Even after Vigil Games were disbanded and parent company THQ closed their doors, it’s terrific to see the Darksider series resurface with an enhanced re-release of the second game in the series, Darksiders II, now aptly subtitled the Deathinitive edition. But how well has the title aged over the last three years?
Fortuantely things are looking good for the second horseman of the apocolapyse. Death rides into battle, slicing and dicing foes whilst exploring puzzle-filled dungeons with the same spectacular combat and extensive world to explore, now with all DLC content neatly woven into the main story, a little extra crispness, as well as some new textures and visual effects.
Following on from the original game, Darksiders II puts you in the role of War’s brother and fellow Horsemen, Death, on a quest to absolve War of his crime of unleashing Armageddon on Earth. As the plot thickens you visit multiple realms and meet supernatural forces and individuals you must destroy, barter with or aid in order to further your quest.
It certainly has a familiar flow to proceedings but it’s well paced and makes great use of the narrative and its inherent intrigue. Borrowing biblical references aplenty, Darksiders II adds additional depth to the unique picture of the apocalypse that its predecessor painted. It’s a significantly bigger and more detailed universe this time around and the enhancements make it all the more vivid thanks to new, fancy lighting and reworked textures that bring elements such as wood, steal and water to life with a little more clarity. Additionally the bulky, stylized art style ages well and adds a unique and attractive aesthetic.
The main quest alone takes a good 20-30 hours to see through, and the multiple side quests – although many rely heavily on fetching a certain quantity of a particular item – offer options to deviate from the critical path and experience more spectacular locations and boss encounters.
Much like with the original Darksiders, the Zelda-esque aesthetic is a prominent theme, with each realm you visit acting as an open-world hub to access several dungeons. The dungeons themselves are sprawling caverns, castles and ruins filled with puzzles, enemies, loot and traversal challenges, all sporting a smart and visually stunning design that makes excellent use of Death’s abilities in each discipline.
Finding keys to locked doors and pulling, pushing, placing and rotating a whole host of realm specific objects gradually opens the way forward and gives you a slight mental workout in the process. Meanwhile, ledges, ceiling hooks and walls covered in vines will have you wall running and using abilities such as Death Grip to pull distant objects to you or you to them, or even creating portals on certain surfaces or splitting yourself in two to activate multiple pressure pads. It’s Soul Reaver meets Prince of Persia and it’s a mostly brilliant experience that’s just as much puzzler as it is platformer, although the occasional camera and direction miscommunication can frustrate and cause an unfair death or two. In fact the camera does like to fight with you a little and even induced some nausea on occasion.
Combat, however, is the meat of the experience and it’s a remarkable system. What starts off as button mashing soon reveals itself as a much more nuanced mechanic. The two button system allows you to mix two different weapon types, styles and speeds into a precision foray tailored to your foe. Additionally the World of Warcraft loot categorisation of weapons – ranging from standard to rare with stat and elemental traits to match – further feeds into the effectiveness of your attacks. Then there’s the option to upgrade possessed weapons by feeding them other items, increasing their stats and adding traits. As your enemies become savvier and more aggressive your attacks must become more effective to match and your dodge more precise, and this marvellous system grants you the flexibility and means to fight back with grace and purpose. Additionally a levelling system allows you to spend skill points on mage or warrior abilities, granting you some powerful new attack options. The combat is so much deeper than it initially seems.
The adventuring through dungeons, puzzle solving and combat does get repetitive though. The environments shift at a steady pace with enough new elements added to keep you engaged and challenged, all driven by the narrative, but you’ll likely to get bored with the ‘find these three things’ quests as well as several puzzle sequences repeating but to different scales. The boss fights, however, are a worthy reward for your perseverance.
Boss fights are varied, challenging and a fascinating spectacle. One moment you’ll be fighting an Angel or Demon, the next a huge tree-like creature or stone golem. Each encounter challenges you to use your combat and traversal abilities to their pinnacle and it’s hugely satisfying to win.
The spectacle, however, isn’t restricted to boss encounters, everything looks terrific. Characters, weapons, armour and architecture all sport a Warhammer/World of Warcraft aesthetic with chunky, defined edges and a bright and varied palette. A smooth and large spectrum of animations for enemies and Death in combat fill the screen and is a delight to witness. Enemy variety is perhaps the least impressive trait, though, with more than a few similar looking creatures luring in each location, and the level of detail certainly can’t match the more contemporary titles on the market.
Indeed, Darksiders II is an exceptional action adventure title, with level and combat design that sets the standard for the genre. The repetitiveness from a lack of objective and enemy variety is a shame, an unfortunate side effect from the length, and with such a gap between this release and its predecessor it’s a shame to not have a better recap for War’s adventure, but otherwise Darksiders II is excellent and the Deathinitive edition is absolutely worth your investment.
Thanks to Xbox and Nordic Games for their support
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