Entering into the game space as God of War, both in terms of gameplay style and loose plot area, was a risky one for THQ with the release of Darksiders back in 2010. However, the well-balanced mix of Zelda-esque puzzles, goliath enemies and Kratos like combat had fans satisfied and eager for more. Fast-forward two years and we’re onto the sequel, again developed by Vigil Games, who seem to have learnt a lot as Darksiders II improves almost effortlessly on the original to create a quite brilliant adventure.
For those that perhaps missed the first, as many did, Darksiders II picks up from the end of the first – which the game will sufficiently bring you back up to speed on if you need it – in a world where war is rife between angels and demons. Smack in the middle are Strife, Fury, War, and Death – the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The latter is the protagonist this time round and after the predicament that War has got himself into, it’s up to you to prove his innocence.
A new protagonist brings new characteristics into play, the most apparent being that Death is far more agile that the more cumbersome War. He’s able to traverse walls, balance on beams and swing from great heights akin to the Prince of Persia series.
The dialogue between Death and other characters isn’t particularly great nor terrible, which is also true of the voice acting; however, the soundtrack for the game is tremendous. A wonderful rousing score accompanies your journey ensuring that even the more subdued moments feel terrifically momentous.
Injecting an RPG aspect into what is often a hack’n’slash environment was a stroke of genius from the Austin-based developers, as it encourages exploration as well as combat – two of Darksiders II’s greatest strengths. By introducing the buying, selling, looting and upgrading of weapons, armour and additional items, you’ll want to search every nook and cranny, battle every foe who dares to get in your way, all in the name of shiny treats. There’s a variety in the items that allows for a greater degree of options and enjoyment within combat, and its well executed inventory system makes choosing the right ones for you a breeze.
Unlike War, Death also has two weapons at his disposal allowing for far more entertaining combos. You have his trademark scythes which act as a fast attack, dealing smaller but multiple hits to enemies, whilst your second weapon is your choice. Fancy a slow wielding but extremely destructive hammer? What about some super-fast claws? There’s even some with elemental damage as well. It really does become a sub-game of finding a weapon that’s both powerful and right for you.
It all helps to play into the wonderful combat of Darksiders II. It’s extremely necessary to both attack and defend against enemies – particularly stronger ones – as if you constantly let yourself get hit you’ll be dead before you know. Combos are varied and incredibly responsive, allowing you to jump out and dodge an attack during if you need to; the use of two weapons also helps to provide greater flexibility.
Skill trees have been implemented to allow you to ramp up your talents as you progress. The Harbinger-branch will provide you will powers to damage your foes, whilst the Necromancer abilities allow you to call on the dead for assistance. Different moves can be assigned to particular buttons for quick access during the heat of battle – this is also the case for potions – and adds another dimension to the already free-flowing and excellent combat.
“It is undoubtedly a fantastic title and one that is packed full of quality – and quantity with a campaign of over 20 hours; yet it lacks a charm that the cream of the crop achieve.”
In the opening paragraph I mentioned Zelda-esque puzzle and there are plenty of them in Darksiders II. You’ll traverse huge dungeons and across far lands to complete missions in a world that is deceptively large. Backtracking through the game locales will be common and other than some terrible signposting on occasion, you’ll encounter little difficulty with the challenges which is a shame. Dust, your trusty crow, is supposed to show you the way incase you get lost but he must have a very poor memory as on multiple occasions he either doesn’t fly anywhere or he goes entirely the wrong way.
It’s not all as singing-and-dancing though. The world, for all it’s grandeur, is far too empty. If it felt dilapidated then it wouldn’t be an issue, but it just feels unfinished. There’s too much unused space and very little attention to detail within the world; there’s no hustle or bustle anywhere and as a result it all feels a tad underwhelming. Visually it’s hard to fault it though, the vibrant art style is refreshing and the vistas are something to behold. Performance wise is another matter entirely; the frame rate will often come crashing down, aliasing is a real issue when there are lots of characters on-screen and load times are agonising lengthy.
In a world with some truly exceptional hack’n’slash action-adventure titles Darksiders II was going to have to be something special to get noticed. It is undoubtedly a fantastic title and one that is packed full of quality – and quantity with a campaign of over 20 hours; yet it lacks a charm that the cream of the crop achieve. Combat excels, audio impresses, visuals satisfy and the RPG elements thrive. A useful fast-travel system, suitably epic boss fights and some power-inducing special abilities complement a generally well executed title; a series of nagging issues that refuse to go away mar an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable experience.