Never played the original Darksiders and wondering what all the fuss is about? All you need to do is imagine a blending of The Legend of Zelda and God of War. Developer Vigil Games openly borrows from these franchises, and at times you might wonder if they’re crossing the line into plagiarism. Of course, if you’re going to take a few ideas from other series, then you can’t do much better than Zelda and God of War, and the seamless blending of these franchises is what made the original Darksiders so relevant to begin with. And its sequel is hardly an exception, with excellent combat and a much improved soundtrack, though a few major problems keep it from actually improving on its predecessor.
Much of the story of Darksiders 2 takes place during War’s imprisonment early in the first game. War has been blamed for breaking the Balance, and another Horseman, Death, is out to clear his name while also reviving the Third Kingdom, humanity. But very little of the game actually takes place on Earth this time around; it begins with Death traveling to the Veil and learning he must go to the Tree of Life. He then arrives in the Forge Lands, where Corruption is destroying the land and in which the brunt of the game takes place. Here, the game takes off on a very Zelda-esque pattern, with Death going to dungeons on behalf of other characters to retrieve specific key items. In between, we’re given interesting information about what has happened to the Forge Lands and the Horsemen, but the dialogue is never over-winded. The plot is noticeably more pushed to the side than it was in the first Darksiders, revolving around the fetch quests.
The dungeons are still similar in design to what we’ve been playing in The Legend of Zelda for years. They’re more combat-heavy, but puzzles are thrown in regularly to mix things up. You’ll often find a new item or ability within the dungeon that’ll be used to solve these puzzles, which are far less complex than those in Darksiders and mostZelda games and shouldn’t cause you more than a brief pause outside a couple of occasions. This is especially true considering that your crow, Dust, attempts to point you in the right direction when you’re lost. You’ll see a lot of puzzles revolving around finding a way to set a block on a stone or using bombs that grow on the ground to blow up some obstruction or hit a switch. Other puzzles will require use of your items, including a type of grappling hook and a gun similar to the one in Portal. There are also secret areas in some of the dungeons in which you can find chests or collectible items. And if this isn’t screaming “The Legend of Zelda!” at you yet, then wait until you run up against some of the bosses, which often take use of the dungeon’s item to defeat.
But at least the boss battles are sometimes challenging and very entertaining. Until you run across some super-powered weapons later on, Darksiders 2 is actually somewhat difficult for a modern game, which you can’t say for the recent Zelda offerings, and then you get Nightmare mode when you’re finished. There’s also a good deal of platforming both inside and outside the dungeons, perhaps even more than in the original Darksiders, and a few of these sequences provide some of the best thrills of 2012. There are also some annoyances, like trying to maneuver Death on certain pillars and the occasional poor camera angle. But the game’s focus is more on combat, which is done quite well. As with God of War, you mostly hack and slash, utilizing many combos, skills, and finally Reaper Form to pulverize hordes of enemies. A lock-on system similar to the Zelda games is present and highly recommended to use when the battlefield isn’t too cluttered. The fighting is frantic and makes good use of your items as well, allowing for you to fight however you please with only occasional lag despite the large number of enemies on-screen. Death can also fight on his horse, Despair, which culminates in one particularly outstanding boss battle.
Some light RPG elements have been thrown in this time, including a vast array of armor and weapons that can be equipped and a leveling-up system that allows you to unlock several different skills. Instead of gathering souls when you defeat enemies, you’ll now receive experience, item drops, and money. All three are in copious supply, making the latter of the three virtually worthless. You can use the money to learn new combos and buy items and equipment, but since the equipment drops you receive level up with you, you could potentially spend tens of thousands of coins on an item that becomes completely obsolete half an hour later. Even the “possessed” weapons, which contain powerful abilities, can be easily obtained from chests and enemies. Due to this, and the relatively low price of combo moves, you’re likely to become a millionaire with nothing to spend it on. But the experience you earn is another matter. When you level up, you receive a skill point to purchase useful abilities for Death’s Wrath meter, and upgrades for those abilities. You can set these abilities and use them like your key items for great effect in battle, but regardless, level-grinding is thankfully never required.
Like the dungeons, Darksiders 2’s overworld is well-designed in the style of Zelda. It contains an open-world with many secret areas to find, long stretches of land to ride your horse, places to swim and climb, and it allows you to fast-travel between areas. And it’s absolutely gorgeous too, in spite of some poor textures. The game returns the same distinctive art design with stylish character models and eye-opening environments. The Forge Lands allow for more aesthetically stimulating backgrounds than Earth; lush verdancy, dazzling water design, and a stunning blend of colorful landscapes make for some great moments on Death’s adventure. But as artistically beautiful as the visuals are, a lot less attention was paid to creating a clean experience from start to finish. Even discounting some bad camera angles and aggravating loading times, numerous minor glitches can be seen throughout the game, including the quest icon going awry and the targeting system randomly flipping around and locking on a monster behind Death. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the minor bugs, and then we have a load of major ones as well. I had a lantern disappear while I was carrying it, was once unable to pass through a tunnel and had to reset, got trapped in a room and had to fast-travel out, and was slapped by even a few more glitches that were nearly game-breaking.
Even with some of the frustrations caused by the numerous glitches, the game’s soundtrack might soothe you into a state of tranquility. Jesper Kyd, previously behind the soundtracks of major titles such as Assassin’s Creed and Borderlands, has replaced the previous group of composers for the game’s music and does a fantastic job. The music matches the environments extremely well (perhaps excluding a couple of locations, like the Eastern-sounding music in an early temple) and flows perfectly with the mood of the game, whether Death is exploring terrain or clobbering enemies. Combined with some atmospheric sound effects, the music is good enough to aid the story along; it feels epic even when you’re being told to fetch another key item for the umpteenth time. The voice acting is remarkable once again as well, led by Michael Wincott as Death. There are few people who can follow in the footsteps of the legendary Liam O’Brien, but Wincott is one of them, and his voice acting here is the best of a very strong cast.
Superb boss battles, great sound design, and beautiful artistic direction mostly makes up for the moments in which a friendly AI decides to stare at a wall for a few hours or Dust thinks it’s funny to lead you in circles around a dungeon. However, when reminiscing on its predecessor (not to mention the franchises it derives so heavily from), which was clean, contained some interesting puzzles, and never had any tedious hours, it’s hard to be completely satisfied with the product Vigil Games has delivered this time around. The puzzles are almost nonexistent, much of the story revolves around fetching key items from dungeons, there are constant glitches and loading times, and all of the worst elements of the game are coalesced into a long-winded third-person-shooter level that might literally put you to sleep. Death’s adventure in this large, beautiful world can provide its share of thrills, but even with the added RPG elements and more imposing scale, Darksiders 2 is a step back from its predecessor.
Superb soundtrack | A few outstanding boss battles | Great art design
Major glitches and constant loading times | Puzzles are almost nonexistent | Horrendous shooting level late in the game drags on forever
First introduced to gaming with Wolfenstein 3D, Daniel has never looked back. He still returns to the old classics while enjoying the current generation, and beats every game he can get his hands on. In addition, he loves to read and write and is an avid follower of sports and martial arts.
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Never played the original Darksiders and wondering what all the fuss is about? All you need to do is imagine a blending of The Legend of Zelda and God of War. Developer Vigil Games openly borrows from these franchises, and at times you might wonder if they’re crossing the line into plagiarism. Of course, if you’r