Rewind the clock back to 2010, and you would have encountered a title that was overlooked and neglected, despite being paradoxically derivative and fresh at the same time. Darksiders was the debut title of Vigil games, a studio that created a game that was equal parts style and substance. It was the Legend of Zelda, drenched in a bucket of blood and presented in a unique art style and some solid gameplay. Now, the Horseman War makes way for his brother Death, to take the spotlight in this sequel, as he teaches us to once again fear the reaper.
Set during the events of the first game, Darksiders 2 places players in the scythe-straps of Death, as he seeks absolution for his brother War, wrongfully accused of unleashing the mother of all apocalypses on mankind.
Death seeks to restore our extinct civilization back to life ironically, a task that requires him to seek out the Tree of Life, but his quest soon takes a turn for the worse when he finds himself confronted with the ghosts of the past, and a new nemesis by the name of Corruption, a force of nature that seeks to bring oblivion to reality itself.
From that point the game kicks off, and its soon made evidently clear that we’re not playing as War 2.0 here, but an entirely new character. Unlike his far more serious and dour brother War, Death has slightly more personality, possessing a dry wit and single-minded devotion to proving the innocence of his brother, that makes him come off as rather callous and cruel at times, yet amiable at other times.
A few other familiar faces pop in, while the voice work shines overall, as the actors that lend their vocal talents bring the strange worlds before players to life. The Joe Mad art style is also turned up to eleven, as characters feature ornate clothing and details, fists the size of VW Beetles and comically oversized armour. Death himself is less hulking than his brother, bordering on anorexic, yet still packing some muscle in his strange frame.
It’s a glorious world though, one that blends fantasy and all manner of fiction together, never skipping a beat during some intense action. Death also has access to his horse, Despair, from the start of the game this time, although the option to fast-travel can render the mount unnecessary at times.
But unlike other games that think that humour needs to be force-fed through a tube of constant one-liners and never-ending catch-phrases, Death is as talkative as his brother was in the first game, speaking only when necessary, and creating an interesting mystique around the character, ably voiced here by Michael Wincott.
The first Darksiders was heavy on the inspiration, borrowing most noticeably from the Nintendo Legend of Zelda games, as players blazed their way through dungeons, unlocking chests with special keys and exploring maps over multiple levels.
Darksiders 2 continues that rampant cherry-picking, taking the best bits from titles such as Prince of Persia for new acrobatic movements and navigation, but keeping the dungeon aspect intact.
While War felt like an M1 Abrams tank that blitzkrieged his way through foes, in comparison, Death handles more like a Ferrari Enzo, combining a more acrobatic style of action into his attacks. A more nimble and lithe character, Death wields his signature scythes in battle, as well as an assortment of secondary weapons comprising of axes, maces, hammers and gauntlets.
One on one, the combat is superb, as timing is crucial here. Time your dodge perfectly, and slip through for a counter-attack that can turn the tide against the hordes of imaginative foes that are present in this game.
But when confronted by enemies that number more than one, things start to fall apart, as enemies can power through some stylish combos, upsetting a rhythm built from dodges and quick strikes. It’s an annoying system in place here, that otherwise tarnishes a rather superb effort. When it works, it’s a sight to behold, but when the action gets a little too frantic and overcrowded, don’t be too surprised if you chuck your controller through a window.
Boss battles are the exception here, as Death engages some mind-staggeringly massive foes, in arenas that task players with tackling the walking puzzles that are trying to put the smackdown on you, before letting loose and throwing your best attacks at the damage sponges that guard the end-levels.
That being said, Death does have more than regular attacks at his disposal, as some light RPG elements have creeped in. Kill enough monsters, earn some XP, and you’ll level up, earning skill points to be spent on new abilities, from teleport slashes through to armour and attack buffs, as well as a little necromancing to raise some allies in battle. The more points earned from completing quests, the more Death can improve on his abilities, as he tailors them into something fierce.
Those skills cost wrath however, but unlike in the first Darksiders, wrath is easier to replenish, as it can be gained from enemies during combat far more quickly. In addition to that, Death also has access to his ultimate form, as he briefly transforms into a true angel of expiration. You’ll need to slice and dice quite a bit to build that gauge up though, as Darksiders 2 emphasises that players use it sparingly and as a last resort.
With that skillset in mind, Darksiders 2 has quite a few dungeons and puzzles mixed in with the combat, a welcome return that keeps players thinking. The levels are varied, massive labyrinths with a generic set of tasks, that still manage to be challenging without being cheap.
You’ll clamber over walls and ledges here, Running and climbing over them with a touch of Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed mixed in. It doesn’t always work, with Death occasionally being a touch laggy or too slow, but that’s a rare occurrence, that doesn’t really spoil the game otherwise.
And much like the first game, there are quite a few toys scattered around the dungeons and worlds that a player visits, from a handgun belonging to a sibling, through to GLADOS-approved portal gimmick. Derivative and cheap you say? Not true, as its the manner in which these familiar ideas are used, that keeps Darksiders 2 closer to inspired and original tones, that flatout plagiarism.
There’s quite a few worlds on offer here, unlocked as you progress, and while they’re a thinly-veiled attempt at a sandbox environment, the locales on display here play things closer to the first Darksiders, being littered with unlockable chests that can only be accessed once players have picked up a few new items along their way.
OCD players will be in heaven here, with the sheer amount of loot on offer. Various scythes, melee weapons and all kinds of armour and potions can be found in numerous treasure chests, as more powerful items provide an incremental increase to stats as you progress, keeping Darksiders 2 challenging at all times.
There’s all kinds of rare armours as well, with special items that can be fed lesser weapons and kit that allows them to level up and learn new attributes. And these RPG elements are part of the Darksiders 2 experience, further differentiating it from the original. While Darksiders 1 felt like a mature take on the Zelda franchise, mixed with some God of War action and QTEs, Darksiders 2 feels more like a game of Diablo, but brought down to earth with some slick combat implemented into the looting shenanigans.
When examined, the Darksiders siblings are two different games at their core, but still manage to be equally enjoyable, a rare feat. Is Darksiders 2 a better game than the original? No, it isn’t, but it’s a superb experience on its own that adds some new ideas to the concept that came before it, standing tall next to its fellow horsemen.
It’s a game that is crawling with content though, as the main campaign took me around 20 hours to complete, minus the side-quests, which can be superfluous fetch-quests at times. Once the end credits roll and secret cut-scene is watched at the end, Darksiders 2 also has a New Game + mode, as well as a hardcore mode with a perma-death attached to it, in Nightmare mode, coupled with the challenge of the arena in Crucible mode.
Darksiders 2 is not without bugs though, no matter how well-polished it may seem. A return to a ragnarocked Earth is the chief culprit here, with numerous bugs and glitches present, something that Vigil Games needs to iron out ASAP, as it puts a damper on the more fluid sections that comprise Darksiders 2, while the final act of the game seems to suffer from some pacing issues, moving a tad too fast, to the otherwise glacial start that players begin with.
It’s slicker, faster and more acrobatic than its predecessor, but maintains enough of the original components to qualify as a true sequel on the surface. But scratch beneath that blood-soaked veneer, and you’ll discover that Darksiders 2 is a different game entirely, focusing more on RPG elements this time around, with a healthy mix of dungeon exploration thrown in.
While it still unashameadly grabs the best bits from previous games, it feels more inspired than anything else, although several gripes such as chaotic combat and floaty acrobatics damper an otherwise well crafted experience.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
The world that Joe Madureira and the team at Vigil games have created is simply breathtaking, as they ignored realism, and dove head-on into a stylish, brutal series of realms, filled with colourful characters, and never skipping a beat when the action gets hot and heavy.
Certain stages seem to have a few bugs loitering around though, specifically in the later stages of the game, causing several instances of annoyed gamer, but hopefully Vigil will get this ironed out soon. A solid soundtrack accompanies the action, setting a few decent tunes that stride between introspect and epic scale conflicts, sealing the deal quite nicely at the end of the day.
Darksiders 2 is a massive world, with a lengthy quest ahead of players. Granted, the majority of that time will be spent in dungeons, solving puzzles that conveniently always require a certain amount of step and items, yet it still feels fresh and enjoyable, especially with the RPG elements giving combat a favourable nudge with incremental upgrades and loot.
There’s plenty to do after the credits roll however, with various side-quests available, tasking players with all manner of fetch quests and extra boss fights. It may be single-player only, but the added arena and new game+ modes makes this a game where players won’t feel as if they have squandered their cash.
Darksiders 2 doesn’t exactly improve on the cons of the original game, instead blazing a path to create an identity for itself with an ice-cool new protagonist, a larger world and a new focus on other gaming elements that play a key role here.
Great level design blends in beautifully with a lush and vibrant world, as Death reaps his way through it, creating an overall satisfying experience. It may be a bit of a change from what fans were expecting, but at the end of the day, change can be good, and Darksiders 2 deserves the praise that it has worked hard for.
[Reviewed on PS3, played on normal difficulty]