Remember back in the day when video games were actually video games? They didn’t feel like cinematic Hollywood flicks, nor did they try to have the most realistic gameplay. Darksiders II is the first game in a long time that has made me feel like I was playing a game from when I was younger. Heck I’d even say it almost felt like a Spyro game (with a much more mature tone, of course). The combat, loot collecting, gold harvesting and challenging bosses all come together to make one of the best games to come out this year.
The game starts off in a rather beautiful way. Death rides his horse, Despair, up the side of a snow covered mountain with a blue sky that really just makes everything look bright and cheery. Surprising, right? Especially considering the main character is Death himself. But as soon as you reach the peak, combat begins, and right away I felt at home. Sporting a heavy influence from God of War, combat is smooth, responsive and feels great. Death’s mission in Darksiders II is to claim absolution for his brother War, who has been charged with the extinction of the human race; the Apocalyspe, as we like to call it. I won’t say any more than that to keep from spoiling any important details about the story. Let’s just say you will definitely be satisfied by the end of the game.
Death has a primary weapon, his Scythe, as well as a choice of a secondary weapon that can range from Maces, Hammers, Claws, and so on. He also has a third weapon, of which you have seen in trailers, that happens to be a gun. Loot is a large part of the game this time around, and you will always be picking up coins, new weapons and collectible items that can be traded in for items and coins by visiting the merchants throughout the world of Darksiders II. It’s not really comparable to the loot systems of games such as Diablo and Borderlands, but it definitely helps to add a lot of variety to the combat, as each secondary weapon has a distinct feeling. You’ll also find elemental weapons such as flaming scythes or electrical claws. These weapons can also be gifted to other friends who are playing the game via an online trading system.
RPG elements are also present in Darksiders II. Death levels up as you progress through the game, allowing you to assign points to a huge skill tree that unlocks new abilities. There are trainers throughout the world that you can pay to learn new moves as well. There are plenty of them, and it actually surprised me at how in-depth the combat really is. On the outside, you may just see a hack and slash game like God of War, but there are numerous combos to learn. I actually think the combat system from Kingdoms of Amalur would be the best comparison to Darksiders II in terms of depth and overall feel.
The pacing in Darksiders II is great. About 40% of the time you’ll be engaged in combat with a wide range of enemies, whom I won’t spoil for you here. The other 60% is puzzles and platforming. There’s a wide range of puzzles in the game, ranging from your average ‘pull this lever to activate this’, to more complex puzzles that will require some real thought. The platforming in the game is smooth, fast and responsive. Sometimes the camera angle can be a bit off, but usually I died because of human error during the platforming segments, which at some points can be really quite challenging. If you’ve played games like God of War or Uncharted, think that type of platforming, but moving at a much quicker pace. The platforming isn’t without it’s fault though. At one point during my playthrough you are trying to escape death by climbing up a tower while a platform filled with spikes is coming up from behind you. One mistake in that section and you will die, and I died plenty there. Sometimes Death can be unresponsive as to where you’re trying to go, as he would occasionally jump up the wall instead of running across it etc. That was the one point in the game where I was about ready to throw down my controller in frustration.
As I said earlier, I won’t spoil any of the enemy types in Darksiders II, but what I will say is that if you like a challenge, the game’s medium weight and heavy weight bosses will certainly put up a tough fight. That being said, I only ran into a few difficulty spikes during the game, in which the enemies that were thrown in were really off-balance and almost seemed unfair. Luckily, the randomly generated loot kicked in after I died about 8 times during a fight, leaving me a ton of health potion drops. I’m not exactly sure if the loot system is specifically designed to do this, but it certainly was a saving grace at that point. The bosses are varied when it comes to tactics and design, making each one a blast to fight. They aren’t in overabundance either, and are placed periodically throughout the game.
If you saw our news post the other day, you’ll know there’s also an arena challenge mode included in Darksiders II, called The Crucible. It features 100 waves of enemies for you to demolish, which increase in difficulty each round. After every fifth round, you can either take a prize and exit the arena, or keep going to possibly get a sweeter reward. Let’s just say that you better be skilled to take on this arena; I thought I was pretty good at the game and only managed to get to round 8 before I failed; even getting that far was a challenge.
Graphically, Darksiders II is a mixed bag. There’s a huge amount of detail put into the environments, and each world you go to has its own unique look, color palette and architecture. Some are bright and cheerful, while others are a lot more dark and moody. It’s a great mix, and it always feels like you are going somewhere new. I’m not usually very picky about textures, but some areas in the game seemed to be very low res, and it kind of detracted from the experience. One of the best things about this open world experience is that the game hardly has any load times. Here and there when opening a door to a new area the game will stop and load, but at the longest it’s about 5 seconds if that. When starting up the game, a narrative piece will recap your most recent advancement in the story while the game is loading. From there, as soon as you click start the game begins as the background of the menu is the last spot you saved the game at which is pretty cool.
If you played the first game you would remember traveling through a mostly urban setting in the apocalypse, filled with greys and other bleak colors. That is far from the case here, as Darksiders II is actually full of color. The first world you go to is full of architectural wonder, and from there, there are different environments for you to explore. Each dungeon plays out differently and I can’t recall that I found a single dungeon that was just copied over with a few changes. Death’s animations in combat and during platforming are smooth and when using the lock on camera it goes into a widescreen cinematic view that makes death (pun intended) look even sweeter.
Adding to an already sweet experience is the game’s soundtrack. Composed by Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed), it’s a great mix of action and ambient adventurous tones. Describing the music of Darksiders II would be a daunting task, so how about we just give you a sample to mull over for yourself? Michael Wincott does an impeccable job in the role of Death, allowing you to identify with his motives and actions easily. However, his character runs far deeper than on initial impression, as he soon reveals to be sly, humorous, and witty, helping to lighten the tone of the game.
When Vigil Games said that Darksiders II was a long game, they weren’t kidding. They had stated earlier this month that the first world of the game would take about ten hours to complete (took me eleven), and the total completion time is estimated at about 25 hours. In other words, you are most definitely getting your money’s worth here single players. If you are looking for a game with replayability, Darksiders II is staring you straight in the face. While you won’t get a different story for subsequent playthroughs, there’s always new collectibles and weapons to find. You’ll also be enticed to play the game a second time with the inclusion of a New Game + mode that starts you off with your fully leveled up Death and all the loot you’ve come across.
As I said in the beginning of this review, Darksiders II felt to me like a game from the days of Spyro and other challenging games, and it’s one of the only games this year that kept me hooked and wanting to come back for more. Graphically, it’s nothing ground breaking, but the amount of detail put into the world, coupled with the unique feel and the extremely polished gameplay, makes for a staggering experience. I consider August the start of the holiday gaming season, and in that regard this title is leading the way. If you’re looking for an addictive and varied fantasy adventure, you’ve found it, and its name is Darksiders II. You won’t want to Rest in Peace until you’ve finished the game.
(PS3 version provided by THQ. Thanks from the Only Single Player team)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 8.5/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 9/10