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‘Darksiders II’ Review: This Is No Place For A Horse

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If you’re like me, then your nights are undoubtedly plagued by bloody fantasies that have you riding a ghostly horse into the field of battle, where demons and angels are warring over whatever it is the two sides can’t seem to agree upon. Just as you force your way into the frenzy, you whip out your scythes and start ruining every goddamned thing that moves. When things start to get a little hairy, you decide to unleash your true power–a terrifying grim reaper form that throws your badass factor through the roof and up into the sky above. Angels and demons alike quickly learn to fear you, and just as you’re making your way up the pile of bloodied corpses that were begging for their lives just a few seconds earlier, the alarm clock goes off and you wake up only to remember that you’re a geek with no real physical ability. If you haven’t had this dream, I suggest living vicariously through my review of Darksiders II.

The Baby Factor: If the action packed Darksiders joined The Legend of Zelda, God of War, and Diablo for a hot night of playing Sheathe The Sword, Darksiders II would be the result.

The original Darksiders was a great game, even if it did borrow heavily from numerous other titles. It took the much of what God of War and The Legend of Zelda did great and brought it over to a post-apocalyptic world where the demons and angels are at war and the four horsemen of the apocalypse are caught in the middle of it all. It proved that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, though that’s not to say it didn’t bring with it a few novel ideas of its own.

The art style for one, is very over-the-top with exaggerated characters and almost comically large weapons. The game was driven by the concept of bigger is better, and this same theme can be seen in the sequel, though on a decidedly grander scale. Everything is bigger in Darksiders II; many of the weapons are twice Death’s size, the environments range from claustrophobic corridors to wide open vistas, and even several of the bosses are impressive in how big they are.

When it came to the bosses, I only have one complaint, and it comes from a fight with a massive stone golem during the first third of the game that was unapologetically taken from Shadow of the Colossus. In it, you’re supposed to use your horse to dodge its attacks so you can climb up it and stab its glowing blue weak points. This isn’t the first game to do this–Castlevania: Lords of Shadow did pretty much the same thing, though it might have hidden it just a wee bit better.

Is the above screenshot from Darksiders II or Shadow of the Colossus? Who knows?

I hate starting off the review so negatively, because overall, I really loved this game, and it’s out of this love that I wish developer Vigil Games would try harder to be a little more original. Surprisingly, it’s not the combat, loot, monsters, or story that ended up being my favorite thing about this game. It was the music. The soundtrack here, courtesy of the immensely talented Jesper Kyd, is easily one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time. It’s fantastic. Kyd successfully manages to flow between epic, sweeping orchestral scores and more ambient, even haunting tracks. It’s in your face when it needs to be, then it fades into the background, if only so it can jump back into your welcoming ears to remind you just how good it is.

I was ready to be critical about the loot, because really, loot is one of those things that’s difficult to get right, especially on your first go. Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect, because I threw away a lot of crap, and it would’ve been nice to see more unique bonuses and special abilities on the gear, maybe even sets of gear you can collect for more powerful bonuses, but as it is, it’s more than satisfying. You have your common weapons, followed by the enchanted and rarer unique items, but my favorite are the possessed weapons. These things require you to sacrifice your other equipment to make them stronger, and most of the time it’s worth it.

The first Darksiders took the hub world approach to world design where you would return to a familiar area to refuel before you set off on your adventures. The sequel is very much an open-world game that lets you freely explore wherever you damn well please. A neat little addition are the dungeons that have been sprinkled about the game world, where you can fight powerful bosses and plunder their loot. Just be careful, because you can go wherever you want in a world you’ve unlocked–in Darksiders II there are several worlds connected by portals–you also run the risk of going somewhere you’re not prepared to be in. On more than one occasion I tried to beat down a boss only to get swatted like a fly.

The main story can take as many as 15-20 hours to complete, and that’s not including the side quests that can easily double that number. There’s more than enough content here to keep even the most scrutinizing of gamers entertained, and the addition of leaderboards and sending/receiving gear to your friends is a nice touch. For the unfamiliar, Darksiders II follows Death, who’s on a mission to find his brother War a little redemption after the events in the first game. This is the mission that drives him, and you’ll rarely do anything that doesn’t progress that goal.

Death’s adventure will take him to a variety of areas, ranging from the verdant world of the Makers to the darker realm of the undead, and even the gates of heaven, or its equivalent in the Darksiders fiction. Each of the worlds are beautiful and unique, and brimming with a few legions worth of demons that want nothing more than to tear Death in two. Little do they know, that because he’s Death, he can’t actually die. That’s right, Darksiders II takes the Prince of Persia (the cel-shaded one that came out in 2008) approach to failure by bringing you back to where you were a few seconds earlier, should you make a bad move and “die.” On one hand, this keeps the game from getting too frustrating because there’s a very good chance that while you probably won’t die during the combat, there’s a distinct possibility that one of the many platforming segments will kill you eventually. On the other hand, because there’s essentially no punishment for failure, that eliminates the fear of it.

Think you can jump over that chasm filled with spikes and the impaled corpses of those who thought they could cross it safely? Go for it! If you don’t make it, you’re just going to teleport back to safety! Hell, why don’t you try it a few times bro, just to be extra sure the jump isn’t possible!

If you played the first game, you’re undoubtedly already familiar with the series’ mixture of puzzles, platforming and combat. All three are very present in Darksiders II, only this time it seems the puzzles have been promoted to a more pivotal role. You’re going to be solving a lot of puzzles. It felt like every room in the game was designed to break your will to live, and while a majority of them are clever and fun to figure out, a few become frustrating only because some of your abilities aren’t explained as well as they should’ve been. For example, there’s an ability you get later in the game that lets you split yourself into two ghostly forms of Death. These two guys can be controlled separately to solve some puzzles that would usually require multiple people. There’s a puzzle late in the game that requires you to get a bomb across a gap, only you can’t jump over the gap with the bomb in hand because apparently, Death can’t multitask. However, what you can do is toss the bomb from one Death specter to the other and he’ll automatically catch it, even if you aren’t controlling him at the time. I didn’t know this was possible, and it was a little annoying not to have been given even the slightest hint that this was something that could be done.

I feel like I could dedicate an entire article to praising Michael Wincott’s portrayal of Death, because the match is perfect. Wincott’s voice is exactly what Death should sound like. His voice is comprised of two parts “total badass”, one part “I don’t give a fuck”, with a dash of “fuck yeah! I’m Michael Wincott!” to really round out the flavor. What I’m trying to say is he’s great as Death, and the chances are high that I’ll be quoting him randomly during conversations for some time.

Unfortunately, like many games of this size, odds are you’re going to run into a few glitches. Surprisingly, the ones I ran into weren’t the type of problems you can easily ignore. A few times I fell out of the game world and there was a part near the end of the game where a cut-scene didn’t initiate when it should have, leaving me with a bewildered look on my face and an urge to give up and throw in Sleeping Dogs. Luckily, Darksiders II was amazing enough to keep me going, and after a little Google research I was able to remedy the issue.

The Final Word: Darksiders II might not be terribly original, but it’s still a fantastic open-world action game with an fluid combat, clever puzzles, tons of loot, and an art style that’s really starting to grow on me.

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Darksiders II, which was provided by the publisher.

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