Darksiders II – The PS3 Attitude Review
Darksiders II opens with Death charging up a frozen keep on Despair, his fearsome steed, hacking the few enemies brave enough to get in his way. The next stage sees him running up and across walls, clinging to pillars, shimmying at speed across hand holds and taking out ice skeletons with ferocious combos. A boss battle soon follows, which is surprisingly more intense than what you’d normally expect at this early stage.
This assured opener will feel familiar to Darksiders fans – it’s still offering third-person hack ‘n’ slash gameplay with platforming, and it’s still the same standard controls. The dark comic-book style hasn’t changed much either.
Darksiders II is different, though. It’s more atmospheric, the controls are more responsive and the environments are richer. The last game was a rough diamond; but this feels fully polished.
Soon after, Death is in a small town, speaking to characters, accepting sidequests and trading goods. This reveals a new side to Darksiders, one that shows that it’s no longer just a simple action series. It’s RPG-lite – it isn’t Skyrim – but it offers just enough freedom to empower the player and make the world feel more complete.
The production values have clearly shot up, but many of the big changes have been brought about by having a new hero breathing life into the gameplay. Death is more mobile than War – the hero of Darksiders and a fellow Horseman of the Apocalypse. He is fast and agile, and Virgil Games has built the gameplay around these qualities to take the series in new directions.
While Darksiders sometimes relied too heavily on combat alone, leading to long repetitive square-bashing sections, the sequel corrects this by putting as much focus on platforming and puzzle solving as it does chopping foes.
DEATH IS EVERYWHERE
Death’s trademark is his ability to traverse walls, vertically and horizontally. You can fire him round bends, bounce him between parallel walls and spring him off pegs to sustain his momentum. Later you gain an ability to grapple loops, allowing him to reach even higher ledges. The platforming is vastly improved over the last game.
But Virgil Games hasn’t stopped here – the combat system’s had a makeover too. Death doesn’t block – he’s too tough for that – so there is a big emphasis on evading and countering. This alongside a higher tempo really knocks the intensity up several notches to bring Darksiders II in line with current genre trends. The battles are smooth, often graceful and occasionally bewildering.
Throughout the game, Death wields duel scythes for his primary weapon. It’s a versatile and fast mid-range option which is ideal for all situations. Death’s secondary weapon is chosen by you. You can pick between light (gauntlets, claws, tonfas and bucklers) or heavy (hammers, maces, axes and polearms) weapons. It’s a good idea to experiment with different combinations because they can completely change your combat style.
Death begins the game with a substantial move list and can perform plenty of dazzling combos. However, to really unlock his potential, you need to learn new ones. You can do this by asking specific characters to train you in the combat arts (at a cost).
You will also want to expand your options by teaching Death special skills. He acquires skill points as he levels up and you can use these to unlock new abilities. There are two trees to work through: warrior (physical attacks) and necromancer (spellcasting). You can pick and choose from either tree to shape Death into the fighter that suits your style.
Alongside his health, Death has two chargeable bars: one is filled with Wrath, the other with souls. The Wrath bar is filled as Death lands hits and this can be used to perform his special skills. The other fills as the Pale Rider reaps souls. Once full, you can temporarily transform Death into his powerful Reaper form and do some serious damage.
The final major change to the combat system is brought about by the inclusion of loot, which you pick up from fallen enemies, collect from smashed objects and purchase from merchants. These could be primary or secondary weapons, pieces of clothing, healing items or sacred talismans.
You can find hundreds of equipment in the game, but it’s unlikely that you’ll notice a great difference between one hammer and the next. They do however all affect Death’s stats, making him stronger or weaker in one or more of his 16 areas.
There are 20 slots for each category but these quickly fill, so you’ll need to regularly sell off your unwanted goods. This level of micro-management will please some and frustrate other, but that comes down to personal preference. But Virgil Games has absolutely made the right decision to add these RPG elements, because the new customisable options make the game so much deeper.
It really is huge. You can finish the main campaign in a healthy 25 hours if you zoom through, but you’ll miss the game’s best bits because it is packed full of sidequests and hidden secrets. You’ll be collecting relics, coins, scrolls and gnomes (yeah, that’s right).
You’ll want to revisit older dungeons so you can get that chests that you couldn’t reach before, because you didn’t have the right tools at the time or you simply didn’t look hard enough. Thanks to a handy fast travel system, it’s easy enough to venture off the beaten track and revisit these places.
There is also a massive arena mode with over a 100 levels. After every five levels, you’ll be asked if you want to take the loot and leave or continue on and risk losing it all but maybe claim a superior prize. This Crucible mode is ideal if you want to continue challenging your skills long after you’ve finished the story.
Your stats here and elsewhere in the game are shared online, allowing you to compare your performance against that of your mates.
However, if you are someone who just wants to stick to the core story and enjoy an exciting ride, Darksiders II won’t disappoint.
THE HOLY VS. THE DAMNED
Darksiders 2’s rich biblical mythology is ideal for a game. Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is on a mission to undo the earthly apocalypse, triggered by War allegedly tipping the balance between the angel and demon world. So you guide Death across the world as he tries to find a way to prove his brother’s innocence.
Death meets eccentric characters on his travels, both likeable and dislikeable, and you really grow to like the hero by the end – even though gravel-voiced actor Michael Wincott doesn’t actually say a great deal. He doesn’t have to.
The story is well-paced and the world is so diverse. Remember that snowy peak we described earlier? Straight after that Death heads into the lush green Forge Lands. He’ll then ride out into large open plains and explore old ruins. Later he’ll visit old abandoned castles, lava filled temples and high-rising cities. These are well-worn fantasy clichés, but it doesn’t really matter because each area is so well designed.
You’re constantly drip-fed new toys throughout the story, whether it’s a grapple hook, a soul splitter or a voidwalker, and these toys change the way you perceive and interact with your surroundings. They are also important for the dungeon puzzles – some of Darksiders II’s puzzles really test your mental gymnastics.
HIGHS AND LOWS
Darksiders II isn’t one continuous exhilarating ride; it does have low points throughout the story, but this is hardly surprising for a game of this scale.
It begins confident and assured and branches out into an exciting word. However, a sense of familiarity does creep in around the five-hour mark and doubts inevitably form. But these doubts are instantly suppressed following the game’s biggest boss battle (literally) – it’s a real corker, albeit a little unimaginative.
There are other lulls along the way, including one particularly dreadful section about three quarters in. It offers one of the game’s longest objectives and you’re encouraged to use a gun through most of it. Guns are not one of Virgil’s strongest points.
Nevertheless, these frustrations are completely banished following a riveting final quarter which contains some of the most devilish puzzles to grace a game of this kind for a while, not to mention some tremendous boss battles. The boss battles, it should be said, are superb throughout the game, always lifting the excitement at just the right times. They either test your brains or your reflexes – either way, they usually make you sweat.
Darksiders II isn’t the most original game. From Zelda to Castlevania, the hallmarks of other classics can be seen in clear sight. It looks as though the developers have been especially inspired by MercurySteam’s successful reboot of Castlevania. This isn’t a problem – there are few better games to look at for inspiration.
There are definite shades of Gabriel Belmont in Death – in the way he attacks and moves. Castlevania’s influence can also be seen in the pacing, the puzzles and maybe even the storytelling. Nevertheless, we don’t want to speculate too much about the game’s influences because Darksiders II definitely stands out comfortably on its own.
Virgil Games has taken its reasonably successful template from the first game, expanded it beyond recognition by adding new RPG features and reimaging the combat and movement systems. They have built an exciting world which could fill a dozen games. For all these reasons and more, Darksiders II blows its predecessor out of the water and it takes its place alongside the best games in its genre.