The original Darksiders, released back in 2010, was an eclectic blend of everything from God of War to Portal. While Darksider’s story, setting and presentation were all top notch, many of the basic gameplay elements felt somewhat parred down in comparison to its many inspirations. So after plenty of hype and lots of media attention, does Darksiders 2 manage to rise above its predecessor to carve out its own identity? Definitely.
Darksiders 2 starts immediately after the Horseman War’s fateful apocalyptic rampage in the original title. You see, War rode unbidden and (allegedly) began the apocalypse long before humanity stood any chance of defending themselves in the melee between heaven and hell. For this crime War has been imprisoned and stripped of his powers while he awaits imminent judgement for his supposed crimes. This is where Death comes into the story, utterly determined to free his brother War through any means necessary, even if he has to resurrect all of humanity to erase the crime itself.
With the story explained I’m going to get this out of the way now and just say that I found Death to be a far superior character to War. While I did and do enjoy War’s character, Death just has a lot more going for him. Death has flaws, personality and an actual character arc. Yeah sure, Death is a complete badass and voice actor Michael Wincott is a perfect fit for his dry, snarky sense of wit. However, he’s also a character who genuinely has to face the remains of his haunted pass in order to redeem both himself and his brother. I wont go into any spoilers, but there’s a wonderful symmetry to the story’s resolution and how it ties into Death’s backstory, one that’s made all the better by Jesper Kyd’s fantastic score. Needless to say, Death is probably my favorite new character of the year.
Thankfully Vigil wasn’t content simply to upgrade the story and main character, instead choosing to expand and improve upon virtually every aspect of the game and its world. Though the world itself is open and allows you to tackle challenges, dungeons and missions pretty much at your own pace, the progression between world hubs is relatively linear. This isn’t a problem though as Darksiders feels designed to give you a sense of freedom while still keeping you on track along the story’s main narrative. Speaking of the worlds themselves, they are many and varied. You’ll travel everywhere from the Crowfather’s frozen keep, the to edge of hell itself throughout the course of your journey. The world design itself is masterfully creative and enjoyable to look at, with great designs and plenty of detail in each and every world. Perhaps my only complaint about Darksiders 2 and its visuals would have to be the very low resolution textures and the occasional frame rate dip during heavy action, both of which do place a slight blemish on an otherwise gorgeous visual design.
Gameplay is likewise near perfect, featuring silky smooth controls that make your time in combat as Death feel ever vibrant and exciting. Completely dropping the blocking mechanics of the previous game, Death doesn’t bother to block enemy attacks, choosing instead to simply not be there when an enemy strikes. This dodging mechanic adds a lot to the game, keeping you on your toes and constantly alert as you dish out a savage flurry of attacks with your scythes. Death also has a new level progression system with two entirely separate ability trees for both his melee and magical powers. Whether you’d like to increase your critical chance or summon a swarm of exploding ghouls is entirely up to you and respecs are readily available if you decide to try something new.
Adding to the RPG sensibilities is the plentiful availability of randomized loot. With every kill, treasure chest and secret area bringing with it a chance for randomized loot in the form of potions, weapons, armor or gold, you’ll soon find yourself happily exploring every nook and cranny of the game world and putting the beatdown on enemies just in the hopes of finding that next great item. Puzzles make their return, first starting out easy and then becoming more and more difficult as various mechanics are added into the mix, eventually culminating in some extremely satisfying and head scratching conundrums by the end.
Traversal mechanics have also been spruced up quite a bit, but are sadly hit and miss. You see, Death is quite agile in comparison to War and can wall run and ledge grab like nobodies business. Typically these newfound platforming mechanics are fun and interesting, adding some added adrenaline and challenge as you move from one area to the next. However, I did find that the platforming controls tend to fall apart from time to time in a manner similar to Assassin’s Creed with contextual actions sometimes failing to properly interpret your controller inputs and sending you 200 feet down into a vat of lava. The platforming does work more often than not, but it bears mentioning nonetheless.
Save for a few small missteps, Darksiders 2 is a rare example of an almost perfect sequel. Not content to simply shove out a sequel with a halfhearted effort, Vigil games have taken it upon themselves to make a game that improves upon virtually every facet of the previous title. It’s a post-apocalyptic, Christian mythology saturated, action adventure RPG, parkour platforming, puzzler loot fest in multiple open worlds. It’s called Darksiders 2, and I love it.