Doubling down on Death.
Back in 2010 we had to wait the best part of a year for Darksiders to be released on PC, while the console masses were enjoying their adventures of War blissfully. The reasons for the delay were apparently to optimise code for different rigs in terms of visuals and performance, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was both THQ and Vigil Games hedging their bets that PC folk might not want to play this kind of third-person action adventure experience. The combat model took the best of Devil May Cry and neutered the combo craziness to make it a bit more manageable and the game structure was very reminiscent of Zelda, with an over-world laden with dungeons which needed to be conquered in order to further the plot. It was the kind of début you’d expect of a new studio which while immensely talented, both in environment design and execution, there was a lack of confidence inherent in the game’s design. The campaign felt too narrow and the grandiose heaven versus hell narrative came across as a bit naff at times.
Fast forward to today and it’s abundantly clear that Vigil Games are a much more confident outfit, not only in terms of their execution, but also their ambition and creativity as Darksiders II is every bit bigger, better and more beautiful than its predecessor with Death assuming the starring role from his slow and bulky brother, War. The plot takes place during the hundred years between War’s slumber after the opening act in the first game, with his soul harvesting brother doing his utmost to not only save his kin, but also resurrect humanity and discover the truth behind the conspiracy that has seen his brother be placed in Purgatory. As high concept this biblical premise sounds it’s introduced in a methodical manner, which means even if you didn’t play the original Darksiders you’ll still feel invested in the plot which is supported by a sterling orchestral soundtrack and fantastic character design.
To put it simply Death is just a much more interesting character than War, he’s snarkier which makes dialogue more entertaining and he’s much quicker and more able-bodied so the core traversal platforming gameplay is much easier to buy into. Structurally Darksiders II feels much more open-worldy than its predecessor as well, with additional dungeons and side-quests regularly offering interesting asides on the way to completing main objectives. It isn’t quite up their with Skyrim in terms of wandering off the beaten path, but there’s still at least twenty hours worth of gameplay here and that’s if you only rigorously follow the main story and nothing else. There’s still that problem of characters telling you profusely what you’ll be doing for the next couple of hours, “Well to activate the Magical Maguffin X you need to go to Dungeon A, defeat the boss and then travel to Temple B and find the Crown of Destiny” – but the breadth and beauty of the tertiary content means that you can usually take your time and indulge in some wanton exploration before tackling the main objective.
Really though the most startling transformation between the first Darksiders and its sequel is the combat system. The addition of numerical values to blows, literally shows you how much value each weapon, either the primary sycthes or secondary weapons, are causing and seeing the numbers rain down on the screen, gaining higher and higher values as you put together combos encourages you to not only experiment but also validates your choices regarding whether you should arm Death with gauntlets, hammers, arm-blades or immensely slow yet skull crushingly powerful axes. Couple this element with the two tiered skill tree, melee-based Harbinger and ally-spawning Necromancer, and you have a system which offers plenty of player expression and choice. And that’s not even taking into account the loot system which you can utilise to swap out different sets of armor to make your version of Death different from others. This system has more than enough depth to inspire a little loot lust and the game is constantly rewarding you for your commitment, which makes playing Darksiders II feel very impulsive – with that extra dungeon run growing increasingly tempting.
Vigil Games second effort is exactly the kind of sequel you want, expansive and ambitious yet true to the core of what made Darksiders such a success. The UI betrays this game’s console routes, and the nature of the gameplay lends itself much better to a controller than mouse and keyboard but functionality wise it’s a solid port. This series has gone from being an also-ran to one of the gaming’s heavy hitters and crucially there’s nothing quite like it on PC. Who needs Zelda? We’ve got Darksiders II – put simply, you’d be mad to miss it!
The perfect sequel; expansive, ambitious yet true to the original.
Tags: Darksiders II
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