you finally solve these puzzles, but annoyed when you realize you lost almost an hour running back and forth throughout the map to figure out the solution.
However, combat is not lost in the least. The combat system is well constructed. The combos flow very smoothly, and you’ll be easily combining these with more special powerful moves. You also get two skill trees to use that will show off Death’s impressive array of power. For the magic users, we have the Necromancer skill tree, which focuses on defenses and area attacks. The Harbinger skill tree is more for those who want to overpower their foes with brute strength. The tree improves stats, helps with health, and unlocks some nice attacks. All these attacks are and look incredible, but it’s a shame a lot of the enemies aren’t worthy of such awesome moves. Most enemies I came across were subdued with button mashing, though they are enemies that require you to do a bit of dodging to take them out. These tougher enemies do appear more and more as you go, but its a shame that you have to get to the 18-hour mark before you get a more consistent challenge. Boss fights are also epic. Sometimes, the boss is a puzzle in and of themselves to defeat, the Construct Hulk most noticeably.
The new armor and weapon system is also both a hit and a miss. On the one hand, it is cool to watch Death get bigger and and more armored with each new piece. Needless to say, its also great when you find a more powerful weapon. Each piece has different stats (Strength, Wrath, Arcane, etc) to help build your character to how you want (which ultimately is either as a magic user or a warrior). You can also buy and sell items at merchants to get stronger items. There are even items called possessed weapons that get stronger if you sacrifice your other weapons to to it. I loved these weapons, as it made me want to find more treasure so I could upgrade them.
As good as it is when you find a strong item, it doesn’t happen often enough to keep you wanting to search for more treasure. See once you decide on whether to focus on magic or power, it effectively cancels out fifty percent of weapons and armor that you can use. For instance, if you want to be a fighter, chances are you’re going to decline anything that focuses on magic. Magic weapons are half focused on stats for fighting and half for magic, so you do the math. You have no variety with your weapons, despite having axes, maces, hammers, knuckles, and claws. In reality, you only have two weapons to chose from, fast and weak types and slow and powerful ones. So despite having lots of weapons, you soon realize that there isn’t much to chose from. As for the possessed weapons, I can still count off one hand how many I got in my adventure. So sadly, there isn’t enough to continue that thrill with them and they don’t take long to max out.
Another obstacle Darksiders II faces is load times. Upon death, it can take the game 15-20 seconds to restart. This is very frustrating when your stuck on a boss of some kind. The developers did realize this was a problem and made it difficult to die. For instance, falling off a ledge just causes you to go into Reaper mode and fly back up, quickly restarting. Aside from bosses, there weren’t too many instances of me dying either. The normal enemies are easy to kill for anyone who knows what they are doing, so the load times shouldn’t be a frequent issue, but still is annoying when it does happen.
As many shortcomings that Darksiders II has, while the game isn’t the greatest, its still a very good game. The puzzles do require some thought to solve, the fights are nice blend of button mashing and strategy, and the story is one you’ll want to see to the end. It’s just a shame a lot of the other features fall short of their full potential. If there were more skill trees, more variety of weapons, or more to find on the map, Vigil could have an epic on their hands. Darksiders II is still a fun game, that does its job in giving a little something for everybody.