Death not War
The first Darksiders was a mix-tape for gamers. It had a little bit of everything – combat similar to God of War, dungeons and upgrades like Zelda and Metroid, and even a Portal gun. The resulting package was a game that, while fun, sometimes felt a little too derivative for its own good. Darksiders II does not shy away from borrowing from the best. In addition to copying from the games above, it adds traversal mechanics right out of Prince of Persia, and even shoehorns in a third-person shooting level that could have been ripped from Gears of War (it even has wretches). But where the first game, like a mix tape, had a few segments that just didn’t jam, Darksiders II gets almost every note right.
Rather than a true sequel picking up where Darksiders left off, Vigil Games chose to tell the side story of Death, the pale horseman of the apocalypse, and what he did while War was imprisoned at the beginning of the first game for destroying mankind. Whereas War was terse, imposing and focused on justice, Death’s moral code is as curved as his scythe. He thinks pragmatically, as he sets off to restore humanity, thus erasing War’s crime and nullifying any questions as to his innocence. Along the way the game delves into his past as one of the Nephilim, the half angel/half demon spawn of Lilith, and how he gained the epithet ‘Kinslayer.’ There are some rather obvious twists and turns, but as the player has no control over Death’s choices, the moment of truth at the end of the game amounts to nothing. It’s somewhat disappointing, but in a way, expected. If you beat the first game, you know how this one ends. That being said, a tantalizing scene after the credits holds great promise for Darksiders III.
Dancing with Death
Death is a much more nimble protagonist than War in both movement and combat. Platforming sections are your standard wall-running affairs, and there are plenty of vine-covered walls to climb. Strangely, there is no double jump. There’s also no quick-dash button, but movement speed has increased, so it isn’t an issue.
This ties into combat, where Vigil has made the decision to replace the block button with a dodge button. At first it was uncomfortable – why can’t Death block minor attacks? After getting used to it, however, I appreciated how it sped up combat. Rather than wait for the block animation to finish and then counter, Death can now flip behind an enemy and continue his attack while the enemy slices at thin air. Death’s scythe, which splits into two, is a much faster weapon than War’s sword, and the increased maneuverability the control scheme brings turns combat into a dynamic dance, rather than the more measured affair it was in the first game.
The gun is used more for puzzles than combat, but the scythes are balanced by secondary weapons that come courtesy of a well-implemented loot system. Enemies and chests drop heaps of scythes, hammers, gauntlets and other toys, as well as armor sections and talismans. Items have different stats, like extra health or fire damage, and rarer weapons can be upgraded by sacrificing weaker ones, with the remnants sold off for cash. Bosses predictably drop unique items with special attributes that are fun to play around with. At one point I had a scythe that shot lightning and claws fashioned from the fangs of a giant spider that gave me health with every strike – a very satisfying combination.
Fluid combat, tons to do, and a varied, cohesive experience.
The open world is empty space for the side quests to load, Crucible mode is slightly underwhelming.