Darksiders II takes place during the same time period as the previous game, making it a midquel rather than a proper sequel. However, the gameplay mechanics reflect the lessons learned from the previous game, making this one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences this year. It may take inspiration from and sometimes flat out rip off titles like Legend of Zelda, God of War, and Prince of Persia, but it manages to mold these elements into a distinctive style all its own. Darksiders II does what every sequel should do: be a vast improvement over its predecessor in nearly every respect.
You play as Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, during the period early in the first game where War, Death’s brother and protagonist of the first game, was imprisoned for 100 years. He is convinced that his brother, who is accused of disturbing the balance of the Universe and wiping out humanity, is innocent and a conspiracy must be the cause of the accusations. Therefore, he ventures out to clear his brother’s name and resurrect humanity.
Throughout your adventure, you’ll learn more about the lore and backstory of the Darksiders world. Much of the plot is told through various NPCs in the game and the voice acting is extremely well done. You may not become invested in any individual character but you will be intrigued and the line deliveries keep you engaged. Death himself is a more interesting character than War, despite the fact that Death’s story has less urgency. Various response choices reminiscent of titles like Dragon Age and Mass Effect allows for more organic conversations, although the options are more limited, and Death is much more coherent than his brother. Although you cannot relate to him as a character – being the embodiment of dying and all – you will want to see his story to the end and will eagerly wait his return.
In the end, although the story can be overly dramatic and just a reason for Death to slaughter dozens of monsters and collect three of something, it is entertaining and you are never confused by your main objective and the story never interferes with the gameplay. One complaint however: Death comes across as everyone’s errand boy. Never in the game do you feel like one of the four horseman of the apocalypse. Nearly everyone in the world is bigger than you and you never from a narrative standpoint feel like you have an intimidating presence.
Combat however is the exact opposite. Whereas War controlled like a powerful warrior, Death is nimble and quick. Death hops around enemies, slices them apart with his double scythes and summons minions and crows to attack. God of War comparisons are abound but are welcome as Darksiders II controls just as well as that franchise. It may be extremely familiar but it’s invigorated. Fighting feels fluid and powerful and controls are responsive and rewarding. Especially when up against a boss enemy, which are all amazing, exciting and tactilely rewarding, the combat shines. There are an array of combos that can be executed that mix both Death’s scythes and his secondary weapon, which range from big, lumbering axes and hammers to short, quick gauntlets and claws.
The array of different weapon types diversifies gameplay immensely and although the big and small weapons are essentially the same as the other big and small weapons respectively from a control standpoint, each type still has specific combos that are only possible with that type of weapon. Gauntlets feature a powered-up attack that arm blades replace with a boomerang-like projectile. Add on the various statistical advantages to each weapon and no two secondary weapons is alike. Throw in a special weapon such as the Deathgrip, which lets you grab enemies, and you have an option filled and rewarding combat system.
The original Darksiders featured some light RPG elements but this aspect has been heavily updated into a straight up Action-RPG, which at first reminds me of the recently released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Loot is rewarded with each enemy defeated and chest opened. You’ll acquire new equipment as well as gain gold in order to buy new combos and equipment from various merchants. You have the option to pick up loot manually or automatically in the options menu and it is very addicting. After clearing out a room of enemies, you’ll feel encouraged to open your inventory and look at all the new gear you have to work with.
Death has strength, arcane, defense, critical chance, resistance, and various other statistics to take into consideration as you equip different accoutrements with varying stat boosts. Various weapons that you equip can have different ability perks such as an increase in experience or fire damage to your foes. Possessed weapons have the added ability to be upgraded by sacrificing other weapons and armor to it. Feed it enough and it will level up, raising its stats and allowing you to add or further upgrade a stat based on the properties of the equipment you fed it. This makes the player decide what kind of character they want Death to be. On top of that, Death will level up as he defeats enemies, which will earn you a skill point that can be used to get you a new ability such as a teleport dash attack or the summoning of minions that attack enemies (my personal favorite).
All this may seem like a lot to consider and truth be told, you will unfortunately spend more time in the menus than you may like. However, never does this system come across as overtly complex or overwhelming. All of this is conveyed to you rather well and you’ll be molding Death to your preferences in no time. The only aspect that’s a bit unclear is the category system for the equipment, which consists of common, uncommon, rare, possessed, elite and legendary types. The RPG elements are immersive and extremely well done and its arguably the strongest aspect of the game.
Aside from the introductory level, there are four worlds for you to traverse, with each having individual provinces and dungeons. Each are big and expansive and a map will help you get around, as well as list your tasks and let you fast travel. Graphically, they are beautifully created and the colorful and cartoon like aesthetic really pops off the screen. Although not a graphical marvel, the game still looks serviceable and downright pretty at times and this is due to the art design.
Level layouts are a mixed bag. Most of the dungeons are fun to go through and it’s a joy to go through each and see what challenges and puzzles you will face. If you have played a Legend of Zelda title in the last 15 years, you’ll be right at home. The open world however is a barren wasteland for the most part, with only a few enemies littered about. There are collectables and extra dungeons and missions to complete and they are fun and not too heavy on the fetch questing but there aren’t nearly enough.
Death traverses the world with the assistance of his horse, Despair, and by engaging in Prince of Persia style platforming. You’ll run across walls, shimmy on ledges, climb pillars, and more. All of this is functional and rewarding as it’s smooth and just as good as the series its based on. Jumping away from a wall or pillar is strange but Darksiders II avoids a common curse in action games where the fun grinds to a halt due to a unresponsive platforming sequence.
Of course, Darksiders II isn’t without its problems. Enemy A.I. is mostly on the poor side. They typically just serve as fodder to build you up to the boss fights. There are exceptions but difficulty usually comes from just being overwhelmed by foes rather than any actually skill on their part. Although the dungeon puzzles typically manage to keep things interesting, gameplay can get drag sometimes. The gameplay will always diversify before that feeling sets in but it can and probably will wear on you at some point. Death’s bird, Dust, who is meant to help you does a crap job of it and should be quickly ignored. Luckily, the map will help you find your way around. A few nit picks: Death’s gun in combat is next to useless, some solution choices in the puzzles can be strange and the last dungeon in the second act is just not fun.
I played Darksiders II on the PC and as such, I can only say that the following technical issues can be attributed to this version alone. Darksiders II suffers from a lot of screen tearing and the PC version was not optimized for the platform, as the graphical options for the PC are next to none. Game crashes were not frequent but happened enough for me to make a note of it and I ran into some bad glitches, such as being stuck in the falling animation and literally being trapped in a wall. Also, the feature to share weapons with other players online is completely ineffectual and wasn’t even working the first week or so of release.
I couldn’t get into the first Darksiders and I didn’t anticipate enjoying its sequel this much. Darksiders II is a thrilling adventure despite some technical flaws and some concepts that don’t pan out. It may not have an original bone in its body but its such an enjoyable time due to the care and polish given to the game it doesn’t need to be. Add in the 30+ hour length, multiple difficulty settings and a New Game+ mode after completing the game and Darksiders II will keep you entertained for a long time.
Many titles today attempt to give you an experience of some kind. Halo gives you a cinematic experience, and Journey gives you a cerebral experience. Darksiders II doesn’t attempt to do any of this. It strives to be a game and there’s not many titles like that.It’s main goal is to be an open world action game with adventure style puzzles and solid platforming that is highly enjoyable. In this way, it succeeds and while other games may give you a better experience, you’ll be hard pressed to find a game this year this fun.