Having just completed a puzzle that saw me turn Death into a statue, sending Green Death to a lever and Black Death to another, I felt confident I was unstoppable. In the next room awaits enemies with plans to end my current run. This doesn’t shake me though; I am, after all, unstoppable. I stalk the enemies. I am the hunter. I am the one now capable of singling out who needs to be picked off first in the blink of an eye. I AM DEATH.
Without hesitation I charge them head on. With a flick of the jump button, Death soars through the air and reigns down a monstrously deafening hammer blow. As Death’s feet touch the ground he summons his fiery-exploding minions to fend off the runts of this litter and pulls out his dual scythes ready to finish off those foolish enough not to die. Within seconds, all that remains is the delicious sound of scythe on flesh as he flies into a whirlwind of death and destruction.
As Death surveys the empty room, surrounded by loot and the macabre, yet sombre, surrounding of a fixed palette world, this was the point where everything became clear to me. I wasn’t playing an adult version of the Legend of Zelda; I wasn’t playing a generic hack ‘n’ slash. I was playing the quintessentially brilliant Darksiders II, an epic masterpiece in the strictest sense of the word.
Darksiders II exemplifies an innate excellence in understanding what’s current, how to keep the player entertained, and how to leave us with our mouth wide open in pure awe of what we’ve just witnessed.
At the heart of it, Darksiders II is a puzzle-adventure game. The underlying theme is to get through dungeons by solving the right combinations of levers, platforms, along with the correct path via climbing (which often doesn’t work as it should but doesn’t detract from the overall experience).
Darksiders however, is so much more than just jumping and moving things around the world. There’s a plethora of RPG elements thrown in that make everything that much more immersing. The skill trees, for example, offer up choice. Players can pick and choose how they want their Death to fight.
The first of two trees focuses on combat. Through this, the player can invest points into new attacks, such as a teleporting slash, or a shield to boost Death’s damage output, or my favorite: a spinning attack where Death shows his true Grim Reaper form for a split-second while damaging all in the immediate area.
The second skill tree is for those who prefer magic based offense, including spells to summon minions, which can then be kitted out to explode or catch fire, or a spell to increase your defensive parameters.
Death’s mana bar isn’t never-ending like in most games. Skills aren’t something you can use constantly to win battles as your bar empties quickly. You have to use your attacks sensibly. Charging an enemy and spamming a special attack will do great damage, but may also leave you open for attack.
The lesson here: use your brains folks. Combat comes first, then the spamming of spells.
Combat, like everything in Darksiders II, has a breadth of depth, which is a little odd considering there are only two attack buttons. On the Xbox version, ‘X’ uses your scythe attack, while ‘Y’ unleashes your secondary attack and weapon.
Weapons can range from rapid-attack claws all the way to over-sized hammers. Me? I went for the glaives, a spear-like weapon. Well, I say spear; it’s more like a giant sword sellotaped onto a spear’s shaft, designed for the fatal poking of enemies.
Each of the weapons have different charge up attacks attached, so finding one that suits how you fight is the key to any battle. I found a set of claws which gave me health with every slash and have saved my life on many, many occasions. The issue I had though, stems from the fact they’re a damage-per-second weapon, and while they were great, I needed something with a little more girth behind it (yeah, yeah, that’s what she said).
Enter the glaive. The glaive enabled me to pull off such feats as the charged up poke, that does insane damage, and the overhead slam, a great way to knock back enemies and clear a path. What makes it even better, is that combos are not just confined to one weapon. You can mix it up. Opening with a ‘Y’ attack then quickly switching into an ‘X’ attack is a superb way to shorten enemy lifespans.
On paper, the combat should be fairly simplistic. In practice, it’s immensely addictive fun that offers something for the people who want to button-bash and something complex enough for those of us wanting more.
Even the smaller aspects of combat that many developers forget has been tweaked to be the best in can be. Mounted combat from the saddle of the ever-faithful horse, Despair, is easy to get to grips with. Holding down the trigger locks onto a target, allowing Death to perform drive by dangerous scything, rear the horse, and swing round for another. It’s straightforward, but works flawlessly.
Combat isn’t the only thing that the people over at Vigil Games focused on. Each dungeon has been carefully crafted to give its own unique styling so that you never feel like you’re playing the same dungeon on repeat. Dungeon settings are greatly varied, from oceanic ruined cities, to mountainous landscapes, to breathtaking dystopian environments with a completely different atmosphere to all that came before them.
Another focal point for Vigil is loot. Loot plays an important role in Darksiders II. There’s also more loot present than you can shake a stick at. Enemies drop loot, chest drops loot, bosses drop loot. You’ll find tonnes of loot on your journey to hitting the level 30 cap.
These goodies show a neat twist. Instead of the sort of equipment drops you’ll find in many other games, Darksiders II features possessed weapons. These little blighters are cannibal weapons you can feed other weapons to, in turn making them stronger. Got an old sword that isn’t worth selling but has a nice frost element attached? Why not feed it to your possessed hammer and give that weapon the frost damage?
It’s a simple concept, but one that adds something extra to keep you engrossed in the world. Anyone who’s played an RPG will know the annoyance of being a high level and finding a useless ‘rusty sword’. Now the ‘rusty sword’ has a purpose, and one that I’m sure will lead to a community crafting an amazing online armory via the trading system.
Throughout the world are serpent stones. These stones act as an email inbox, allowing Death to send and receive items to other Darksiders II players. Aspects like this may not be integral, but they do show the dedication of Vigil to make Darksiders II everything it can be, and I applaud this kind of work ethic. There’s hundreds of little touches from Vigil that make this game so captivating. Loading screens aren’t filled with the mundane obvious tip accompanied by a picture. Instead, they take on a ‘Previously on LOST‘ approach, showing the player what they’ve accomplished recently, and what they’re supposed to be doing, then dropping you straight back into the thick of it.
By the way, the loading times (which admittedly aren’t an aspect I’d normally comment on unless they’re awful) are lightning fast. The open world does occasionally pause for a few seconds, but all-in-all there’s very little wait when loading kicks in; the same can be said for the actual load screens.
Another point I’d like to touch on, is the casting of Michael Wincott as the voice of Death. Wincott will always be known to me for his role in Alien: Resurrection as Frank Elgyn, the commander of the BETTY. Wincott brings an almost borderline psychopathic edge to the character. He plays the sarcastic aspects of Death with ease and the intense burning anger and rage with such conviction.
One line sums up Death perfectly:
PUP: People call me Pup, but I prefer my name, Karn.
DEATH: Pup it is then.
Death has many layers, he’s sarcastic, he’s driven, and by the end of the game, he’s tired and fed up and just wants to be done with it. It’s a testament to the abilities of Wincott (and the writing team) that these aspects shine through every time Death utters a single word.
Darksiders II is everything you want from a game. Puzzles are the right level of difficulty, combat is fast and eventually becomes a dance where Death glides from one enemy to another with grace, and it’s big. It took me 21 hours from start to finish and still there’s another 15 or so hours of side quests, the crucible, and weapon hunting. Then when you factor in New Game+, you realize just what a good investment Darksiders II is.
Sure, there’s a few kinks here and there, like with all games, but when you look back on Darksiders II these kinks become insignificant when held in comparison of everything it does right.
Darksiders II demonstrates brilliance at every turn – brilliance that is sure to entertain and excite any who would don the mask of Death.
“To all that fortune, Death and danger dare.”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet