At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot Xbox 360 THQ Virgil Games 1
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
None. PS3, PC, Wii U Click here to buy Darksiders II.

Darksiders II review

If you've been following our coverage on allaboutgames.co.uk then you'll know that by now, we've pretty much covered Darksiders II to Death (getting the puns in early!). We first saw it behind closed doors at Gamescom last year and were then invited to a special preview event a few weeks before launch. Both times we were very impressed, but now it's finally out and the finished game is at our fingertips. Will the magic that I saw all those months ago still be present?

It has been just over two years since the first game, so the time for a spoiler-free review is over. The first game revolved around the summoning of one of the four horsemen, War, who had been called to Earth and as a result was accused of starting the Apocalypse prematurely. At the very end of the first game, War had defeated the great evil that was plaguing Earth but over the course of the game had been made an enemy of both Heaven and Hell. Luckily backup began to arrive in the form of the rest of the horsemen, who were seen streaking across the sky to War's aid. That exciting moment was the cliffhanger that Darksiders ended on and left players (or at least me), waiting in anticipation to see the continuation of their adventure.

This is no time for breakdancing

This is no time for breakdancing

Unfortunately, Darksiders II doesn't pick up from here, it focuses on one of the other horsemen, Death, and instead of seeing this new rider join his brother War on Earth, we go back to the starting moments of the first game and see the actions of Death attempting to clear the name of War in an entirely different realm. We not only see these events as they run parallel to the first, but it's also an opportunity to see the back-story of the horsemen. It's an interesting approach, allowing Vigil Games more room to stretch both creatively and artistically, but at the same time, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that they didn't continue the storyline. This does mean, however, that the game is much easier to get into than the first; there are no references to the Charred Council, and no Watcher to stab you in the back. We see Death go from realm to realm in his travels with the singular aim of restoring humanity in order to give War back his honour. In each of these realms, there's definitely a pattern to the story beats; Death needs an artifact of power to complete his objective, but is hampered either by a physical barrier, such as corruption (the big bad for this game), or a being of power (such as the Lord of Bones or, much later, the angel Archon), each of whom demand that Death carries out a task for them, before they grant his request. This may be oversimplifying it a little, but it compares drastically to the twists and turns of the first game, which was set primarily on a warped Earth and saw the politics of heaven and hell over the backdrop of the apocalypse. It seems like the complexity of the plot has been replaced with the complexity of having many locations.

Death travels to several realms over the course of the game, starting in the Veil, for a very climatic battle with the Crowfather before travelling to the Forge Lands for the first third of the game. He later visits the Land of the Dead and he even revisits Earth towards the end. Each of these locations is very different from one another; Vigil Games have done an amazing job in creating these fantastical worlds. It's a shame, then, that's there's not a great deal to do. The first game was all about Zelda-style dungeon exploration and Darksiders II is no exception. However, the hub worlds that connect these locations together are pretty barren. Make no mistake, they are visually exciting but with the exception of a few stray monsters or chests positioned in random places, they are a bit empty. I spent most of my time riding on Despair, Death's horse, to most of my quest locations (marvelling at the art of the world along the way), but then when I really needed to get around I used fast travelling once each location had been unlocked. Aside from skipping over on a piece of loot, I didn't feel like I missed out on anything. That said, I didn't complete many of the side quests and so there maybe some more interesting places I missed out on, but then the game doesn't offer much incentive to complete these optional extras, although the choice is there.

Well, doesn't he seem like a friendly fellow?

Well, doesn't he seem like a friendly fellow?

So, dungeons are the heart of Darksiders II, much more so that the first game. There are really only three kinds of location in the game; the over-world that connect everything together, hubs that contain the characters that will give you your quests or sell you moves and items (although there are only really two of such locations), and then the many, many dungeons where all the action takes place. Over the course of the game you'll encounter many interesting forms of dungeon with, at times, some ingenious puzzle design and tricky encounters. At the end of each dungeon there is a boss to fight and Vigil Games have done a fantastic job at making each of these feel special, both visually and mechanically. This extends to general enemy design and whilst essentially almost everything follows very similar patterns of attempting to hack and slash you, each one feels different, even if under the covers they essentially behave the same behaviour. That's all thanks to their great design. Dungeons are tied together by themes, such as the fire- and water-based dungeons early on, to the assorted 'crypts of the dead' later in the game. Puzzles elements across dungeons are introduced slowly, with platforming, button-pushing and pressure plates taking on a major role throughout. This introduction is painfully slow during the initial third of the game, but once you've reached the Tree of Life and are whisked away to the Land of the Dead, things quickly pick up. This is in part aided by some of the special items and abilities you get along the way. There isn't an extensive list of toys for you to play with like the first game, but because of this, items have a very clear purpose. Some of these include some of my favourites from the first game, such as the portal gun (you heard me correctly), but also include interesting new additions such as an ability to control ghostly skeletons or being able to rip your soul in two. The latter of these new abilities leads to some really interesting puzzle design, as your physical body is frozen in stone whilst you can to flick between the two pieces of your soul and are required to move your stone self around in various ways. Whilst you never need to backtrack for the main quest dungeons, some of the optional locations encourage you to come back with the later game items to pick up additional equipment.

I mentioned earlier that you have a smaller pool of items. Whilst this is true, the weapon system is the complete reverse featuring a complex loot system. Most creatures that you kill will drop loot of some kind, whether that's merely coins from the little creatures or full-blown weapons and armours sets from the larger monsters. Each has their own stats, benefits and rarity. The two vendors that you meet have plenty to offer you, and you can also sell everything you find so that you can purchase that new melee combo or simply a better weapon. Whilst this system is fully functional, it doesn't really fit with the rest of the game, which is more focused on getting singular powerful abilities rather than tying your equipment down in a numbers game (which it will eventually get to when you have 18 different chest pieces to choose from). There is a great deal of complexity to this system, such as the number of different bonuses weapons can give you, or cursed items that can be leveled up, sacrificing other weapons to improve them. Finally, you can gift any of this loot to your friends over the internet, which is a curious feature as the game itself isn't co-operative. I chose to ignore this loot system for the most part, although there were a few exceptions where I was forced to get involved when I noticed that I was dealing less damage or losing more health compared to the levelled-up enemies.

Death is ready for a fight

Death is ready for a fight

I haven't even mentioned Death's personal selection of special abilities which use up his personal supply of wrath (aka mana). There is a clear divide in the different types of abilities you get. One half focusing on improving Death himself, such as temporarily increasing his strength or dealing a single massive attack. The other half deals with summoning creatures such as ghouls or a flock of birds to restore your health and wrath. These also help to take some of the pressure off you (and believe me, in the later sections of the game, you'll need too). These abilities are only gated by level, and you are given a free choice over which side to go down, and can have a mix of powers. Once unlocked, these abilities can then be upgraded, either to make them more powerful or to convey additional benefits.

So Darksiders II features a great deal of different systems working together, some of which are more or less the same as the original, like the focus on dungeons, and some are completely new to the game, such as the loot. Whether you'll be won over by these systems will ultimately depend on how much of the original Darksiders you wanted this game to be. New players will certainly be won over by this one, but as a fan of that first game, some of these changes left me a little uneasy and if your expectations were based purely on the ending of Darksiders then you may be in for some disappointment. That said, Darksiders II features a great deal more world-building and removing the need for the game to be set on Earth has given the art and asset teams at Vigil Games a lot of room to make the setting their own, and have been entirely successful in this goal. There are some very memorable moments here and it's not just down to the art team, but the music too. There is a fantastic score to this game, composed by the talented Jesper Kyd, whose work on Assassin's Creed and Hitman can be heard in some of the background music, but there is also some great themes that stand out in their own right (I encourage you to look up the excellent "Crowfather" theme).

Darksiders II is a great experience and Vigil Games have done themselves proud, this is easily a great game, but the expectations from the first title mean that they have strayed a little more from the original formula than some people would have liked. There is a great set of worlds to explore and some really exciting moments for you to live through, so whilst it isn't the sequel I thought it would be, Darksiders II was still very enjoyable.

Ratings

Overall Darksiders II is a fantastic action game. It take a while to get going but once it does, it has plenty of interesting worlds and puzzles to show you. 8/10

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