Review: Darksiders 2
In many ways, the original Darksiders was a pleasant surprise to me. The comparisons to God of War did not exactly get me excited about the game and the hack and slash combat I saw in most you tube videos strengthened the idea that this was in fact, a title that belonged solely to consoles. I was even more surprised when my brother gifted me a copy for Christmas (knowing well enough what my tastes are like). Long story short, I loved it. Playing as “War”, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, was a whole lot of fun. So when details about a sequel emerged, my interest was certainly piqued.
Continuing the story from Darksiders, the sequel focuses on the one of War’s brothers. Death. That’s right; you get to play as Death himself. And boy is it fun!
Where the original was constantly being compared to God of War, Darksiders 2 has had more than its share of Zelda comparisons. It’s not hard to see why. At its core, Darksiders 2 is an action adventure. But labeling it as just that would be doing it an enormous disservice. The game has combo based combat, puzzles, exploration, platforming, RPG elements, loot drops and just like the prequel, it even takes inspiration from Portal! So let’s break it down shall we?
First off, the story. The short version is as follows: Humanity is history. The horseman “War” is (unjustly) being held responsible by the “Charred council”, a collection of beings that for all intents and purposes are Gods that no one can mess with. The first game is all about War trying to clear his name. The events of Darksiders 2 runs parallel to the first so story wise, it’s not a sequel at all. To those not familiar with the events of the first game, the tale might seem a bit confusing. It’s a pity, because as far as video game stories go, it’s pretty damn good.
Darksiders 2 continues to use the stylistic talents of artist Joe Madureira who is the title’s creative director. It’s a personal choice of course but, for what it’s worth, I absolutely love his work. It’s evocative of his time spent on the Uncanny X-men comics, for which he is well known for. The engine isn’t exactly cutting edge and close inspection will show some low def textures. But the overall effect is stunningly good. There were more than a few occasions where I just had to stop and stare at the world around me. Well done devs!
PC customization is adequate (post launch patches have fixed most of the niggling issues players were facing on release). Playing with a multibutton mouse was a joy though going strictly keyboard and plain mouse will make things tricky. My advice? Use a gamepad. One thing that I take offence to, and it’s a gripe I have with many new games now, is the save system. Simply put, its bullshit. Not only does the game have auto save, it only allows you to save on ONE slot! So if something happens to that save file, you are screwed. All progress goes down the toilet and you have to start from scratch. Thankfully this did not happen to me but it bears mentioning just the same. Is it really that hard to give PC gamer the option to save at multiple points? It also take away the option of going back to replay some really good boss battles the game has. Why would you do this devs? It makes zero sense and I wish you would all just stop. (End rant)
It’s a good thing that the combat in the game is ideal to vent out frustration and it helps that Death is an absolute bad ass. Everything about him, from the artwork, his twin scythes (yep he’s got TWO scythes, what of it?), his face mask and his excellent voice work, portrays him as the kind of dude you just do not want to mess with. Of course, that doesn’t stop all the baddies in the game from trying. And dying. Dying in horrible and yet, fantastic ways. It’s not often a game has me giggling like a little school girl on crack. Combat in the game is an absolute joy and looks amazing. You can hack and slash your way through if you want but it is a real pleasure to pull off some fluid combos. One of my favorite ones starts by unleashing a few rapid double scythe attacks and ends with an awesome move that transforms Death into his “Reaper” form. You have to see it to believe how cool it looks. In addition to his standard scythe attacks, Death also carries a secondary weapon. Usually of a slow but hard hitting variety. It really opens up the possibility of some truly devastating attack combos. One small caveat though, target switching can be a pain at times, mainly because the camera has a tendency to misbehave. I usually didn’t bother with it, preferring to change orientation manually with my mouse. There are some missions where you have to rely on shooting but these are short and hardly challenging at all. Bottom line, combat is awesome.
The bosses in particular deserve special mention. The prequel had some tense and interesting ones and Darksiders 2 takes it up a notch. Apart from the final boss who was bit of a letdown in terms of challenge, most of the major battles were fantastic. Many involve some sort of puzzle mechanic that requires lateral thinking and are visually very impressive. The excellent music only adds to the effect. Also, it cements Death’s rep as supreme badass. It’s a pity I can’t replay them without starting a new game.
A new addition to the game is the ability to level up RPG style. Though not very deep, it is more than enough to cater to two different styles of game play. There are two “skill trees” available. One focuses on direct melee damage and close quarter abilities. The second caters to people who prefer fighting at a distance using summoned minions and magic. Both are excellent and completely change the player approaches combat. Thankfully, there is a way of “resetting” all choices made via a merchant so making a mistake is not the end of the world. Speaking of leveling, some of the weapons in the game can be upgraded too. Doing so will involve the destruction of a chosen magical item in your inventory. This is a good thing as drops come hard and fast in this game. Not having a way to dispose some of them would mean endless trips back to vendors to reclaim bag space.
The world of Darksiders 2 is big (for an action game) and varied. Players will sample a variety of environs ranging from lush forests, heavenly cities to hellish plains and dead lands. All of which are full of little nooks and crannies that the player is incentivized to explore. This done via side quests and hidden treasure chests. The main characters continue to push the plot via standard “go here and kill that to get the thingie” mechanics but occasionally they might hand out a quest that promises to net Death some sweet gear.
Loot is actually a large part of the game and the randomization of drops kept me engaged and interested enough to not only pursue these side missions but also take indirect routes to my primary destinations. In large open area, Death has access to his horse, aptly named “Despair” which makes covering large distances easy. Mounted combat is a possibility but hardly ideal. That being said, my favorite boss fight actually necessitates the use of riding. The game also has a quick travel mechanic which is a godsend as Death frequently has to go back and forth between locations.
Some of these locations will be those of handy “merchants” that will sell you some cool stuff. None of their wares compared to the drops I got form killing bosses though. There are also trainers available that allow for unlocking new and powerful moves.
Every location you go to has its share of environmental puzzles. This usually involves getting access to hard to reach places to pull levers and such. Getting to these areas necessitates the use of various tools Death has at his disposal and of course, his nifty acrobatics (think Lara Croft meets Prince of Persia). Wall running, accurate jumping, ledge grabbing, physics implementation, portals, hell even time travel! New elements are introduced at a regular pace and as the game progresses the puzzles get harder. Most of them did not really make me feel “stuck” and taking a moment to look around was usually enough to see the solution. There were two notable exceptions towards the end which sort of broke my brain (both involved the use of portals).
I must confess that I’ve never been the best at solving stuff like this. This is why I was glad I had the services of “Dust”, a crow that follows Death wherever he goes. Dust’s role as a “help” mechanic is a welcome addition. It definitely helped with some of the backtracking I had to do (the game constantly made me wish I could run faster). The player has the ability to summon him at will which will make the bird fly towards the next objective. It’s not a cheat, Dust won’t solve anything for you and his advice is hardly perfect. But he will help in pointing out things you missed and the general direction of where you should focus your attention. I greatly appreciated the aid. Plus, having an undead crow for a guide is kinda cool.
I guess that word sums up the game for me. Cool. Playing Darksiders 2 was really, really cool. Every aspect of the game comes together beautifully to make for an excellent experience. The only downside to having so much “stuff” being hurled in my direction was that I couldn’t bring myself to play it for than two hours at a time. It’s not that I did not enjoy it. If anything, this is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year. But sensory overload and repetitiveness is an unfortunate side effect of having so much crammed into one title. This is partly why it took me so long to finish (I clocked around 25 hours total). It’s a personal thing and your experience may vary. Nonetheless, Darksiders 2 is an excellent title that is well deserving of your time and money.
I cant wait to see which horseman Vigil brings up next.