Game: Darksiders II
Developer: Vigil Games
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The first Darksiders was one of the unsung heroes of 2010, making its way onto many peoples Game of the Year lists, including our own here at GodisaGeek, even though it was released onto the home consoles very early in the year. Darksiders came out of nowhere and nobody was expecting it reach the heights that it managed to, even if it did fall under the radar for some poor people (who hopefully corrected that mistake when the game was offered for free through PlayStation Plus). The second one isn’t so lucky, there’s undoubtedly a sense of anticipation, we know what we got with the first game, we know what we saw at the end of that game too. The hype machine is well and truly oiled for the arrival of Darksiders II, but can it be all that’s expected of it, or are we all getting a little bit too excited? Can Death breath life into the second instalment of the franchise just as War conquered the first?
STORY: The story of Darksiders II takes place before the events of the first game in the series, War has been accused of prematurely starting the apocalypse on Earth, wiping out mankind and currently stands before the Charred Council awaiting his punishment for riding forth before the seventh seal was broken. Death, knowing that his brother is innocent, sets out to right what his brother has been accused of wronging; destroying humanity. To that end Death decides that the best course of action is to make his way to the Well of Souls, where the souls of all the dead are kept, to restore mankind’s place. Hopefully clearing War’s name in the process.
Due to the fact that the events of the first game haven’t happened yet when you start your journey in Darksiders II, it can be a little easy to get lost. Especially when you meet characters from the first game who clearly refer to things differently than they would if the timeline of the two games were straightforward. It’s not a problem, as long as you keep in mind that War’s adventure is yet to happen, but if you lose sight of that, things can get a little confusing at times.
The whole story is excellently written and drives forward at a pace that never really lets up from beginning all the way through to the end. You’ll never find yourself bored, asking what’s coming next and having to work your way towards the answer. You’re given just enough of the story to keep you moving forward while having enough of it kept back that you’ll find yourself needing to play for “just one more hour”.
GRAPHICS: Throughout your time with Darksiders II you’ll no doubt marvel at some of the absolutely stunning environments that make up the game’s world. As soon as you walk into one of the new areas upon your quest, you’ll find yourself exploring your environment just to see what little nuances the developers managed to slip into the game. Some of the more impressive aspects of the game happen during the boss battles, which are on a scale unseen in most games outside of the God of War franchise. You’ll feel like you’re not going to be able to take them down which makes the David and Goliath moments that much sweeter.
The characters and enemies in Darksiders II have been created with a massive amount of attention to detail. The way that some of the enemies move, with their attacks being so well choreographed that you could easily make the mistake of thinking you’re in a Hollywood movie. The animations for Death himself are absolutely ferocious, you really feel like you’re one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a lot of that is down to the excellently created animations that you’ll see throughout the game.
SOUND: The sound design in Darksiders II is nothing short of amazing, from the soundtrack written by Hitman and Borderlands composer Jesper Kyd, to the top-notch voice-acting throughout the game, there’s no doubt that your auditory senses are going to be delighted with the work that has been put in by Vigil Games. There aren’t many voices in the game that you’ll be able to recognise, even though some of them are relatively famous in their field, but they all brought their A-game when it came to recording the voice-over for their respective characters. Michael Wincott does a particularly good job at voicing Death, a character that could have so easily been lifeless (pun half intended) is voiced so emotively that he instantly becomes a character worthy of the heights granted to Mario, Zelda and Sonic. You can guarantee that you’ll be talking about the character of Death for years to come, I only hope we get the opportunity to play as him at least once more.
GAMEPLAY: Upon first glance, Darksiders II appears to be nothing more than a generic hack and slash title. Fight your way through a slew of enemies, get presented with a boss battle, beat them, take the loot, rinse and repeat. Once you actually start playing the game though you’ll soon realise (within the first hour even) that you’re actually holding a much more substantial game than a “generic hack and slash title”, you’re holding a polished and perfected dungeon crawler, a deep and meaningful Action RPG and, yes, a little bit of a hack and slash title. It wouldn’t be a Darksiders game without cutting through the hordes of enemies (angels, demons, mechanical constructs and many more) like a hot scythe through sinewy body parts.
The Action-RPG element comes into play almost as soon as you’ve started up the game, the first couple of enemies that you’ll come across drop a couple of low-level items that you can use to initially upgrade Death. There are a couple of options that you can toggle when it comes to the collection of items in the game world to make your life a little bit simpler. You can pick up weapons and armour by standing over them, looking at their stats and choosing to either pick up the object to sell later, or you can instantly equip it. The other option that you can choose is to just instantly pick up every item you come across as soon as you touch it. This is the option that I chose as I felt that picking and choosing which items I wanted slowed the pace of the game down and that’s something that I didn’t want to happen. I never found my bags so full of equipment that I couldn’t pick anything else up either, so this option is probably the better one. There are plenty of dungeons dotted around the locations that you’ll be visiting too, some with some fairly decent loot at the bottom of them but, as you’d expect, you’re going to have to work for them.
Death is able to use the equipment he picks up to outfit himself in any way the player sees fit. A lot of the equipment generally looks the same, especially similar equipment in the same level range - apart from slight colour changes – but this doesn’t mean that choosing what you’re going to wear isn’t important. One item might have a lower defence rating than the one you’ve just picked up, but it generates health for you whenever you kill an enemy, are you going to go for the higher defence and lose that free health? The choice is yours to make and it gives you an incredible feeling of freedom, which is something that most players won’t be used to getting from a game of this genre.
The collection and equipping of loot isn’t the only aspect of Darksiders II that feels similar to an RPG, there’s also a finely tuned levelling mechanic built into the game. At the top of Death’s health meter is a small experience bar, fill this up by killing enemies and completing quests and Death will level up, refilling his health and wrath bars and giving him a skill point to spend in the talent trees. If you’ve played an RPG before then you know exactly what a talent tree is and how to use it, and things are no different here in Darksiders II, you acquire a skill point by levelling up (or one of a couple of others methods) and place the skill point in one side of the talent tree, unlocking special abilities which can be mapped to the face buttons through the use of a modifier button, either L1 or Left Bumper.
The world that you find yourself in during your time with Darksiders II is a relatively open world, but you will be guided in certain directions. Once you’ve opened up a portal to a specific world, you’re free to travel to and from those locations as you see fit. This is an important fact when it comes to selling items at specific vendors, completing side quests or just wandering around in your favourite locations slaughtering some of the more entertaining enemies along your way. The world feels open and alive and it’s easy to get lost (in a good way) in some of the more open areas you’ll find yourself in. Coming back to explore is something you’re going to want to do too, as some areas can only be accessed once you’ve acquired certain abilities. You don’t want to miss out on some potentially useful loot because you didn’t spend the time to explore your surroundings fully do you?
If you want to try your hand at simply slaying reams and reams of enemies then you could enter yourself into The Crucible. This is a tournament of sorts that allows you to face off against waves of enemies. Survive a wave and you’ll be presented with another wave, survive a few waves and you’ll be forced to face off against a boss wave. Survive even that and you’ll be offered the chance to take a reward. The catch? You’ll have to leave the arena. You can turn down the award if you want to, and continue fighting wave after wave, but the further you get into the crucible, the greater the rewards. It’s a gamble, yes, but it’s one that few players will be able to resist, especially if they’ve already gotten to the end of the game and unlocked all of the layers that The Crucible has to offer. It’s almost guaranteed to get people coming back for more, time and time again.
LONGEVITY: From the moment you start the game up, to the moment the end credits start to roll, you’re looking at about 15 – 17 hours of gameplay, depending on how quickly you move through the worlds, whether you stop to take in the glorious environments that you’re presented with or if you take on any of the extra burdens of the many side quests you’ll be presented with. If you do decide to indulge yourself in everything that the game has to offer then you’re easily talking upwards of 25 hours. With Nightmare Mode unlocking after your first completion, as well as the ability to play through the game again using the New Game+ feature, Darksiders II could well be a game that you’re playing for many months to come. This is well worth the price tag, you won’t be disappointed.
VERDICT: Darksiders II is an amazing achievement coming from a studio that has so few titles under their belt. Vigil Games have managed to achieve something that many more established games studios spent their entire lifetimes striving towards; an engaging universe with meaningful characters and top-notch gameplay.
The first game in the Darksiders franchise was a game that slipped underneath a lot of people radars, don’t make the same mistake with the second instalment. Darksiders II is a serious Game of the Year contender, a title that a gamer dreams of indulging themselves with and something that the guys over at Vigil Games can truly be proud of.