Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...
Written by Super User
Published Monday, 13 August 2012 20:00
One of my chief complaints about Darksiders was the length. Not that being long is a bad thing, quite the opposite. I prefer more bang for my buck, especially now days when a new game can take a sizable chunk out of your entertainment budget. However, length can only be effective when the narrative and gameplay supports it. And during Darksiders, often I found myself thinking a variation of the typical travel question we get from our kids: “Are we there yet?” “Am I at the end?” “That final boss MUST be coming up.” When it comes to that point, when your narrative and gameplay isn’t keeping me engaged enough to forget the endgame and stay focused on the here and now, there’s a problem. With that said, I loved Darksiders. In fact, it is one of my favorite IPs of this console cycle. Beyond it feeling like it overstayed its welcome toward the end, along with a few other negligible issues here and there, it was a solidly enjoyable action game with puzzle elements that put it more inline with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess than God of War. Now, the sequel has arrived. Will Darksiders II repeat the sins of its father, or will the introduction of a new protagonist absolve it?
While the title may have a ‘II’ in it, it isn’t quite correct to call it a sequel. I would say it is more akin to a narrative expansion, as it takes place somewhat prior to the events in the first game. We pick things up during War’s 100 year hiatus between the time that Heaven and Hell were unleashed on Earth and later, his journey for redemption. With War being inop due to his Council-enforced purgatory, his brother Death steps up to the plate to absolve him, to bring mankind back to the world of the living after the apocalypse destroyed all of humanity, and prove War is being unjustly blamed. Each step of the way he battles Corruption, a dark threat that is intent on ending all of existence, turning everything into nothingness.
"Even switching to a new character could have spelled disaster, but instead Death casts his shadow to such a degree that you will be saying “War who?” before you even leave the Forge Lands."
This is where the first of many changes and improvements begin for the sequel. Simply put, Death is a far more interesting character to play with, both from a narrative perspective and in the way he physically controls. Where War was a walking, and almost single-mindedly determined tank, bent on uncovering the conspiracy and proving his innocence, Death is conflicted, emotional even. Which is odd considering he’s...well...Death. War was driven by a singular purpose, where Death carries an underlying guilt that impacts not only who he is, but also reverberates throughout his journey. If War is the high school jock, then Death is the high school jock who is also in theater. I won’t detail the entire backstory, but the amalgam of God and Man - the Nephilim - were getting out of control, and it was their destruction at the hands of the four horseman (who were also Nephilim) that restored balance to all creation. War didn’t seem to be bothered by all of this in the first game, but Death, on the other hand, has carried this burden of guilt ever since. He’s intelligent and compassionate, something that sits in contrast to the cold hands of the mythology of the character. In all, it made the tale presented here more...personal. More...torn. And most importantly, more interesting.
Not once did I ever get to the point of tedium, even though the gameplay pattern that Vigil established in the first game is still present and accounted for. For each tiny step Death takes toward his end goal, he will be tasked with accomplishing something else that is typically broken up into three. Need to get an audience with the Dead King? You’ll need to defeat the champion of the Gilded Arena, but to get him to come out, you’ll need to gather the three Animus Stones. Want the location of the Well of Souls? You’ll need to fetch the three Dead Lords for the Dead King. How about the Ivory Citadel? Yup, you guessed it, another tri-objective needs to be accomplished before proceeding. I really think Vigil’s fascination with the rule of three is getting a bit unhealthy. Fortunately, where this game differs from its previous entry, I didn’t mind the drawn out questing, as I was engaged with the storyline from beginning to end.
Don’t get me wrong though, even as a more conflicted hero, Death isn’t some sniveling cry baby, whining about the deeds of his past. He’s a warrior, and in my opinion, a greater threat to his foes than War ever was. Not only does he swing a mean set of double scythes as his primary weapon, his agility makes him much quicker, and as a by product, more deadly. If playing with War felt more like the standard action game hero who specializes in blunt force trauma, playing with Death is like controlling an eloquent Cirque du Soliel performer who plays a lot more like Ezio or the unnamed Prince (from the Prince of Persia franchise). Don’t fret all you hardcore fans, this is undeniably still a Darksiders game, and you will not mistake that. The changes in the character is a lot more subtle, and a welcomed improvement to the formula.
Death’s acrobatics don’t just make him a better warrior though. It also opens up the landscape considerably. Darksiders II is big. Real big. You could take the entirety of the game world provided in the first game and easily fit it in just a single realm here. Death’s journey is spread across multiple areas, from the Forge Lands, where the calloused hands of the Makers reside, to the Kingdom of the Dead, where all the departed souls call home. He has a lot of ground to cover, and his agility allows for a more vertical approach when compared to the first game. Death can wall run and shimmy up wooden columns, in addition to the wall climbing and chain swinging (its actually the Deathgrip here) that War could do. You’ll find yourself looking up just as much as ahead and to the sides. Vigil put Death’s more improved mobility to great use, forcing players to be that much more aware of their surroundings, be it for exploration, solving a particular puzzle, or picking up some of those much sought after collectibles.
Speaking of, that’s another piece of the Darksiders puzzle that has been expanded upon. The critters that stand in Death’s way now contain loot drops. All the weapons and armor components can be swapped for bigger and better goodies, each with their own stats and abilities. Some will lean to the general defensive or offensive improvements, while others will give bonuses to Death’s special skills. There’s a skill tree in place now, with two sides that facilitate different styles of play. No matter if you are the kind of gamer who loves to supplement their battles with plenty of magic (or Necomatic) abilities, or if you want to enhance your already brutal melee prowess, or even a combination of the two, there’s something here for you. As your character levels up, you get a skill point that you can invest in these different abilities, which adds a light RPG flair to this action and puzzle-centric series, and lets players further tweak Death to their liking.
We might have a change in scenery (although we do see some familiar locals at a few points), and we might have a new on-screen avatar, but there is no doubt this is a Darksiders game. Joe “Mad” Madureira’s work is indistinguishable. The art style is much more detailed this time around, especially with Death’s interchangeable armor pieces, and the variety of environments all fit in perfectly with the universe set by its predecessor. The Forge Lands are full of life, even with the Corruption spreading across it, with large grassy fields and gigantic trees populating the landscape. Then we shift into the Kingdom of the Dead, which is essentially the polar opposite, full of stark bone and dusty, barren earth. The rest of the areas follow suit, keeping things varied, yet familiar, and complementing the overall narrative. The ‘bigger is better’ mantra that seems to permeate Darksiders II is also present in the character design. Some of the bosses are just downright huge, with the first major one being just as big, if not bigger, than the final boss in the last game.
The audio-work comes in just as strong, although I can’t say that was unexpected. The voicework does a fine job with the script, and I particularly liked some of the performances for the characters in the Forge Lands, but it’s the score from one of the best the industry has to offer that stands out. Jesper Kyd’s work here is equally haunting and enigmatic, providing just the right emotional push to enhance the experience that each particular realm offers.
Adding to the overall beefy main quest, Vigil saw fit to add in side-quests to the package. None are necessary to complete the game, but some offer goodies that will come in tremendously handy. As it is, I sunk a good thirty hours into the game, and that was with me only completing a handful of the side-missions. As if that wasn’t enough, another component was also waiting in the wings. The Crucible becomes available after the first boss is defeated, and it becomes an accessible area on each map in the game. Essentially, it’s a horde mode, similar to the Challenge mode that the God of War franchise has. With 100 waves to defeat, it isn’t for the faint of heart, and certainly won’t be beatable after a single play through. Some of the best armor in the game is only available there, so those who plan to go in and claim victory, be prepared to play through the game a couple of times to get Death’s level up to meeting the challenge.
When I finished Darksiders II, I put the controller down, and spent the following few hours reflecting on the experience. As I said, when I finished the first game, I did have a few complaints, chiefly the tedium that seemed to set in the further I got. Here, I don’t really have a lot to complain about. My issues with the first game are gone. The enhancements to Death, the loot drops, the larger gameworld and the better narrative all did nothing but improve what was already a great game. So does that mean Darksiders II is perfect? No. I think the puzzles were a little less challenging this time around as a whole, and some of the most engaging mechanics, such as the Phasewalker (a time-traveling version of the portal ability that War had), was far too underutilized simply because we don’t get them until quite late in the game. Things like the Soul Splitter (I’ll let you discover the potential of that ability for yourself) as well as the aforementioned Phasewalker could have been put to much better use earlier on, and really should have been, especially given how basic most of the puzzles are throughout the first half of the game. Even still, these issues are more nags than actual detriments. Darksiders II takes just about everything that was great in the first game and made it better, which is exactly what a proper sequel should do. Even switching to a new character could have spelled disaster, but instead Death casts his shadow to such a degree that you will be saying “War who?” before you even leave the Forge Lands. So head over to your local game retailer, or grab it on Steam, one way or another, the Boatman should be getting your money.
Release date : 2012-08-14
Publisher : THQ
Developer : Vigil Games
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
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