Darksiders 2 Review
- Vigil Games
- Darksiders II
Made2Game Darksiders 2 Review Score: 10/10
Formats: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: PS3
Developer: Vigil Games
Reviewed by: Mick Fraser
Inevitability is a strange concept for some people. We can all predict what could happen in a given situation, just as we can all decide what we think should happen. But thanks to chaos theory and a billion second-to-second variables, what we can never predict with any concrete certainty is what will happen. Except death. Death will happen. It's the only true, cast-iron, indisputable fact: your soft, squishy, wobbly physical body with all its pimples, dimples and randomly sprouting hairs will eventually cease all natural functions and expunge your wretched ghost. So get used to the idea.
And when it happens, as it surely will (really, it's a rock solid cert), certain world religions would have you believe that a spirit or wraith representative of death will come to claim your immortal soul and transport it to whichever afterlife caters to your particular creed. If it's the Death as featured in Vigil Games' apocalyptic sequel, Darksiders 2, he will probably introduce himself by dicing you to pieces with a pair of fearsome, four-foot-long scythe blades before pounding those pieces to mush with a 150 lbs hammer hewn from rock and wrath. He might even transform into a twelve-foot-tall winged apparition and really go to town on your mortal coil. Because Vigil Games' death is to grim reaping what the previous title's War was to organised conflict. He brings the noise.
Unlike War and Ruin in the first game, Death has access to his steed, Despair, from the very beginning
Death Becomes Us
The plot of Darksiders 2 is a kind of side story to the original, beginning when the Horseman War is still on his knees before the Charred Council, accused of accidentally leaning on the Apocalypse button and kick-starting the End of Days early. Devoted brother Death knows only too well that War is nigh incorruptible and sets out to clear his sibling's name, which largely involves killing more or less everything he meets.
Handily, the combat has been improved considerably over Darksiders, mainly in respect of its protagonist. This is no carbon-copy sequel for a huge variety of reasons (all of which I’ll come to in due course), but the most immediate departure is Death himself. When I reviewed Darksiders a few years ago I compared War to Raziel (the undead anti-hero of Crystal Dynamics' Soul Reaver series), but on playing Darksiders 2 for the first time I realised that while War and Raziel have their similarities (gliding and climbing being the most apparent), Death is almost a direct evolution of Crystal Dynamics' vampiric ghoul.
For a start, he moves much faster than his brother. If War was the tanking, heavy-hitting fighter, Death is almost a rogue class, manoeuvring swiftly and fluidly, dual-wielding blades and slinging his lithe, lean body around the environments and over obstacles with cat-like, liquid grace. And it's not only Raziel that he riffs off; his wall-running apes the Prince of Persia while his brutal combination of speed and power evokes God of War's Kratos. And yet like the previous title, for all its derivative elements Darksiders 2 feels at all times like its own game.
Death is a badass. I mean, his name is Death, for Pete's sake
Things to do in Limbo when you’re Death
Where Darksiders was a straight action game with puzzle-platform elements laid out alongside screen-filling bosses and light character development, Darksiders 2 is a full-fat Action-RPG. Killing enemies and finishing quests earns XP, and through the age-old medium of Levelling Up, said XP increases Death's effectiveness. There are two diverse skill trees, Harbinger (melee-intensive) and Necromancer (combat caster) containing a combined total of around 30 skills. The Harbinger tree, to give you an example, opens up talents like Harvest (a 360-degree crowd-clearing attack) and Unstoppable (an incredibly useful strength buff), while the Necromancer tree allows you to summon ghoulish minions or cloak yourself in a defensive shield. While you can generalise if you please, remaining faithful to one path will eventually lead to immense power.
In addition to such standard RPG tropes, Death also comes fully equipped with stats, including Strength (governing melee damage), Arcane (covering magical damage) and critical hit chance, all of which can be increased by levelling up or finding and slapping on better gear. Loot comes thick and fast in the form of armour pieces for the torso, shoulder, hands and feet and various weapons. Death’s primary man-slicers are always his scythes but there are scores of varieties, while his secondary weapon can be gauntlets, claws, and arm-blades for the nimble-fingered or enormous axes and hammers for the less subtle player.
Although anything loot-related is enough to hold my attention in a game, Darksiders 2 could be accused of throwing just a little too much vanilla vendor-trash at you, and though there’s an option to automatically hoover up everything that drops, such an easy choice often makes it seem even more of a chore when you then have to trawl through it all between fights to see if you picked up anything worth having. Much of the time, you won’t have. That being said, there is a large selection of varying armour pieces and by midway through the game you’ll have to work hard to make Death NOT look like a badass. One particularly cool idea is the Possessed weaponry: any weapon that glows red on the ground is possessed (and they are incredibly rare), and can be ‘fed’ other items to level up. The possibilities for building a truly devastating weapon are many, as they take on elements of whatever they’re fed the most of; if, for example, you want to imbue it with frost damage you’ll need to feed it items endowed with such. It can take a long time to build the perfect weapon, but the patience and effort is more than worth it in the end.
The enigmatic Samael returns, but what does he want with Death? Probably a hand with the redecorating
Meet your Maker
An Action-RPG as opposed to a straight action-adventure, then, but a considered one at that, Darksiders 2 acts the part as well as looks it. The huge world isn’t open from the start, but once you’ve visited an area you can return later when you’ve acquired new skills or gear. The Death Grip, for example, is a handy device for swinging across larger gaps or manipulating objects from a distance, while the pistol ‘Redemption’, is useful for detonating explosives (as in the first Darksiders). Moving around the gameworld from hub to hub is a daunting prospect, and I wouldn’t blame you for resorting to a pen and paper to keep notes of unreachable areas or secrets – especially given the sheer size of the adventure. The first world – in which Death works alongside the Makers (remember Ulthane from Darksiders and his hatred of ‘pigeons’?) and meets Game of Thrones’ James Cosmo as their gruff, white-haired old leader – took me around eight hours including all the available sidequests. A lot of full campaigns don’t take as long as that. Toss in a New Game + mode and a replayable, 100-wave arena known as the Crucible and Darksiders 2 will easily take you way, way beyond the original game’s fifteen hours.
The prologue stage in the frozen Veil sets the tone perfectly as Death seeks out the Crowfather, an ancient entity who possesses knowledge about War’s predicament. Here you’ll get a taste of combat, see an old unfriendly face and generally learn the ins and outs of how Death conducts himself. Michael Wincott brings a sneering cadence to the Reaper’s words, far removed from War’s noble posturing; Death’s snarky, challenging attitude is more suited to his smaller frame, like the mouthy short one in a group of knuckleheads. He calls a spade a spade, but his respect for creatures of greater or equal power prevents him from becoming unlikeable; it sets him apart from War while ensuring that you still root for him. Interestingly, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it images of Strife and Fury hint at some very cool character concepts for later instalments (the pre-planned existence of which I am entirely convinced).
All of sums up what Darksiders 2 IS in the driest of terms, of course, but though it may be trite, you won’t be able to appreciate what makes it such an exceptional game until you play it. If you thought the first game was good, even great, the sequel will genuinely blow you away. It’s graphically superior, maintaining the epic scale and gothic drapery of the original (again reminiscent of Soul Reaver), but with added polish. Everything gleams, even the darkness, buffed up to a high-quality sheen. Character animations are slick and alive, the environment drips with otherworldly atmosphere, and the score is perfectly balanced, swelling to heart-pounding heights during the lengthier battles. And somehow climbing, swinging, leaping, shooting and bashing out combo after combo never wore me down – the combat is so exhilarating, the locales so beautifully crafted and exciting to traverse and the characters and plot so interesting to unravel that it’s impossible to become bored.
This is just a teenie, tiny little beastie compared to some of the fiends in Darksiders 2
And Hell followed with him
As a fantasy action game, Darksiders 2 is almost perfect; as an Action-RPG it’s close to flawless. Some of the loot is a bit ‘meh’ and, if I’m honest, what it does has been done before, but you can’t criticise a game for using tried and tested methods when its execution of said methods is so exceptional. I’d go so far as to say that Darksiders 2 is in the top three games I’ve played this year, and when the other two are Mass Effect 3 and The Witcher 2, that stands Vigil Games’ sequel in illustrious company indeed. A sprawling, brawling, rip-roaring action-adventure game with so few real flaws that they pale to insignificance, Darksiders 2 is an absolute triumph for Vigil and THQ. If you’re going to play just one game before the Pale Rider comes churning up your front lawn, it should be Darksiders 2. It’s that good.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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