It is somewhat hard to write about Darksiders II. Gamers yearn for originality. They look for what makes a game stand out as an individual amongst the masses, what makes it worthy of our time, patience and hard earned dollar. We remember Portal because nothing else had ever played like it. We remember Okami because nothing else had ever looked like it. We remember God of War because nothing had ever seemed so large. And now, Darksiders II arrives, much like its predecessor, as a game that at its core is wholly unoriginal, with everything from its items to its music digging into our minds and bringing forth memories of other, better known titles.
And yet, at the same time, there has never been anything like it. And there may not ever be ever again.
The sequel to 2010’s Darksiders, Darksiders II puts you in control of another of the Four Horsemen. This time around you are Death, the most powerful of the Four and a far different character than his brother War. Death seeks to bring absolution to his brother War and to acquit him of the crimes he did not commit (i.e. starting the entire Apocalypse) by reviving the whole of humanity. This is no small task, and you’ll find yourself traversing the realms of man, angel and demon to complete your task. Death carries many burdens on his shoulders, and the game is quick to remind you of this constantly. This game, too, carries a burden, the combined hopes of everyone at Vigil Games who clearly poured their all into its creation, and what they ended up with is something they can be proud of.
Visually, the world of Darksiders II is a memorable one if simply for its diversity. While the world and its characters may look a bit too Warcraft/Diablo-esque for some players, there is no denying that it is expertly crafted. It is quite sizable as well, taking you everywhere from the dry and barren Land of the Dead to the lush and green Forge Lands. You’ll have no shortage of wonders to see along the journey, including the varied and brutal assortment of enemies you’ll come across. Some of the character designs are truly striking and memorable, but the game has a tendency to use up its characters a bit too quickly. More than once does a character come along you’d expect to stay around for the journey, only for them to seemingly be forgotten soon after. Still, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastically designed and executed – the angel Archon and demoness Lilith stand out most of all. I only encountered a few visual hiccups in the game, the occasional stutter, but never enough to take you out of the experience.
The game’s soundtrack and vocal work do a good job of setting the mood wherever you are. The Makers, the first “race” of people you come across, are the most memorable in the game with their thick Scottish accents, but the vocals overall are extremely well done. At no point do any characters feel lifeless. The music may sound a bit too familiar for some players, but theres a reason for that – It was written by Jesper Kyd, who is quickly becoming the Hans Zimmer of gaming. He takes a few of his lessons from writing for Assassin’s Creed and Borderlands into account here, and while sometimes familiar, his music is always welcome.
It is when the gameplay of the series is discussed that the real debate begins. Darksiders was well known for taking more than a hint from other game series, and its sequel only does this moreso. The core gameplay is like a mutant combination of the exploration and dungeon crawling of a Zelda title combined with the combat of the God of War series, just as its predecessor was. The core difference this time around is the character that you are in control of. If War moved about like a golem smashing everything, Death is the wind cutting through all before him. He is much faster and more acrobatic than his brother, which is a welcome change to the series. He also has a far larger assortment of core weapons to choose from, although his twin Scythes are a constant. You can then choose from fast weapons such as arm blades, or heavy hitting maces and hammers. Much of how the game plays will depend on which weapons you prefer, as most of the other items in the game play no part in combat.
It’s worth noting how much of an impact on the game loot hunting has as well. Loot rains from the sky in this game, but like most dungeon crawlers, the vast majority of what you find will be useless. Still, it is an addition most welcome to the genre and one I hope some other studios catch on to. Some weapons can be ridiculously overpowered for your current level at times, especially new “Posessed” weapons that can become ludicrously powerful by “sacrificing” other useless loot to it. Also, I don’t believe I ever came anywhere close to filling up my inventory, so there’s no punishment in grabbing everything in sight, but this only serves to drive the player forward in search of bigger and better items.
Traversal of the world takes more than a few hints from the likes of Prince of Persia. You’ll be wall running and climbing all day long through dungeon after dungeon, waiting for the perfect time to jump from one ledge to the next. It’s all been done before, and honestly its all been done better. Death occasionally seems to ignore your button inputs and go wherever he pleases, especially when it comes to grabbing onto ledges, but for the most part it all flows well. Puzzles are a constant as well, and a few of them are a bit of a brain teaser, but any well seasoned dungeon-crawling gamer will be able to make their way through.
At this point you may be asking “Why get this game if its all been done before?” And yes, everything that Darksiders II does has been done in another game before it. More than likely, it has been done better than Darksiders II does it. But no game has ever combined so many of gaming’s go-to design choices and gameplay options into a single game that has simply worked so well together. This is a game clearly made by gamers, and as such is almost a love letter to the industry as a whole. Yes, theres a portal gun (The achievement for getting the item is even called “I Can Has Cake?”). Yes, loot is nothing new to gaming. You’ve done everything you can do in a game before here, but you’ve never been able to do it all in a single game. This is Darksiders II’s true triumph.
The game makes more than its fair share of errors, perhaps the worst of which is the assumption that you played the first game in the series. It sold fewer than 500k copies, so chances are you haven’t played it. Death’s entire journey runs in parallel to that of War in the first title, and as such is unafraid of throwing you right into the fray. Its pacing is also a little bit off and it could use a few more sidequests to add yet more diversity the journey. You may find yourself getting sick of all the favors the world seems to ask of Death, only for your journey to end quite abruptly. But then, once you jump right back into the gameplay itself, you’re instantly reminded of why this game deserves your attention.
Darksiders II is far from a perfect title but it is one that I can still wholeheartedly recommend. Vigil Games has done a fine job crafting a memorable title that deserves the support of the gaming community. I fear, however, that the series will soon go the way of Okami – A game that firmly stands its ground and tries to define itself as an idividual despite being blatantly like its brethren. With Darksiders II taking so many hints from so many other games, many will brush it off as a game to be forgotten, a copycat game looking to make a few quick bucks. Instead, it should be remembered for what it really is – A game daring enough to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a single pot, something that should never work, and yet the mix somehow coheres well. Despite all logic telling me this is a game that will soon be forgotten, it has won over my heart. It deserves our support if merely to see how the series evolves from here.