Published on July 25th, 2012 | by Adam Vjestica4
Darksiders II Preview – Hands-on Impressions
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Vigil Games
Genre: Action RPG
Don’t Fear The Reaper
On Monday, June 23rd, at approximately 6.30pm, I had the opportunity to stare Death in the face…
Bathed in an ominous purple light – surrounded by flickering candles, crude props and a healthy amount of papier mache rocks – I got some hands-on time with Darksiders II and experienced just what it’s like to become the infamous horseman of many names: Death himself.
Released in 2010, THQ’s Darksiders told the story of War – one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who stood accused of bringing the world to a premature end. The game was generally overlooked upon release due to the untimely arrival of Sony’s behemoth, God of War III, and although the game unashamedly bore more than a few similarities to the Ghost of Sparta’s blockbuster franchise, Darksiders had plenty to offer players who took the plunge – with solid mechanics and a genuinely interesting plot sweetening the deal. But Darksiders II is a different proposition altogether.
If you haven’t played the original, then don’t worry. The game features an entirely new protagonist and diverts away from the common formula of making a sequel: refining upon the good, expanding, and removing the bad. Darksiders II dwarfs its predecessor in size, ambition and feels more like a reinvention than a sequel. And sadly, that isn’t necessarily a good thing…
The game’s story follows Death as he valiantly tries to clear War’s name, killing those who fail to give him answers and generally living up to his name in copious amounts. He’s one cool customer, deadly and definitely the most revered of the Four Horseman. Whilst War may have seemed plain and predictable, Death is a surprisingly compelling character.
From the moment you approach your first victim and enter combat, it’s obvious that Death’s a different breed to his clunkier brother War: he’s nimble, quick and arguably, more stylish.
The fighting system in the original Darksiders was slick and satisfying and I’m pleased to report that Death can deliver his namesake with gratifying grace and sickening splendor. The option to switch between two weapons on the fly returns as I softened up enemies with the quick, razor sharp scythes, and then delivering a crushing blow with a heavy steel hammer. The context sensitive killing move returns as enemies approach their death, however, this time around it seemed randomised as opposed to an inevitability.
Instead of purchasing combos and perks, players can expand Death’s core abilities through the new skill tree system – either focusing on becoming an unstoppable hand-to-hand harbinger, a spell casting necromancer, or co-existing between the two.
R.I.P What You Knew
But why is there a skill tree you ask? Don’t I just visit Vulgrim and give him a load of hard fought souls like last time? Nope. Get ready for the biggest change of Darksiders II, and perhaps the worst…
Although everyone’s favourite serpent, merchant, demon-thing makes a welcomed return, Darksiders II has banished the previous task of collecting souls for the eternal quest of gathering experience. And I mean eternal because Darksiders II features an unnerving amount of loot and nooks and crannies to explore.
Darksiders II has exponentially increased in size and scale as well as its overall direction. What was once a controlled, tight and slightly linear experience – focusing on the thrill of battling and racking up combos and gaining souls – is now a more vast, open and grandiose prospect, with a familiar RPG/quest/loot system replacing the hack ‘n’ slash mechanics of old. And it doesn’t feel right.
Give The Loot The Boot
Every enemy you vanquish provides Death with invaluable experience, allowing players to tailor Nephelim’s arsenal to their liking by earning skill points. Further customisation comes in the form of weaponry and armour. Defeated ghouls drop loot such as the humble stash of gold coins and various armour and weapons – each with their own unique statistics. Players can equip Death with the goods they purge, changing the visual and statistical appearance of the Horseman. Admittedly, it sounds pretty great on paper, but after a good few hours with the game, I quickly began to miss the simplicity of the original and despise the inclusion of the unnecessary, shoehorned RPG elements.
The incessant encounters with new items felt tiresome, generic and done to the point of overkill. Secret chests lost almost all meaning of a reward, spewing out the same boots or gloves with a few plus or minus points affecting the stats (or more frequently, items which you wouldn’t be able to use until much later in the game). Games such as out Skyrim or Diablo III execute Darksiders II’s vision far better, resulting in the impression that the game’s a jack-of-all-trades, and disappointingly, a master of none.
You Look Like Death
The presentation of the game also left me feeling despondent. Even though the appealing art style makes a pleasant return, with fluid animations safely intact, the clarity of the original Darksiders HUD is now sadly overrun with needless visual clues and frustrating clutter. Each enemy features a visible health bar and your attacks (and the damage you receive) show up as hit points. Notifications persistently pop-up telling you what your best score was in the last battle and items such as potions must now be used manually and collected or bought. Again, the changes were irksome and I found myself longing for the tighter focus of the original.
The decision to expand the world into hubs and open landscapes in Darksiders II is undoubtedly an ambitious one and should definitely be applauded, but the game’s worlds felt noticeably empty, devoid of intrigue, apart from offering a sandbox to slaughter a number of forever spawning enemies and as a means to hide more loot. There’s far more travelling to do, but thankfully the player is aided somewhat by the inclusion of Death’s ghostly steed, Despair, and the ability to fast track to visited zones.
The Good, The Bad, And The Awesome Dungeons
Thankfully, epic dungeons, clever puzzles and the Legend of Zelda-esque blueprint that the original Darksiders pleasingly followed is still alive and well. Once again, there’s an obvious urge to expand upon the old, with Death receiving multiple side quests during the main story quests. Again, a more structured focus would have been appreciated.
When you’ve effortlessly slain a room full of enemies, deciphered a tricky puzzle and continue to progress into the unexplored corridors of a grand dungeon, Darksiders II is certainly at its best. It’s never been about finding the umpteen version of the same armour you currently wear.
Death’s also surprisingly far more adept at traversing the world, with a slick system in place allowing players to easily leap, climb and conquer the game’s environments. The time spent in dungeons was without a doubt the most fun I had during my time.
Deliver Us From Evil
After sinking a good three or so hours into the game’s campaign, it’s clear that Darksiders II will divide opinion. Fans of the original will be upset by the game’s complete overhaul, whilst loot lovers and possible newcomers may find the revamp more to their liking. The underlying story seemed genuinely interesting, and there were certainly some enjoyable moments to be had, but throughout my play session I couldn’t shake the constant nagging feeling that the game had tried to do far too much and forgotten what it did so well. Just like Death then… Bittersweet.