Review – Darksiders 2 (PS3/360/PC)

The Apocalypse has been triggered by mistake, humanity eradicated, War has been imprisoned, and Death must find a way to restore the balance so that his brother may be vindicated. The Reaper rides, but will he slay our expectations or will it be the future of the Darksiders franchise that lays dying amid the Forge Lands?

A Prequel in a Sequel

The most key thing to know about Darksiders 2’s story is that it does not actually follow that of the first Darksiders. Darksiders 2 takes place in the gap between the introduction and the core of the game in Darksiders, during the time when War is still imprisoned by the Charred Council before he is given a chance to redeem himself. Unfortunately, the game never actually directly states this, it merely vaguely hints. This is unfortunate because knowing this will significantly impact the way you look at the story.

That being said, the core of the game’s story is actually fairly interesting though a bit sparse. You don’t get a lot of story, just enough to keep you moving forward, and unfortunately a lot of what you see is characters hinting in an almost smug way while giving you fetch quests. But once you actually get the real story it is quite intriguing, to say the least. The game has a core story that moves along at a snail’s pace, and doesn’t seem to have enough detail to really feel involved enough, but each world you visit has a sub-story that contributes to the story in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.

The biggest downfall the story has is the ending. Darksiders 2’s ending is inconclusive, anti-climactic, and uninspired – with one exception. The very end ties it into the first game, bringing the stories together and providing a measure of suspense – reinforcing the cliffhanger provided by the first Darksiders.

The voice acting in Darksiders 2 is great, which was completely expected after the first game. Death himself was cast absolutely perfectly, and his dry humour and wit mesh perfectly with his character and personality as crafted by the story and the voice acting. There were several moments where the comments made by Death had me actually laughing out loud. Best of all, there were a few occasions where a character would say something to Death, and I’d have a snarky reply to it in my mind,  only to have the exact same sentiment expressed by Death mere seconds later.

Not One, Not Two, But Four!

And no, I’m not talking about the Horsemen. This game spanned across four fantastic and diverse worlds – technically 6 if you count the two ‘sub-worlds’. Each world had it’s own distinct and incredible art style. I found it particularly awe-inspiring to see the glorious and beautiful Lostlight Outpost decaying with Corruption. The contrasts were amazing. And you got to spend a lot of time in each world, with Darksiders 2 taking me around 30 hours to beat.

While the graphics are not the best I’ve ever seen, there is no fault to be found with the environmental design in Darksiders. Nor with Death’s character himself – he looks like everything every heavy metal fan would want this Horseman to be. Even Despair (Death’s signature Horse) and Dust (his pet crow) looked utterly fantastic.

I do; however, wish they’d found a different colour for Dust to glow, since I frequently mistook Dust for collectibles and items I was looking for(since many collectibles had the same colour of green glow as Dust). On the plus side, I was particularly impressed by Dust. Aside from his looks, they had designed an entire AI set for him, including various places to fly when idle, and even a number of different logical perches for him to land on based off of your location. To put such care into such a minor thing is truly laudable.

I did find that most of the monster and enemy models were less impressive, save the bosses. One of the boss models was even reused for a completely different boss, just changed in colour. And among the regular monsters, most were so generic that it got really bland and boring to look at. Most disappointingly, the final boss looked like a slightly larger version of the very first enemies you ever fought.

The bosses, aside from the two that used the same model and the final boss, were really awe-inspiring. From a giant construct whose hammer was about 10 times your size to a ghastly skeleton with a giant spider to ride on to a boss that looks like Cthulhu’s ghost… nearly every boss was unique and stunningly animated.

Reaping the Rewards

Darksiders 2 rewards you for playing in a few ways. Aside from the fantastic visuals, the game also features some of the best audio I’ve heard this year. The soundtrack is just stellar. Every region has it’s own track, and they always seem to fit just right. Merely spending time with Darksiders is a reward because of the music, environments, and the beautiful way it all ties together to create a feeling of rightness.

Loot, loot, and more loot!

Additionally, and probably more satisfying, Darksiders 2 features interesting, frequent, and exciting loot – complete with an autoloot feature so you don’t have to click on every item, which is good because there is a lot of it. This is what a loot-based game should be like, where you get literally tons of the mediocre types of loot and lots of the good stuff. And the loot is interesting, with several different styles of affixes to cater to different playstyles and with each elemental damage type having it’s own unique effect.

There are several types of equipment including armour, primary and secondary weapons, and talismans. Primary weapons are always scythes, logically enough. Secondary weapons offer a huge range of variety from slow maces and poleaxes to lightning-fast claws and armblades and even more defensive bucklers. Armour comes in several slots that each have distinct appearances and show up on your character. Finally come Talismans. There are many types of Talismans, and talismans tend to be focused on making special abilities better. Although some have some really unique effects such as one that makes it so if you use common items(the lowest tier), they gain huge bonuses and another makes it so that you get more loot. Everyone loves more loot right?

Darksiders 2 also features probably the most interesting loot type I’ve ever seen: Possessed weapons. Possessed weapons can absorb other weapons and armour gaining experience. When they level up, you get to choose from some of the stats of the items absorbed to customize your possessed weapon. And when you’ve leveled it to max(5 levels) and created just the perfect item, you can even name it. And when you out-level it, if you don’t want to use it to help create a new perfect possessed weapon, you can use the game’s tome system to send it to a friend to help them on their journey.

And then you get various unique items that are thematic with special abilities that are intriguing and fun to use, although often not very well explained. That leads to the only problem I had with the loot – the stats, while interesting and fun, are sometimes either poorly explained or not explained at all. While many are self-explanatory like ‘Defense’ and ‘Health on Crit’ and ‘Critical Chance’, some like ‘Arcane’ have less obvious impact and can be misconstrued since there’s no description even among the loading screen and new player help tips. Unfortunate, easily remedied, but not a huge problem all told.

Completionists Beware!

If you’re the type of person who can’t stop playing until you’ve found literally everything there is to find in a game, Darksiders 2 may offer more than you can take. The game features several different types of collectibles, from lost pages to the Book of the Dead, to stonebites that you need to shoot to activate, to instructions for a special dungeon, and even the ultra-rare ‘GnoMAD’s Gnomes’. You might just find yourself spending hours, and hours, and more hours still hunting for every collectible in every crevice, and even going back to previous worlds and using the new powers you get over the course of the game to unlock yet more secrets. The one thing to be wary of is that there are certain areas that you can’t go back to which means that passing up an opportunity at a treasure, secret area, or other hidden gem can; unfortunately, be an irreperable mistake without restarting.

So be warned hoarders, completionists, and collectors…. this game may just devour your life.

Nothing in Life is Sure… Except Death

The Best Zelda In Years

Yes, I said it. Darksiders 2 is the best Zelda-style game I’ve played since A Link to the Past. Darksiders 2, like the first Darksiders, uses the formula originally used in Zelda where dungeons will feature a special ability you acquire partway through that you have to use to complete the dungeon and then can also be used to progress further in the game and unlock earlier secrets.

Repetition… or Continuity?

The game features powers similar to those found in the first Darksiders – which might sound uninspired, but actually works really well to keep a feeling of continuity between the two games, despite the differing protagonists. Over the course of the game, at key points, you get a hook-shot style ability that allows you to grapple certain points and also allows you to pull in enemies, the ability to open up portals, and others. The abilities all function well, and are used in interesting ways over the course of the game with some really cool boss mechanics revolving around the use of some of these special abilities.

Scythes and Ravens and Hammers, Oh My!

In addition to the adventure powers you unlock, you also get skill points that you can put into a simple, yet functional skill tree to unlock combat spells. The combat spells are very thematic to Death and all serve to offer a customizable and unique combat experience with abilities including a charge attack, a massive strength boost, the ability to summon a flock of ravens, and several others. The other key ability you get early on is the ability to activate reaper form. Reaper form allows you to transform into the grim reaper, and gives you increased damage, area of effect to your attacks, and reduced incoming damage. It’s incredible to switch to reaper form at a critical moment and just lay waste to the enemies around you. Never gets old, really.

Overcoming Adversity

But then you run into a boss. And for all of them, save the final boss, this is an event… the sheer variety of mechanics involved in combat is staggering. From one boss fight, where you have to use portals to redirect his powerful magic back at him and then to dodge his superattacks, to another where you have to pull a worm out of a skeletal giant he controls so you can kill it… you never see the same mechanic twice. There’s even one absolutely amazing bossfight where you have to ride around a giant construct who is probably 50 times your size avoiding his attacks until you can get close enough to attack him to break him apart. And every boss fight ends with Death performing a specially designed execution to finish things off, which just wraps it all up so well. While the bossfights are generally pretty easy, the scale and scope of all of them save the final boss just makes them feel so grand… and truly epic. And best of all, there are virtually no quicktime events.

How it Should be… and is!

Combat itself is, for the most part, very responsive and accurate. I did run into a few cases where the game seemed unable to decide whether a certain spell was supposed to automatically target enemies or not, but aside from that for the most part the controls allowed me to do what I needed to do when I needed to do it. Unlike many action RPGs, the game features no block option, focusing more on dodging and positioning. This really makes Death feel a lot more agile and acrobatic than War, since you do a lot of dodging and acrobatics.

It Just Feels Right

And, more importantly, it’s very visceral. Slashing through hordes of skeletons, swarms of demons, or throngs of corrupted constructs is as satisfying as anyone could wish. The scythe combos are epic and intense, but even more so the way the scythe attacks mesh with the secondary weapons is fantastic. Normally I’m not a fan of slow weapons in games, I’m more of a fast dual swords or claws kinda guy… but I cannot stress how intensely satisfying it was to swing a giant hammer and send 5 or 6 skeletons flying with a single strike or to do a powerslash with an axe and kill a construct in one hit. But then you switch to some claws or one of the other fast weapons, and it’s just as good, if not possibly better. This game’s combat is some of the best and most satisfying you’ll find anywhere.

Except When It Doesn’t…

Controls outside of combat aren’t quite as reliable – especially when on ledges. There were several times where I died due to the controls not doing what I’d told them to. Fortunately environmental deaths just set you back to the ledge you last jumped from, so it’s not a terribly big deal, but it can still be frustrating when you die 3-4 times in a row in a timed event because the controls wouldn’t do what you asked them to.

Final Thoughts

The game has an incredibly detailed game stats page, including the expected info like time played and number of deaths… but it also tracks gallons of blood spilled, amount of travel done both on foot and on Despair, and a number of other interesting stats. But really, who doesn’t love a game that tracks the amount of blood you’ve spilled?

The other big downside I wanted to mention here, and it is, unfortunately, a bug report. I experienced over a dozen times where the game froze on me. The freezing happened on both of my PS3’s – one of the old big fat ones and a special edition slim – so I’m fairly certain it’s not symptomatic of the PS3 itself. Luckily thanks to the frequent autosaves, I never lost much gameplay, but it still shouldn’t have happened. The first time I saw it freeze was before I’d actually manually saved so I was a little terrified that I’d have to restart from scratch – thankfully the autosave was only a minute or so back, but it still gave me a good scare.

Some of the mechanics surrounding Despair and Dust were a little odd. Despair had some odd places that he couldn’t go… and using Dust to help find your way was almost useless because the puzzles were often not inherently obvious and having a little green raven fly around didn’t do much to point you to the correct path except when the correct path was obvious anyways.

The game features a rather awkward segment that plays like a third person shooter. This segment was fun for a short while, but lasted about 3 times longer than I would’ve liked – especially since it featured none of the elements that made the game so fantastic. On the other hand, the game featured a very entertaining and intriguing segment that involved time travel and manipulation of obstacles in the past in order to continue to the future. I always like it when games make use of mechanics like this.

Overall

Darksiders 2 is a crazy mix of an almost staggering variety of gameplay mechanics, environments, and puzzles that on paper reads like it should’ve been disjointed and unpleasant… yet when you actually sit down and play the game it just feels right. The game is a Hybrid of so many different ideas from Devil May Cry to Zelda to Metroid to Portal… with so much flair and imagination that just ties it all together in a truly fantastic way. Vigil has truly outdone themselves with this gaming masterpiece.