Darksiders II review
Darksiders knew how to end. As endings go, it wasn’t the most poignant, the most visually extravagant or the most articulate. It turns out that not all of it was memorable. But it was exciting.
You’re stood there, as War, ready for the fight of your life. The angel, Uriel says something to you. Quite what I can’t remember, but what she said wasn’t important. Not really. It wasn’t the point of the ending. The point of the ending was when the camera lifted to the skies and showed three objects hurtling towards the ground.
These were no ordinary three objects. These were Horsemen. I was enthralled.
And since then I have been waiting for more. More War, some Death, a little Strife and a dash of Fury. I’ve deliberately kept my nose clean of all the preview gossip, the PR and the speculation. I wanted to experience Darksiders II with no knowledge of what was to come. Colour me surprised then when what I ended up playing wasn’t a sequel as such, but more of a… sidequel.
It turns out that the ending of Darksiders was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a prick-tease. Darksiders II is set during the events of Darksiders, with Death’s adventure taking place during the 100 years imprisonment of War. Death knows that his brother, War, is honorable, well, at least for a Horsemen, and doesn’t fall for the ‘War has brought about the Apocalypse’ ruse. Suspecting that his brother is a pawn in a conspiracy, Death sets off for realms that lie between heaven and hell to work with forces that operate outside of the Council, to clear his brother’s name and reap some souls along the way.
I say this not as someone that has learned this from the game, but as someone who researched it via the Wikipedia page. I spent my first five hours wondering where War and my other two brothers were and struggling to work out the story from the contrived dialogue. Without seeking out the information I would not have guessed, until quite some time through the game, that I was playing in the same timeline as the first game. Not off to the most positive of starts then.
But in gameplay terms, and story aside, Darksiders II is definitely a sequel. Death is a totally different character to War; more nimble, more lithe, weaker yet just as deadly in combat. And the RPG elements and looting system make Darksiders II, in many ways, play more like a third person Diablo than the oft-made comparison with Zelda.
You can spend hours, literally, clambering through the environment searching out chests, collecting all sorts of gear for you to wear or use on enemies, all with unique stats and benefits, or uncovering currency for you to buy more equipment with.
Whereas Darksiders had you spending most of your time in combat, Darksiders II has you spending most of your time clambering walls, climbing ledges, solving puzzles and navigating the large dungeons and open environments. And in many ways it’s all the better for it.
I really enjoyed the original, but even I could admit that it became repetitive in anything other than one or two hour bursts. But while reviewing Darksiders II I had numerous long sessions, one over six hours long, and not once did I find it repetitive. Which is odd, because it is repetitive.
After all, there’s only so many times you can enter yet another dungeon, be faced with yet another identical rolling ball puzzle, see the same wooden ledges and pegs and set off more bombs before it all comes a bit menial.
It’s also a little confused. The environments, while huge and reminiscent of Shadow of the Colussus’ ‘Forbidden Land’, are somewhat barren and lack history and a sense of grandeur. You can travel large sections of the map without encountering a single foe, and while the ability to fast travel to previously visited locations is an important feature (backtracking plays a large part in Darksiders II), it does remove some of the fantasy and adventure.
The dungeons themselves are a different story – large yet packed with enemies, chests and puzzles. But here they suffer from another foible – unresponsive controls. While Death is parkour personified (if you excuse the pun), he’s not always that responsive. While climbing across a ledge to the right, while never having changed direction on the joypad or with the camera, it’s not uncommon for Death to ignore your command to jump right and jump upwards instead. It happens almost every time you try to navigate sections at speed, completely misconstruing your commands and as some of the dungeons feature puzzles with tight time-constraints, you’ll end up cursing it more than is healthy.
As you will with the camera. It works against you all of the way, showing little of the action and hiding enemies just off screen. Fights against more than two opponents just turn into an incomprehensible mess, and all tactics have to be abandoned. Boss battles often fare the same fate. With little of the boss being shown on screen and a camera hell-bent on twitching, even with it locked on, you either won’t get to see Death or enough of the boss to work out what’s going on at times.
And it’s hard to be any more positive with the story. Any plot development almost certainly involves Death being sent on a fetch quest for three items and killing a large foe along the way to the next plot advancement. ‘Bring me these three items, Death, and I’ll build you a weapon’. ‘Grab these three mystical items and I’ll grant you a talisman’. ‘Bring me three shrubberies and we shall let you pass’. I was fully expecting that by the time I reached the Tree of Life I was going to be asked to cut it down with a kipper.
All this leaves Darksiders II as a bit of an anomaly. The text above is undeniably more negative than positive, so then why have I enjoyed the game immensely? That’s easy. Because it’s an extremely playable, enjoyable game, despite it’s many idiosyncrasies.
The loot system is handled exceptionally well, especially in the case of possessed weapons. These much rarer items are upgradeable, whereby you feed any unwanted items to them, upgrading their basic stats and even taking on some of the abilities of the items you have fed to it, making this a surprisingly involved and strategic upgrade system. There’s something about uncovering a fairly standard possessed weapon and not only levelling it’s basic stats up, but also enhancing it with high critical hit and shock damage due to the items you fed it.
Finding complete sets of armour also bestows death with additional benefits, and changing your load-out depending on the enemies you encounter is a necessity for anyone attempting the hardest difficulty setting.
Equally the musical score adds a lot to the experience. In some ways it shouldn’t go with a game featuring any of the horsemen, least of all Death, but it does. Hearing the melodic harmony play peacefully as you slash your way through enemies feels a little ironic, but then that would suit Death’s sense of humour down to the ground.
Outside of the plentiful main game there’s also a compelling arena mode, where wave upon wave of enemies come your way and you have to survive for as long as you can. Again tactics come in to play here, as after every few waves you’re presented with some loot which you can either take and quit from the challenge, or risk it all for the knowledge of even better loot in a few wave’s time. It’s a mode I found a few hours lost to, and I’m happily going to lose a few more hours to it as I try to beat my record.
And the game does become considerably more enjoyable as it progresses, finding its stride in the last few dungeons where the enemies become more varied and the puzzles a little more creative and devious.
Having just seen the end of the game I am left in a quandary. I could have happily played on for another few hours, it hadn’t outstayed it’s welcome and I’m eager to dive back in and pick up on the side quests that I didn’t get time to finish. I’m equally looking forward to spending more time in the arena. However, the ending did leave me kind of cold. And it wasn’t the sequel I had expected.
I’m still somewhat down on the fact that the ending of Darksiders wasn’t where this one picked up from. And that as an overall experience the original still has the edge for me.
Darksiders II is a better game than the original. It’s bigger, more playable, more varied and more rewarding for those that like to go off and explore. But where it succeeds as a standalone third-person adventure RPG, Darksiders II disappointed me as a sequel. Death’s story proved less eventful than War’s, with fewer standout moments and boss fights that were generally less memorable than Darksiders’. And the ending proved to be the impotence that followed on from the prick tease of the original. But Good Lordi it’s still enjoyable, and I’m diving back in for more.