When the original Darksiders was released, it received pretty much positive reviews all around. I know it was one of my favorite games of early 2010 because it incorporated elements from some of my favorite series – a little Devil May Cry complimenting a meaty portion of The Legend of Zelda, sprinkled with some God of War for flavor. Without reciprocating an entire review from two years ago, let me just say that the original Darksiders took the best elements of each of these games and added an above average story in order to give it the praise it garnered. Now two years later, can the team at Vigil Games pull off the same magic again, and give gamers something they’ll be talking about into the months ahead?
The first thing you need to understand is that you really do not need to have finished Darksiders 1 to enjoy Darksiders 2 – yes, you may miss out on a scant few bits of inside information, but this game isn’t so much of a sequel to the original, as it is a series of events running parallel to the first one. Though you may not realize it when you first take control of Death – the game’s Hero (or anti-hero depending on how you look at things) – the events in Darksiders 2start when War (remember him from the original?) is thrown in front of the Charred Council, and culminates at the same moment that the first game ended.
Fans of the first game will be glad to know that a lot of what everyone loved in the first game is back again. The Button mashing combos that reminded everyone of the God of War play style is still quite prominent, as are the skill and timing based combos that caused people to say Devil May Cry was the inspiration. Pretty much everything good about the combat before remains, with a few minor differences – differences that add a new game to those that Darksiders 2 can claim to homage: Diablo. You see, gone is the simple “one weapon, one armor” mentality of the first Darksiders and it has been replaced with a loot fanatic’s wet dream. Now even though your main weapon will always be a scythe, how that scythe looks and acts can change completely from one to the next. On top of that, your secondary weapons are constantly in a state of flux (until you find one you really love) because of how many you can choose from. Would you rather use a short range and low damage but super fast weapon, or would you rather have reach and brute force, but be so slow that if you’re not smart you’ll get swarmed? It’s questions like this that the secondary weapon system forces players to answer, and the game is much better for it. Another thing that players will realize is that every secondary weapon has its own unique “power move” – a mace will deliver a spinning slam while gloves will let Death perform a brutal uppercut, an axe will launch Death into the air for a devastating overhead smash, while arm blades will shoot a powerful projectile. These are also meant to compliment a person’s play style, and while I might prefer the arm blades, none end up being overly better than another.
Another crazy part of the weapon and armor system comes into play when you find “Possessed” items. These red background items are super rare, and add a whole new group of decisions to be made. You see, possessed items are able to absorb other items to cause them to level up. When a possessed item levels up, all of its base stats (damage and such) level up accordingly, but it will also gain other abilities that you can choose from. It may be something simple like adding shock, fire, or ice damage to a weapon, or it may be something more complex like health drain on hit, health drain on crit, or health drain on kill. These decisions dictate how powerful your weapon will eventually become, for example I use a pair of arm blades that, while they are low level, they made me basically immortal through the game. I chose to give them fire damage, bonus to my defense, and then health drain on each hit (24%) – arm blades hit numerous times, much more than any other weapon, so that any damage I take can be instantly healed with a well executed combo. Juggling the abilities of your items adds so much depth and complexity to the game, that I feel like I’m playing an MMO half the time.
Weapons and armor changes aside, there are some other key differences from the first game that I need to address – the first of which is the other game that Darksiders 2 pays homage to: the 2008 Prince of Persia remake. Anyone who has played that game will be able to see its influence in pretty much everything here save the art style. From the way Death magically is”saved” when he jumps into a pit or other area where he would normally die from bad platforming (the animation of the reaper form saving you is almost exactly that of Elika saving the Prince. Likewise almost all of the animations of Death’s platforming skills are reminiscent of the Prince. From the way he drags his claw across the wall when he wall runs, to the way he pulls himself up on nubs sticking out of the wall to continue a run, to the way Death and the Prince both jump to (and jump off of) wooden beams; it all looks so much like that last Prince of Persia game that you would swear that Vigil Games was made up of ex- UbiSoft employees.
Thankfully though, the team at Vigil does everything right and ends up really showing that the Prince might have inspired them, but they weren’t a one trick pony. The story is easily as good as the last, and a bit more compelling once you realize what is going on (especially when you start tying things to what happened in the first game), and it is the voice acting that really sells it. Let’s face it, the first Darksiders had decent enough artwork for the time, but that was two years ago and nothing much has changed for the Darksiders team apparently. The result is that many of the characters look blocky and bland – thankfully though the environments are a saving grace. With five different and distinct areas that you go to, the art in each had to set it apart from the others, and it really does here. If only the character models looked as good, but we can’t have everything.
Vigil Games did give us some other neat little touches though. For one, when death builds up enough “Reaper Energy”, he can transform into a large Grim Reaper (complete with humongous scythe). This form allows Death to pretty much shrug off any damage taken, and inflict a TON on others – perfect for taking out bosses. Something else that is nice is that Death’s appearance will change depending on what armor he has on – even in the cut scenes. It’s not much, but it helps to make the story feel like it’s about “your” Death. There is also a nice skill system that lets you spend points every time you level up to unlock or upgrade your abilities. It adds another level of customization to your character, and again serves to make “your” Death just that – yours. The Cruciable mode and New Game+ are nice features to keep you playing once the game is done, but the main game itself lasts around 25 – 30 hours for most people, more if you are trying to do all of the side quests that are available. Add a LOT more time to that if you are searching for the directions for the Soul Arbiter’s Maze – a brutal maze that works like the Lost Woods in the original Legend of Zelda. You have to keep going the right direction, or everything you’ve done on that level is reset. It’s an optional dungeon, but it is definitely worth it if you make it to the bottom. That’s another huge improvement over the first game – there are a ton of optional things to do. Optional bosses, optional quest, and optional dungeons litter the worlds you go to (well ok, maybe not the last one), and while they add length to the game, they never feel forced or artificial.
Bottom Line: Yes, the game has a few glitches that pop up now and then, and yes the graphics feel dated, but you just can not deny the feeling of pure “fun” you get from playing this title – it appeals to so many different groups of people that I can recommend it to pretty much anyone.
- The new weapon and armor system, while difficult to get used to at first, will end up being your best friend
- Action is fast and furious while never feeling old or tiresome
- Platforming is actually fun – even in the really complex places
- Graphics are dated
- Ran into a few minor glitches that made me scratch my head
- Never seemed to have enough skill points
You can get a copy of Darksiders 2 for the PS3 or Xbox 360 from Amazon for $59.96, or for the PC for $49.96