Vigil Games had a lot on the line with the original Darksiders. After all, a brand spanking new studio introducing a fresh IP amongst a crowd of established action adventure franchises is by no means an easy task. Thankfully though, the studio managed to craft a damn fine first game. Taking inspiration from Nintendo’s iconic Zelda series and throwing in a dash of God of War-esque combat, Darksiders proved that it had the necessary chops to stand beside the big boys of the industry. Fast forward two years and we now have the sophomore follow-up which not only improves on its predecessor in almost every way, but sets a new standard for action RPGs to follow.
For those in need of a refresher of the Darksiders mythos, unlike a traditional sequel, the events of Darksiders II run parallel with the original. So if you’re a newcomer to the franchise, rest easy because there’s no prior knowledge needed to have a good time. From the get go you’re given a brief summary, effectively setting the stage for Death’s debut and motivations.
The Apocalypse has rained upon Earth prematurely, turning the human population head count to zero, with War (the first Horseman of The Apocalypse) being convicted for Earth’s demise. Not convinced of his brother’s wrong-doings, fellow horseman Death embarks himself on a personal quest across a world dubbed “The Nether Relms” in hope to clear War’s name and restore humanity in one fell swoop. While it all starts out as a simple search for the truth, you will quickly find yourself becoming the underworld’s errand boy as seemingly everyone needs ‘three of this’ or ‘a couple of these’ before they’re willing to give you your ever-important answers. All too often Darksiders II relies too heavily on fetch quests to move the narrative forward, which at times, can make things feel overly repetitive; a shame given the rest of game’s grand scale.
Completely ditching an already established protagonist can be massive gamble, but luckily enough Vigil’s decision to drop War is without a doubt the most welcome change introduced in Darksiders II. Death’s more slender frame allows for a more evasive style of gameplay and combat, flowing in a way that War could only ever dream of. Rolling and dodging while chaining together combos is the name of the game here and proves to be one the most satisfying parts of your adventure. Zelda inspired dungeons once again make a return, but with a hint of Prince of Persia throw in for good measure. Death has the ability to both wall run and cling onto ledges, creating some truly creative dungeon designs and puzzles that will often force you to think outside the box.
Geographically speaking, Darksiders II is an absolute beast of a game. Although the original had its fair share of land to traverse, its big brother topples this by literally expanding the landscape two-fold. My play-through clocked in at a mammoth 30 hours of gameplay, and that’s with the occasional side quest completed to break things up. The two sprawling over worlds are littered with so many nooks and crannys (like hidden dungeons and secret bosses) that the sheer amount of content Vigil have managed to cram in can become somewhat overwhelming.
Loot is yet another addition that Death brings with him. If PC epic Diablo comes to mind, you’re certainly on the right track. Body armour, boots, scythes, hammers, pendants and a boat-load more will be dropped by enemies and can be equipped to boost Death’s stats and abilities. The inclusion of these drops adds a surprising amount of variety as you’re not strictly stuck with your trusty scythe. Mixing up your primary scythe with secondary weapons like slow but incredibly powerful hammers or lighting fast gauntlets (think bad-ass metal boxing gloves) definitely encourages experimentation. As a result, pushing on further into a secret lair with the hopes of high level loot easily becomes one the most gratifying aspects of the game.
Darksiders II‘s biggest strengths however are the changes it brings to the action RPG genre as a whole and is an aspect other developers should surely make note of. Standing over loose loot instantly brings up a comparison of stats that makes equipping it on the fly a breeze and removes the need for tedious visits to the inventory menu. Possessed Weapons are also quite easily one the most genius solutions to unwanted loot, completely eliminating the menial trip back to town. Just feed all your unnecessary equipment to a Possessed Weapon and watch it level up. Find yourself rage quitting at one of the many dungeon bosses? No worries because fast travel has you covered. Simply whip out your map, transport yourself to the nearest store, stock up on a few health potions and warp yourself right back. Yes this nifty process works nearly everywhere within the world of Darksiders II – No special warp points or portals needed. It’s the little touches like these that keep the momentum of the game moving forward and comes close to ridding itself of the common pitfalls that plague action RPG titles. No one wants to be wandering around towns or menus when there’s loot to be found or dungeons to be conquered, especially given the incredibly expansive world Vigil has created.
If there’s one misstep that Darksiders II keeps tripping on, it is the somewhat ordinary presentation. While the art style and comic-like universe are absolutely gorgeous, the engine and graphics rendering leave much to be desired. Muddy textures and glitchy animations run rampant throughout Death’s adventure which can unfortunately take away from jaw dropping scenery and locations you’ll explore. With heavyweights like Gears of War and Uncharted constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s graphically possible this generation, it’s hard not to imagine what could have been possible had Vigil given Darksiders II a bit more spit and polish.
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360