At a glance...
|Richard Pilot||Xbox 360||THQ||Virgil Games||1||21st August 2012|
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|Richard Pilot||Xbox 360||THQ||Virgil Games||1||21st August 2012|
The original Darksiders will always have a special place in my heart for a few reasons. Firstly, it was the first game I played after moving down to the South of England and just wanted to relax after a hard day's work. Secondly, it came at a time that, for us non-PS3 owners who hadn't been able to play Naughty Dog's masterpiece were left crying out for a fantastic action adventure game of our own. Finally, bringing it back to allaboutgames.co.uk, it was the first review I wrote for the site. I got a taste of the sequel back in August 2011, in Cologne, as part of that year's Gamescom show and whilst I loved what was on display, I wasn't able to get my hands on the game. Now, with less than a month before the game's eventual release, THQ has loosened the leash and allaboutgames.co.uk was treated to a four hour sit down with the game right from the very beginning. Before continuing, I want to point out that whilst I won't be giving away any important story hooks, I will be talking about my experiences with the initial hours of the game, so minor spoilers are ahead. With that in mind, let us explore Darksiders 2!
As I've discussed before, Darksiders 2 takes a few steps back from the events of the first game, both in terms of tone and the timeline of the narrative. Rushing straight into the battle, we are not! The game starts off with an unknown narrator talking about the four horsemen, how they came into being and acquired their powerful abilities. I got the feeling that some of these threads may be explored later in the game, but regardless it was nice to see the horsemen being given a bit more of a backstory. More importantly, this intro serves to illustrate another point, the switch of focus away from the protagonist of the first game, War, to another of the horsemen, Death. This brief history of horsemen complete, it cuts to the snowy peaks of 'The Veil', where it catches up with Death sitting atop of his warhorse, Despair, on an icy path trailing away towards a large tower in the distance. This gives us a chance to get acquainted with Death's trusty stead, but the journey is cut short as you arrive and must dismount. Like in the first game, the horses are bonded to the horsemen and instead of a simple dismount, Despair disappears into the ether, awaiting your call when you need him again. Approaching the doors on foot, he passes three creatures encased in ice. Not for long though, as they escape their frozen shackles and approach us with sinister intentions, allowing us to get a feel for the game's combat. Again, taken straight from the original title, Darksiders 2 features a surprisingly satisfying hack and slash combat system, revolving around multipliers, combos, and Z-targeting, *ahem*, I mean LT-targeting. Unlike with War, however, where you used to be able to block some of the more nasty attacks, Death must dodge out of the way before they make a meal out of him. This makes combat feel more fluid than the original.
Dispatching the tower's 'guards' the first thing I notice is the item drops that have appeared in the enemies' wake; in addition to the standard gold, a "Lvl 2 Axe" is also waiting for us. It seems that Darksiders 2 features a more advanced weapon system than before, where not only can you equip different types of weapon, each with their own attack style, but these weapons also have various stats associated with them, meaning a heavy focus on inventory management. Not wanting to deal with these scattered items straight away, I turned auto-collect on immediately, deciding to sort out the gems from the trash later.
Moving into the tower leads to a platforming sequence as you scale to the top. This is a great refresher for Darksiders' platforming, with wall-running, vine-climbing and beam-jumping. Purposely jumping off a very high ledge, I discovered that Death sprouts a set of wings and carries himself back to the ledge I jumped from, reminiscent of how you'd recover in the 2008 Prince of Persia reboot. Reaching the top, you finally meet the caretaker of this place, the Crowfather. In this - the game's first in-game cutscene (and coincidentally, the first time you'll hear Death speak) - his intentions for coming here are revealed, although for the exact details I'll let you find out when you play the game yourself.
This section served as brief reminder for the control system and after confronting him, you are taken to the game's first proper hub area and are introduced to the Makers (essentially, the beings who forged many of the great constructions of the world). In order for Death to advance his plan he first needs to assist the Makers in restoring this once peaceful land and help clear away the corruption. Many of these Makers are quick to belittle Death that such a powerful being has to stoop so low to get what he wants. Death manages to hold his own, though, and exchanges a barb or two of his own. Aside from the put-me-downs, what this signifies is that Darksiders 2 is a much more social game that its predecessor, and Death will be talking a lot more with the world's inhabitants than War ever did. In addition to the branching dialog trees, Death will also have the option of bartering with the people he meets. At this initial stage you have the option of purchasing weapons, unlocking bonuses or discovering new attack techniques, although I was outpriced on most of these items at such an early stage. The most curious item in this area, however, was the addition of a mailbox. Characters in game (and, it appears, your friends on Xbox Live/PSN) can give weapons and armour to you as gifts. Upon my first interaction with this system, I discovered that a number of characters had already gifted me some starting armour, but in a foolish move on my part, I grabbed everything. This triggered an annoying sequence where I had to read the flavour text (and watch the accompanying UI animation) for every single item I got. I hope that there's still time to add a skip all button for the final game.
I was eager to get out into the world at this point, so without further ado I left the Markers and started to explore, although my ultimate destination was the game's first dungeon. This starting area was a lot more open that I remember from the first Darksiders; there were monsters to slay, secrets to uncover and even mini dungeons to explore. It's great that there's a lot more to see and do in the world, and more importantly there was a lot of variation in what was on offer, both technically and stylistically. There was even a chance encounter from Vulgrim, the sinister looking mechant from the first game, who was there to sell more weapons and abilities, as well as offering a collectible challenge. Enough distractions though, it's off to the first dungeon.
What struck me most about the first two dungeons was that this is still one of the cornerstones of Darksiders 2. It was apparent that a lot of work had gone into the design of these places with some interesting themes and good ideas in both. The first dungeon involved manipulating the lava of a ruined forge, and the second requires you to redirect water through the dungeon in order to access new areas. The game does rely on a traditional dungeon format by having dungeon maps as well obligatory locked doors (and keys), and a boss monster to slay. There were some cool room puzzles and challenges, with bombs that needs to be thrown to activate levers and switches, and huge balls that needed to be rolled into hollows to open doors.
With both dungeons successfully completed, order is restored to the Makers' forge and Death finally gets the aid the Makers have promised him. Before leaving, though, you are given one final task from the Makers that needs to be achieved in order to reach the destination, and this was the ideal moment for the hands-on session to end. The build I played was a little over two weeks old, but the game is looking to be almost ready. With less than a month until launch, THQ doesn't have much longer to iron out the last few bugs and make a few tweaks to the UI (I accidentally discovered the debug controls to allow me to turn NoClip on). Darksiders 2 doesn't appear to be breaking the mold too drastically, keeping the core concepts that attracted gamers such as myself to the original. This may put off some who are looking for something a little more original, but whilst the genre might not be new, Darksiders 2 looks to be adding enough intrigue in its story, and a freshness to its design that certainly has me eagerly awaiting the final game.
Darksiders 2 is released on 21st August on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.