Review: Darksiders II
"Awakened by the End of Days, Death, the most feared of the legendary Four Horsemen, embarks upon a quest to restore mankind, and redeem his brother’s name. Along the way, the Horseman discovers that there are far worse things than an earthly Apocalypse, and that an ancient grudge may threaten all of Creation..."
- Worth The Time?All the time on post-apocalyptic Earth.
- Things LovedThe character of Death is exquisitely imagined. The exploration is always a blast. The combat is smooth and sexy. The puzzles are interesting. The story can be good if you allow it. There's just so much to do. The gratuitous amounts of boss battles.
- Things HatedThere is minor glitching here and there. Sometimes you feel like an errand boy. The story can be boring if you allow it. The platforming sometimes goes on forever. The gratuitous amounts of boss battles.
- RecommendationDarksiders II is a buy. Definitely. There's so much game in here and while you might have seen some of it before, you definitely have not seen nearly enough of it. Trust me on that.
- Name: Darksiders II: Death Lives
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Vigil Games
- Publisher: THQ
- Price: R 600
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Of all the games that borrow from other games, no other series has done so quite as shamelessly or as abundantly as the Darksiders series. The first game was a difficult one to place, containing elements of action, adventure, puzzling, platforming and even a light RPG system. It borrowed from such games as Legend of Zelda, God of War and Portal in order to create the world that you experienced. Now with Darksiders II, the job of classifying the game has become even more difficult with the obvious Prince of Persia and Shadows of the Colossus inspirations thrown in as well.
While a series with so many inspirations might be seen as an eclectic offering, what has become apparent is that those who would criticise the game fall into two categories. The first of these includes those who found it repetitive and boring. These people have usually also played God of War and so nothing can match up to their beloved Kratos. Not Darksiders, nor Dante’s Inferno nor even Devil May Cry which was technically a thing first. The second category involves those
who haven’t played God of War who don’t really care about the repetitive nature of the combat but really just want to get lost in and explore a world that is laid out before them, with some story to explain why it is the way it is. And I fall firmly into that second category.
I enjoyed the first Darksiders game, enough so that I soldiered on through the game, post-story, to find all the collectibles and unlock every achievement possible before I considered myself done with the game; a feat that amounted to well over twenty hours.
In Darksiders II however, twenty hours is not enough.
Make no mistake, this game is huge. I tried to do a few side quests initially but after realising how long I was taking, I forced myself to continue through the game’s story in order to be done with it so I could get this review out, and it only took a full twenty nine hours before I was finally done with the main story, and then able to go through all the secondary quests and attempt to find all the collectibles (which annoyingly don’t show up on any maps). And even then thanks to New Game Plus (required for fully levelling up and completing the Crucible, a 100-wave tournament unlocked in parts as you level up) and an unlocked Nightmare difficulty mode, I wouldn’t be entirely done with the game. In fact I would say that completing the game for the first time is when it truly begins.
The Darksiders games have always been about over-the-top, far-too-large-for-pants characters who are a nasty amalgamation of humanoid and badass, but not in that Gears of War style where they flaunt ridiculously huge armour and then cry about their loved ones. Here we have Horsemen of the Apocalypse and other big players including demonic lords, archangels and of course, makers; basically really large dwarves.
You play Death. Nephilim. Kinslayer. Executioner. The Grim Reaper. The end of all things. The Pale Rider. The Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse.
The ultimate badass, basically.
Upon discovering that his (its?) brother War has been framed for starting the apocalypse without the necessary paperwork being filled in, ie. all the seven seals being broken, Death decides to ride to the various outlands (lands not of the three main ‘kingdoms’ basically) and find out exactly what happened and how he can absolve War. The solution, as he finds, involves resurrecting a fallen humanity and winning favour for his brother War, that he may be absolved of his false crimes. However later on he discovers that he also has the opportunity to revive the nephilim, his kin which he slew as they fell victim to corruption and power. And so he must make a choice.
Corruption itself plays a really big role in this game, as you find that many of the outlands have yielded to the power and it has turned them into corrupt husks of their former selves, still able to serve but too selfish and greedy to consider the balance and all the other things they were sworn to uphold. When you think of corruption in this game, think of the corruption in that rebooted Prince of Persia. It looks the same and has the same effect if you touch it.
In fact, that’s not where the similarities to that game end. There is a lot of platforming in this game. A lot. Seriously, you will spend hours platforming between battle sections, at times. And you will need every ounce of skill acquired from other platforming titles to be any good at it here. Should you fail and fall to your death (no pun intended), Death’s true form will save you, Elika-style, so there is no ‘real’ game over while platforming, though you can still experience game over in other ways (and it technically counts as a death anyway) throughout the game.
Oh, about that. See, because the seven seals weren’t broken and so the Apocalypse technically never happened, this version of Death that you play as is a far lesser version of the ultimate badass that we know to bring an end to all things. While still adequately powerful and adept at merrily reaping the souls of those in his way, he is still a mere shade of his full power. Like in the first game though, you do get to use a sort of ‘super mode’ that allows Death to temporarily transform into a more powerful, more reaper-like version of himself to dish out tonnes of extra damage and take virtually no damage while doing so.
You could say: Death turns into a reaper… what?
The macabre character of Death is very different to that of his brother War in a few ways. For one, they have very different, very distinct personalities. War was a straight up badass who took no names and asked only the questions he needed to, in many situations opting simply to beat the answers out of those he interacted with. Death on the other hand is easier to speak to, often asking many questions of those he interacts with and providing answers to questions as well. He understands his purpose and is determined to see it through — the one trait they both share — but will not be toyed with, on his way to doing so. In many ways he is like Hannibal from the A-Team, always cool, calm and collected and always coming up with this, that or the other plan to achieve his goals.
What’s also different about the brothers is their combat styles. Where War was a savage and powerful fighter who mixed brute force and unyielding strength with blocking and countering, Death is a far more elegant combatant who mixes eloquence and stylish agility with dodging and countering.
Battles are a beauty to behold, like poetry in motion as Death dodges and dances around enemies before slicing them in two. For weaponry Death favours dual-wielded scythes (my kinda guy), but in a secondary slot you may also equip a vast array of weapons including cleavers, battle axes, arm blades, mauls, Wolverine-like claws and much more. Each has their own attack speed, damage and attributes associated, allowing you to mix and match to suit your combat style. I opted for fast-motion arm blades and claws for the most part.
Enemies are varied for the most part, with a great majority forming typical cannon fodder but in unique ways such as dive-bombing vengeful spirits or health-leeching scarabs. There are also a lot of boss battles in this game. A lot. Seriously, you just don’t know much there really is. Every dungeon has at least one boss and a few mini-bosses scattered throughout. However even with all this combat and Death’s stylish combat styles, I would advise playing through the game like I did; on apocalyptic difficulty straight out. It’s not that difficult and actually makes the game more interesting since unlike the normal difficulty, it’s actually not a walk in the park thanks to all of those overpowered weapons.
Speaking of weapons, let’s talk about the game’s RPG influences. Here we have an inventory, like your typical inventory screen in many games, adapted here for Darksiders. Whereas in the first game you had an option of a few basic secondary weapons, which could be upgraded together with your main weapon, a massive-scale sword called Chaosbringer, in Darksiders II you may fully customise and select which weapons Death wields, be it primary or secondary. Some of these weapons are uniques, others have enchantments on them (green means one, blue means two or three, purple means up to four) while there are also possessed weapons which may be upgraded by ‘feeding’ them with other weapons, allowing them to gain the powers of those weapons as well as increment their own powers.
Further to that, you may customise all of Death’s body armour including a talisman slot. Mostly, the armour compliments either aspect of Death, depending on how you choose to build him based on a two-path skill tree which cannot be filled in one playthrough of the game. You may opt to go weapon-intensive, focusing on damage output and stylish moves, or you may opt to go for a more necromantic approach with summoning spells that allow Death to cause chaos with numbers. Each of these paths is boosted by a specific set of character stats which you may use armour and talismans to boost. Or you may opt to use a unique talisman instead, some which yield some pretty epic bonuses.
As Death levels up, better weapons and armour are made available either through purchase from merchants or as loot off dead enemies, as well as the obvious skill points that get unlocked and allow you to invest them in either tree. What’s cool is that the trees are not entirely exclusive meaning that you could opt to level a skill unlocked at character level 16 for a tree you’ve not yet invested a single skill point in, if you so desire. As you progress through the story you also unlock new, more powerful combos for Death’s other weapons including training for each and every secondary weapon.
In all, it’s far more intense and involving than the first game where you only had the combo upgrades for your weapons and a few wrath powers you could purchase through Vulgrim.
Speaking of Vulgrim, he’s back! This time around he serves a lesser purpose, allowing you to purchase from him using a combination of what’s called Boatman coins and Gild (the game’s gold) to either acquire mystery items or reset Death’s skills allowing you to respec as you so desire, a very key element to surviving on apocalyptic difficulty, as some boss characters are weak to certain skills which makes very difficult fights, somewhat easier if you know what to do.
Vulgrim isn’t the only character to make a reappearance here, although they’re all cameos in truth. There’s also a rather large new cast of characters, although only one or two that really matter to the story. And what a story it is.
Straight off the bat, you are thrown into the thick of things with little to no explanation of what’s gone on, with your task simply being to save your brother. How you go about doing so is explained to you as you progress through a story that feels almost as if it’s forcing you along, at first, but does ease up later and allow you some freedom.
There are four main areas of the game with the first two totalling an easy fifteen to twenty hours of exploration each, if you opt to do everything there is in each place. Each area is different enough that it is worth exploring, however some parts are blocked off to you initially, forcing a revisit only later in the story.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that although I appreciate a story that takes over twenty-five hours to complete, all along the way not boring or detracting me, I didn’t find the experience quite so cohesive and well laid out as the first game. In fact in this game, half the time I questioned why I even needed to do the things I was doing. Make no mistake, half of this game will involve running the errands of characters for whom you require favour, just because they told you to do so. If you aren’t enabling ancient forges, you’re collecting the souls of a dead king’s royal council or putting together a powerful staff because some guy asked you to.
When did Death become an errand boy?
I soon realised that I wanted more badassery in a game starring the ultimate badass, and I’d forgotten that ultimately, he is a weaker version of himself that might come into power. I was hoping and hoping that in this game, we might see glimpses of that at some point. But from start to finish, all we get is a still-powerful character being jeered and taunted by other characters who no longer fear him, asking him to prove himself before they will help him, and Death obliging because he simply has no other choice. I felt for the endearing nature of the story, but I ended up feeling a little disappointed in it as well. Even the ending of the game, which is pretty much a mirror image of the first game, almost felt like a spit in the face to my hopeful self, holding out in the light of an abrupt and anti-climactic conclusion, that I may finally glimpse Death’s final form. Insert Frieza joke here.
Don’t get me wrong though. While the story may not be as hard-hitting and well-rounded as the first game’s, Death has his own tale to tell and although this one only skirts around the story of the first game with mentions and tie-backs forming the majority of your exposure, you still get the feel that there is a bigger, more sinister scheme in play. As with the first game. This one revolves around corruption and its effects on the outlands but also ties into War’s efforts on Earth along the way, occurring parallel to this adventure. Kind of like Crysis: Warhead, if you have played that.
Darksiders II does have a few other really neat touches added to the game. The first of these involves reloading your save. When you quit out of the game and come back in, the game does a quick comic-styled story recap and then takes you to what you could consider as the main menu, rendered in-game, with the option of ‘Continue’ up top. Upon selecting that, the camera pans backwards and behind Death and you’re free to play on. It’s a smooth and seamless transition that feels amazing, each and every time, and I thought that was worth a mention.
Another little addition to the game is that of leaderboards. This game tracks many, many statistics including deaths, highest combos (hits and damage), completion times and a whole myriad of other cool things you could compare with friends. You may opt to also compare online to find the true rank, although some of those are utterly broken so I would stick to just friends. You may also send your friends gifts of weapons or armour, or indeed receive gifts from them using what’s called serpent tomes, in the game.
Finally, there’s a few very unique abilities that I really want to discuss but at the risk of spoilers I will try as far as possible to not detail too much. Basically Death is nephilim, which means he has a combination of angel and demon within him. This allows him certain abilities that are unique to his character and unlockable as you progress through the story. Add those abilities to the return of the portal-shooting Voidwalker as well as the Deathrip which is basically the abyssal chain for Death and the combination of new abilities allows for some of the most interesting and mind-numbingly frustrating puzzles I have ever had the pleasure of solving.
In all, I struggled to find a solid rating for Darksiders II all throughout my experience of the game. I varied between something only slightly better than the first Darksiders (which I consider to be a great game), to something bordering on worse in places, to something that is head and shoulders above it.
The addition of a crow called Dust and his horse Despair makes for a happy escape from the desolation that comes with exploring dungeon after ruinous dungeon, this time around, and I really appreciated the extra touches that came with each of those in their interactions with Death, a lot more lighthearted and endearing than the lone-wolf War, who did have a horse called Ruin but only for the latter half of the game in truth. Oh and that annoying Watcher, which I was so glad to see killed, for all the help he was worth.
Creative director Joe Madureira has definitely crafted a world that can truly be looked at and called ‘the world of Darksiders’ now, with everything looking and feeling suited to the new universe and with the conclusion of the story obviously hinting at much more to come, it’s clear that the Darksiders series is going to be around for a while. It might never reach the true heights of other games that attempt more originality instead of mixing borrowed concepts with unique ideas, but this series has carved out its niche and I for one am looking forward to not just playing more Darksiders II but also seeing what sort of downloadable content comes out for the game in the coming months.
Darksiders II is a great game and one that you can get lost in for an age (of man), so long as you don’t mind the repetitive combat in places and the hours of platforming in others. You could quite literally play this game until Death becomes you.
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.