The original Darksiders which was published a few years ago was a third person rompfest of hacking, slashing, adventuring, leaping, puzzling and generally looming around the place.
You were War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and by jiminy you brought it in a plot full of demons and in the continuing midst of the battle between heaven and hell. There was the normal weapon progression and then also the usage of magic where when you used it you could really kick some ass.
It was great fun and brought to mind such games as Diablo, God of War and Devil May Cry and had an all-star cast including such luminaries as Mark Hamill and the chap who played the militant Freddie Mercury lookalike bad guy in the Arnie movie, Commando.
Darksiders II (DSII) is bigger, better, and more parallely than the first. Ok, it’s as parallel as the first.
DSII casts you into the protagonist of the first game’s fellow brother of the apocalypse, Death (the other two horseman are Piers Morgan and the guy that threw the bottle on the track at the Olympics) and the game plays in roughly the same time period as the first but from Death’s perspective. It sets the scene very well if you have played the first and it’s not too jarring if you haven’t as you play a load of new levels and dungeons which are double the size of the first game.
The story was difficult to follow but it has something to do with a Charred Council and Demon Lords and Destroyers destroying other destroying things in a demon lord-like manner. You, as Death, must resurrect humanity from the apocalypse that your brother War has been accused of starting to bargain for his life. You do this as it might help War, but Death doesn’t sound too sure about it and the other characters that Death bounces the idea off are sort of like “uh huh, yeah, that will definitely help. The Charred Council that sentenced him are well known for how reasonable they are”. In addition, at some point, you go to a place which is seemingly inhabited by Scottish people. Consider this a fair warning.
The first game was a rich, seamless immersive universe and this one just cranks it up to 11 and it is definitely a lot more open.
Whilst the main plot is necessarily the driving force for completing the game in a quasi-linear progression, the real fun is all the numerous side quests that the NPCs willing dish out on the city-type hubs that permeate the landscape. I actively disregarded the main quest at some points when I got to a particularly juicy hub just to explore and to take on some of the side quests from the NPCs as you could get some seriously powerful weapons and magical artefacts from completing the side missions.
The game starts in an unforgiving windswept alien frozen tundra which looked fantastic until you got close up to objects and then you can see how close to the end of the Xbox 360’s life it is. The game looks good, don’t get me wrong, but just looked a bit ropey up close. The first level is a great introduction to the game. The ice giants are made of, well, ice, and you are made of hammers, scythes, and death. You have a horse called Despair where you can magic him up from somewhere when you need him. He is pretty badass. The other levels explore various other difference types of landscapes like Hyrule-style woods and mountainous areas etc.
Tell me, do you like dungeons? Really dark ones with lots of magical goodies and nasties hanging out there? If you do (and I knew that you did anyway) then you are going to love DSII from the get-go as you virtually jump straight into some dungeon sessions within the first few levels. They aren’t the fully fleshed-out hardcore ones from the first game but merely a taste of what is to come later on in the game and it really helps you get back into the swing of things.
Movement is very fluid and you can run, jump and run up walls and greasy poles and jump between them. You can also scrabble around on the ceiling like some sort of demented death beetle then drop down on bad guys and hammer the shit out of them. Inventory and powers screen is fairly standard. Intuitive because lots of other games have virtually the same one or at least the same style.
Fighting is tight, slick, fast and furious. You can glide around and duck and dodge whilst slicing lumps off the bad guys.
The dodging reminds me slightly of Batman: Arkham City as it is very quick and your character responds instantly to the buttons. In terms of weapons, you start with dual scythes that you whip around together like giant scissors quite satisfyingly. You pick up a gigantic hammer towards the start as well where you can bash the hell out of people but you can swap or buy other secondary weapons further on in the game.
A slight issue that is characteristic of this sort of game is that you can over dodge whilst fighting if you get into it too much and suddenly you overreach and then find yourself being attacked from behind but this is probably just my exuberant playing style. You earn skill points and with these you can level up in one of two ways, either as Harbinger or Necromancer. There doesn’t seem to be any intrinsic stylistic difference between the two but they just allow you to get different types of fighting powers. You can assign hotkeys from a radial control which makes it very handy in a scrap. Rumours of the inclusion of a secret Gatling gun that fires the souls of people who dislike cats are unsubstantiated however.
Gold is the game’s currency and there are various market traders within hubs to buy various spells and upgrades to weapons etc. You can also collect pages from the Book of the Dead for your friend Vulgrim and he rewards you handsomely for it. There lots of other forms of loot as well. One handy option you can turn on is an auto-collect for loot so you just have to run through goodies and you pick them up with no further expended effort. Loot comes in all forms from weapons to armour to potion ingredients. You can also acquire talismen which give you various enhancements. As there are so many different types of stuff you can collect or spend it balances the game quite nicely. You can collect and upgrade to suit your own playing style.
Overall, this game is fantastic. Sure, there are a few graphical issues but as mentioned earlier that is mostly the blameless nature of the life cycle of the console and the magnificent set pieces and tight fighting styles more than make up for this. Yes, it is a genre that has been done a lot, but not to death. Darksiders II is as polished as hell, and is pretty much one of the best games I have played all year.