The first Darksiders rather quietly hit the gaming market all the way back in 2010 and received very good reviews and ,through word of mouth, managed to produce a following worthy of a sequel. It is a shame then that, with the added budget ,advertising campaign and gratifying elements that has been put into Darksiders 2, that it feels inferior to its predecessor.
The story centres on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Strife, Fury, Death and War. War essentially managed to bring the end of the world earlier than was originally planned, destroying Earth and discrediting him. The first Darksiders follows War’s attempts at redeeming himself whilst , in parallel, Darksiders 2 follows Death, his brother, attempting to bring Earth and its population back to life to allow War’s predicament to be solved. Here lies the first problem of the game; War’s journey felt much more epic than Death’s own romp. Although the amount of locations that has been placed into Darksiders 2 has vastly increased, they sometimes feel lifeless and tame in comparison and I was always waiting for the next location to open up to see when the big set piece arrived. That not to say that Darksiders doesnt have them, with facing off against a 80 ft stone demon a highlight, but some of the quests seem to have a ‘oh wait we forgot to pick up something feel’; Vigil Games seems to have a fascination with the number 3, with almost all artifacts and puzzles centring around collecting three items.
Full credit has to go to the storytelling . Although the journey is perhaps dull at times, the mythology that has been created in the first game, and greatly expanded in the second, is incredibly engaging. Cut scenes rarely feel boring, and Death , ironically, manages to have a fleshed out personality and sense of humour, enough that you want him to succeed, despite the fact that he wiped out the entirety of his race to provide balance to the world and his job is to reap souls. That Vigil Games managed to create a sympathetic character out of a very traditional anti hero (death isnt exactly anyones friend), deserves huge kudos.
Combat is very traditional God of War/Devil May Cry fare, with Death’s scythes and secondary weapon being used to create combos and various amounts of pain to the enemies you meet. Wrath (magic), Health and a Reaper meter, which allows Death to become his ‘true form’, all combine to give you different tactics and abilities to wade through the huge array of dungeons and areas that are on offer. Enemies, even small groups, tend to feel challenging and require good use of evading and area combos to survive. Some of the bosses can be challenging but never feel unfair or overpowered as there is usually a simple solution to put them down for good. New to Darksiders 2 is the ability to pick up loot and upgrade Death in various gear and weapons to improve his killing ability, alongside the oft used skill tree as you level up. Enemies that you meet also level up as you do, meaning that they tend to always pose a threat. The loot system, on the whole, is good but feels a bit shoehorned at time as its difficult to equate how good a weapon you can buy from a trader is in comparison to the huge amount of loot you pick up on your travels.
Puzzles tend to be well thought out and inspired, at first, but quickly drag on when the whole dungeon involves balls, chains and the odd wall run. Its a shame that the developers did not mix and match elements of this as the basis they have are sound and fun in short increments.
The areas are absolutely massive, with the scale feeling a lot like Ocarina of Time would do if it was made in this generation. Each area has a direct hub world that links to each area, allowing you to go back and explore, gain further loot, or complete the many side quests that are dotted about. The land is vast but this is both a gift and a curse as the adventures feels epic whilst also detracting from the quality of the game as Deaths steed, Despair, isnt particularly fast, making traversing irritating rather than enjoyable. A quick travel feature, that allows you to transport out of whatever dungeon you are in to a trader to allow you to offload loot and return back to the same spot, is inspired but broken, as its never particularly clear when you are and are not able to fast travel out.
Art direction is inspired if not the best the Xbox has to offer, with areas looking detailed but character models looking a bit shaky and rough at the edge, highlighted even more when almost all of the cut scenes use the in game engine. Music, especially in the first few dungeons, tends to be overly similar but is overall of a good quality and highlights the crescendos of combat against the quieter exploring areas.
In terms of longevity, you are talking 30 hours plus, bearing in mind that the first area took me a good 8 hours without exploring everything and anything and essentially ignoring the side quests. There is also the addition of a New Game mode that allows you keep all of your loot and experience the beginning of the game as Death the big bad. There is also a Crucible Arena mode that you unlock further into the game that pits you against 100 waves of enemies, allowing you to cash out the loot at incremental stages; if you die you lose it all. The fact that it fits so well into Darksiders 2 proves how a relatively unknown franchise, until recently, can teach the old RPG kings a few new tricks.
Darksiders 2 takes many of the best bits of similar games in this past generation and attempts to make it its own with mixed results. Combat is fluid and satisfying, which highlights how repetitive the puzzle elements of the game are. The storyline is top notch, engaging and, best of all considering the wave of old franchises recycling as of late, original, and the fact that Death is at all relatable is a master stroke of character design and voice work. With a bigger focus on narrowing down the travel aspects, adding more elements in the puzzle sections and giving the art design the graphics it deserved Darksiders 2 would easily be one of the best RPGs to come out for a long time. What results is a game that pioneers yet still has rather large flaws that stops an enjoyable game being a must have purchase.