With its derivative yet addictive gameplay, Darksiders snuck on the scene in 2010 and surprised a lot of gamers. Sure, it was an obvious knock-off of Zelda and God of War; but it was how the title played that set it apart. Reviews were strong enough and gamers must have been taken enough to encourage THQ to bring us a sequel. Now two years removed, Darksiders II picks up where the last game left off, with Death (of the Four Horseman fame) in full pursuit of his brother, War. Through puzzle-solving, exploration, and intense combat, Death makes his way through various stark and ostentatious landscapes to attempt to save his brother and mankind.
Like the original game, Darksiders II is a third-person hack n’ slash platformer. While the first game borrowed heavily from Zelda games, this influence has since been tapered in this sequel. Horse-riding has become less important to the gameplay and has been replaced by a much more efficient fast travel mechanism. Sure, the instructional crow in Darksiders II is reminiscent of Navi from Ocarina of Time, but let’s not get too distracted by whether or not Darksiders is similar to Zelda or not. While Darksiders II is a game heavily influenced by other games, it does a great job of picking from the best of the best to create a complex and unique game formula.
By emphasizing Death in this sequel, the developers at Vigil Games traverse the game’s underworlds and overworlds full of allusions to the undead, angels, God, and all things biblical. Because these themes have symbolism that date back thousands of years, there are a multitude of designs motifs for the developers to work from. This is great news for fans of intricate level designs that include well-crafted walls, textures, ledges, and the like. The doors for traveling between levels are incredibly detailed and make loading from one screen to the next worth being patient for. Furthermore, the epic scope of the biblical motifs makes the enemies and weaponry that much more interesting. The design concepts of Darksiders II are some of the best I’ve seen in a while and rival the work seen in other AAA hits like Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted.
Much of the game is spent solving intricate platforming puzzles. From the get go new obstacles are presented that require the player to really think outside of the box to find a solution. Without the help of YouTube or game guides, some of these solutions might take an hour or two to figure out. In some cases, trial and error is the best course of action. While, in other cases just looking around the levels in a full 360 degrees will reveal a hidden solution. At points this can be a frustrating process, but is one that is the core of enjoying this game. For the most part, Darksiders II is designed to make the player really think through the puzzles. This is not a game designed to hold a player’s hand from start to finish. It’s also not meant to be so hard that the game is abandoned. Darksiders II is a test of your ingenuity, ability to see the simple solutions, and meant to reward patience. For the most part, the puzzles leave a wonderfully satisfying aftertaste.
When not solving elaborate platforming puzzles, Death is responsible for destroying a welcome variety of small, large and truly gigantic enemies. For 90% of the game, players will use light, heavy, magic, and combo attacks to dispatch their foes. In the other 10%, players will be given a set of guns and sent to earth to battle “the swarm.” This portion of the game is an interesting change of pace for Darksiders II considering there is very little platforming going on. Darksiders transitions from God of War-esque to Gears of War-esque in just one level. The gun combat is enjoyable and Darksiders II’s gameplay is not hindered by shifting genres. This is noteworthy because lesser games often fail to juggle more than one gameplay style without dropping the ball.
One of the most impressive aspects of Darksiders II is the game’s ability to render a lot of enemies on screen simultaneously while managing huge battles. Battles with 30-50 enemies on screen at the same time played on-screen with little to no slowdown. The only really challenge with this many enemies was identifying where Death was in the midst of an enemy horde. Considering the scale of the backgrounds and the detailed surroundings, Darksiders II deserves much praise for handling this amount of graphical dexterity.
When it comes to storytelling, Darksiders II weaves a complex story between heaven, hell, and earth that can be incredibly confusing. Understanding all of the characters’ motives is difficult and often unclear. However, because Death is so well acted by veteran badass Michael Wincott, understanding character motives takes second place to visceral responses. Wincott delivers Death’s dialogue with such power and intensity that motive becomes unnecessary. Just trust in Wincott’s inflection that Death’s decisions are absolute and for the betterment of all involved. Wincott’s work on this game should be remembered as one of the best acting performances of the year.
While Wincott brings a tour-de-force performance to play and Darksiders II is very good in gameplay and graphics, a design decision on the final boss keeps this game from being perfect. For much of Darksiders II, the boss battles become increasingly difficult without being impossible. Sure, it might take a couple practice runs; but in the end, beating the boss will work out. Unfortunately, the final boss in Darksiders II was just too easy. While most of the other battles required precise timing and well-planned resource utilization, the final battle was a simple slugfest that involved none of the finesse from previous encounters. While not completely disappointing, it would have been appropriate for a game that takes nearly 24 hours to finish to have a final boss worthy of player’s hard work.
Darksiders II is a well made game perfect for patient gamers that like titles such as God of War and Zelda and appreciate polish. While the game is highly derivative of other games, it steals ideas so well that players benefit in the end. Darksiders II is the perfect game to release during this summer dead zone we’re currently stuck in. It’s absolutely worth playing while waiting for the coming onslaught of the fall release calendar.
CraveOnline received one copy of Darksiders II for the Xbox 360. Before starting our review, we played through the entire single player story.