“Death is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all.”
The original Darksiders didn’t really have any new ideas it could call its own. But by drawing inspiration from disparate sources, and combining these ideas so seamlessly and with a level of execution people weren’t expecting, it was embraced and garnered quite the cult following. I must say before I start reviewing the sequel, that I wasn’t as enthralled with the original game as others were. It was a very well made game, but I felt it lacked the personality of the games it was aping, such as Zelda or God of War. It was missing that special spark that was needed for me to really fall in love with it.
Well, Darksiders II addresses my primary issue with the original, and that was clear to me in the first 10 minutes of the game. Darksiders II has a real sense of identity, and there are multiple changes to this sequel that have allowed this to happen. What I noticed right from the get go is the soundtrack. Instead of the boring latin choir of the original, Jesper Kyd has instead decided to use an interesting combination of both classical and more contemporary music. He makes interesting decisions with the score rather than playing it safe, and for me it injected the game with a sense of excitement and scale, that I didn’t get from the original.
Death is also a much more appealing character than War. I personally always felt War was a bit over designed. It was like the artist just piled a load of concept art on top of one character. Death’s design is a lot simpler, and is better for it. He still retains the heavy metal, over the top aesthetic. But he looks crafted rather than thrown together. Death does have the deep, gravelly voice that so many video game protagonists have these days. But the writers saw fit to give him a witty, dry sense of humour that elevates him above the norm. Michael Wincott does a brilliant job portraying Death, delivering his lines with both class and an undertone of condescension. Death is a colossal arsehole, but you can’t help but like him because of it. It’s like if Kratos got a degree in English Literature. He’d still be a dick, but you’d be somewhat impressed by how eloquently he insulted your mum and threatened to disembowel your pet rabbit.
Death’s journey to resurrect mankind from extinction takes him to many different realms, such as the makers forge world and the land of the dead. Fans of the original may miss the combination of high fantasy creatures inhabiting the ruins of the modern world, but I personally welcomed the chance to explore worlds beyond earth and gain a better understanding of Darksiders crazy mythology. Each realm has a very distinct look, for example, the forge world was very reminiscent of the dwarven architecture found in the Lord of the Rings films. Where as hell and heaven…well, they pretty much look exactly how you’d expect, but both are still really well designed. As great as it is to visit these different realms, the story driving Darksiders II forward is all build up and no pay off. I really enjoyed the journey I was taken on, but the conclusion felt a bit limp.
The combat in Darksiders II is one of its strongest attributes, and is significantly better than the original game. War felt like he went through the same combat training as Kratos, Death on the other hand studied under Dante. Death is a much faster and more acrobatic fighter than War, flipping backwards to avoid attacks and launching enemies skyward to perform elaborate mid-air combos. It’s just really satisfying, and there is enough depth to the combos you can pull off and enemy variety to keep it interesting.
Darksiders II has more in common with an open world action RPG than a straight up Zelda game. For one, there are a lot more side missions in Darksiders II, and some of them are just as interesting as the main campaign quests. Also, you don’t increase your health after killing a boss at the end of a temple like last time. You gain experience from killing enemies and completing quests like any other action RPG. When you level up, you can spend points unlocking skills in both the Harbringer tree and the Necromancer tree. The Harbringer tree focused mainly on melee abilities, so I ended up pouring a lot of points into the Necromancer tree, giving me access to zombie minions and demonic crows. It’s a very basic leveling system, but it gives you enough choice to tailor Death to your play style.
Going further down the RPG route, Darksiders II has also added a Diablo style loot system to the formula. The loot its self is pretty varied, with all sorts of different effects, like regenerating health or poison damage. What is a bit different from the norm is the Possessed Weapons. These weapons can be upgraded by “feeding” them your spare equipment, and also gain any positive stats that piece of equipment might have had. So instead of unloading all your unwanted equipment on the nearest vendor, you start stockpiling it. So the next time you stumble on a possessed weapon, you can significantly upgrade it by cramming all those tasty shoulder pads down its gullet. It’s a fun system, and it forced me to think a lot more about the loot I was carrying than most RPGs I’ve played.
The Zelda style temples are just as good as the last game, although I’d say this game borrows a little bit from Metroid’s structure as well. There is a greater focus on platforming in Darksiders II, and it all feels very similar to 2008’s Prince of Persia. It feels smooth responsive, but completely lacking in any kind of challenge. The boss fights had there ups and downs, and definitely weren’t as consistently good as the first game. Some boss fights were really challenging, but fair, in a Demon’s Souls kind of way. But others were kind of uninspired and not particularly that fun to fight. None of the boss fights were really frustrating though, so that at least is a plus.
Overall I think Darksiders II is a much improved sequel, and injects some much needed personality into the franchise. It does have a few flaws here and there, but I am impressed with how skilfully they have managed to remix mechanics from different games into a satisfying whole. Darksiders II may not be the most inventive games you’ll play this year, but it will be one of the most enjoyable.