DEATH IS HERE
With the release of Darksiders 2 hitting Wii U digital download we finally sit down and review DEATH in Darksiders 2, with off screenplay via the Wii U gamepad and with all DLC this makes the Wii U Version the definitive version to own for any fan.
From the very beginning of this much-hyped sequel, you can tell the developers felt like they had a lot to prove, and it shows through straight away, because whilst this is definitely a Darksiders game, the two titles are worlds apart (sometimes literally). You take the role of Death himself, the most enigmatic of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as he cuts his way through swathes of foes on a quest to absolve his brother, War, of the charges placed upon him in the first game.
Death’s story runs within the same timeline of the first game, making it more another side of the story than a direct sequel, but this is without a doubt the bigger half of the journey. To put things in perspective, Death visits four worlds, and the largest of these, The Forge Lands, is as big as all the separate zones in the first game combined. It’s not truly an open world game, but the amount of space that has been created purely for the sake of roaming is genuinely astounding at first, and it’s enough to make you fall in love with the game from the get go. There’s only a few rough edges as a frame rate stutters or a texture pops in awkwardly, and they’re barely enough to inspire any criticism. The visuals are distinctive and vibrant, even in the darker stages, and although Death can often end up looking like a mid-level Undead Rogue who needs to do some serious grinding, he’s a titanic improvement on War. Aside from some little aesthetic similarities to the gaming industry’s most flogged horse – sorry, World of Warcraft – there is nothing in the market today that looks as vibrant and full as Darksiders II does. It’s singularly gorgeous in a very individual way, a comic book come to life, and it makes the sheer amount of places to explore thrilling rather than daunting.
The game is simply huge, there’s no fancier way of putting it, but the great thing about it is there isn’t just open space for the sake of open space, for example, a huge open plain becomes the stage for one of the game’s biggest boss encounters. It’s all managed excellently, and makes traversing the world from objective to objective a fascinating experience because there are sidequests or bonus treasures tucked away in every corner. I encountered scores of puzzles that I didn’t have the means to solve yet out in the Forge Lands alone and had to skulk away, scythes between my legs, hoping I’d have the good sense to return once I had the right equipment and backtrack my way to all those hidden treasures, a quick tease of challenges yet to come. The only real problem with it is that there are far too many to remember specifically, so rather than heading back to solve individual dungeons, you’re forced to go on a massive clearing spree, retracing your steps in every world to grab collectibles you couldn’t the first time around. But would a Horseman of the Apocalypse go about such a chore?
A PALE RIDER
A great man once said an open world is only as good as the way you traverse it, and luckily Death gets around in style. He’s much more agile and athletic than his brother, wall-running and bouncing from surface to surface. Platforming is a much more prevalent part of the game this time around, and it’s well implemented into the puzzles and dungeons. It’s challenging, but thanks to the fact that it’s impossible for Death to die from falling off of cliffs or into molten lava, you’re never at the projectile controller level of frustration. Once you know what you need to do to get across the various environmental puzzles, you’ll be across them in no time – dungeons are big and sometimes challenging, and thankfully never too large to backtrack around, especially with Death’s nimble athletics. But for when you have one huge kingdom of death to cross and not a single wall to run on, there is only one feasible option – Despair.
War had Ruin, and Death rides a similar steed, and although it doesn’t seem like a significantly faster way to get around at first, it makes a huge difference. Bizarrely, most of the open world is almost totally empty save for a few wandering mobs lurking around puzzles or treasure chests, so Despair is the fastest way to get from place to place. There’s a fast travel option that allows you to return to the world hubs to sell off the masses of unwanted gear you’ll accumulate, and it makes satisfying those undeniable completionist urges we all get sometimes a much simpler process.
Even though the bigger worlds can feel empty, each level is highly individual in terms of design and challenges, you’ll encounter different enemies in every stage and that’s no simple feat these days. Rarely if ever will you encounter enemies who are just harder or reskinned variants of previous foes, and they’re all excellent fun to mulch through with Death’s extensive combat arsenal.
DON’T FEAR THE REAPER
Death feels like a machine of speed and blades even before any upgrades or levelling, quickly leaving the somewhat bland, static battles as War in the dust. The difference in gameplay is so instantly marked that War feels like a weird prototype as opposed to a full-fledged protagonist. He deftly rolls in and out of combat with fluid grace, swapping between the scythes that form the basis of his fighting repertoire and the vast array of secondary weapons and abilities at his disposal in a combat system that proves to be highly adaptable and intuitive. The game has a completely new loot system that puts it squarely in the RPG corner, as roaming monsters and boss encounters both drop armour and weapons Death can equip to maximise your play style. Various stat bonuses provided by equipment allow you to shape him into a character that plays the way you want him to. Secondary weapons are split into categories of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’, and although individual pieces of loot can add extra nasty effects like fire or frost damage, the bigger the weapon, the more faces you’ll smash.
If you prefer to charge headfirst at the biggest thing you can see with an hammer twice your size and mop up whatever’s left when you’ve peeled the scraps of demon flesh from your face, you can equip him according to how you want to play. If you’d rather dodge in and out of range, targeting individual enemies and bringing them down with lightning fast gauntlet strikes, disappearing before they get the chance to strike back, that works just as well, because the scythes are efficient by themselves or as combo builders for either type of secondary weapon. It’s a true credit to the game’s design that the weapons work so well together, and each of the two talent trees can be attuned to your combat style too. With so many elements coming together in one furious melee, it would have been extremely easy for the game to fall prey to overly convoluted controls or just become a huge slog along two predefined combat paths, but it’s always interesting, and balanced enough to pose a decent challenge despite Death almost always having the upper hand.
It’s varied enough to remain fun for the 15+ hours the game can last for on a single playthrough, but at the later stages you’ll have found certain combinations that can be exploited to make short work of most enemies, and this makes a lot of encounters – especially boss fights – mostly procedural affairs of dodging, spamming your spell of choice, and then waiting it out to recharge your Wrath bar so you can rinse and repeat the most effective attacks. On the game’s standard difficulty, none of the bosses are anything resembling challenging once you work out the rudimentary pattern you need to follow, but they’re fun, incorporating new abilities Death has gained in different ways, requiring quick thinking as well as good reflexes. Some of them work out more as particularly dangerous puzzles, but the visuals and the dialogue are more than enough to set them apart and stand the game apart from most of 2012’s offerings.
CHOOSE YOUR DEATH
It’s no secret that War, greatsword wielding bad-ass that he was, had about as much personality as a brick starring in The Hills (Or anyone starring in The Hills, actually), and Death’s intensive characterisation does a lot to remedy that particular shortcoming. He’s nothing short of hellbent on saving War and in the process, the human race, but this doesn’t turn him into some dark, brooding stereotype tortured by a bleak past. The man walks around with all the souls of his dead brothers in his chest and never stops to complain about it once. Death is out to save the world, and he doesn’t doubt for one second that anything will be able to get in his way for long enough to stop him. He doesn’t take any crap, and best of all, he doesn’t have some terrible Christian Bale as Batman voice as a substitute for a kick-ass personality. Death is touted throughout as a cunning but indomitable warrior, versatile and able to overcome any obstacle with either wit or superior force, and this is reflected in the expansive new skill trees.
There are two distinct trees which can either be specialised in for full effect or muddled together like some – Harbinger, which focuses on empowering Death’s melee abilities with a range of buffs and close up damage abilities, allowing him to move quickly through the battlefield dealing masses of damage and reaping back , or the more conservative, spell-based Necromancer, who can summon ghouls and shields of crows to swarm difficult foes with ease. Both make playing and equipping Death a different experience, changing the way you approach combat and learn to overcome obstacles, or even create your own weapons to suit your stat needs.
One of the coolest new features of Darksiders II’s shiny new weapon system is the addition of Possessed Weapons. These are weapons that essentially level up with you, and you can feed them other weapons to give them new traits and stats suited to how you like to fight your battles. You can even name them, not only does this make Death feel all the more specific and personal to you, it adds an extra level of customisation to the already huge array of options for a single-player game.
I LOOKED AT DEATH, AND HE LOOKED BACK
I’ve already mentioned the graphics in passing but they’re worth going into a bit more detail. The game world as a whole is extremely organic in the way you travel from place to place, and this makes the beautiful level design and animation much easier to appreciate. Each one is so different that it doesn’t make exploring the soulless drag it could very easily become with the amount of sidequests and collectibles packed into the game.
Unfortunately the game has a tendency to lag quite badly with too many enemies or just particle effects on screen. Loading between areas is minimal but the game seems to struggle if too many characters are on screen at once, perhaps due to the highly individual animations. It never lags to the point of becoming unplayable but it can screw you over from time to time, or at least breaks the epic nature of the frequent big brawls. Because of this, the more enjoyable fights – visually, at least- tend to be the ones against one all-powerful enemy, as opposed to lots of little ones. Individual level and character design is of an extremely high quality, but environments and characters all have some lazy, mish-mashed texturing problems that can muddy up the otherwise unique character design. It doesn’t feel nearly as smooth as it should sometimes, and watching Death start jerking across the battlefield when he should be gliding gracefully from foe to foe with the almost artistic prowess he usually does is just weird. It wouldn’t have been a huge move to streamline or optimise the bigger game areas to cover this, I for one would have been all for longer loading times in favour of some better textures and less in-combat lag. Sound has a tendency to drop out during large scale battles and cutscenes, which causes conversations to skip through without subtitles and often dumps you in the middle of a story section with no context whatsoever.
When it plays, the music is a perfectly handcrafted compliment to Darksiders II. Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed, Borderlands, Hitman) returns to provide a score that is pulse-pounding, fluid, and exhilarating all at once, tightening up with furious violins as you square up to colossal golems, and fading into slow, melancholic accompaniments as the camera pans across wide open worlds ruined by corruption. It’s just as good as you’d expect, and sets the tone perfectly every time.
YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW
All flaws aside, Darksiders II has a lot to offer. Beyond the main quest, which can easily take up to ten hours alone, there are a plethora of extra puzzles, side quests, and extra tasks to complete, and due to the game’s great new weapon system, you can vastly improve Death by doing so. Each of the extra tasks is genuinely rewarding, but none more so than The Crucible.
The Crucible is a wave-based arena level you unlock after taking down a particularly troublesome Maker in the first ‘town’ area you encounter. Shortly afterwards you receive a message from an anonymous character in the in-game mailbox, challenging you to come and take part in the arena. You fight enemies in increasingly difficIt’s not complicated, and it works on a winner stays on basis – the further you push your luck, the grander the prizes, and the greater the danger. This part of the game adds a hell of a lot of replay value and it’s easily the best way to hone your skills and discover the best gear combinations, earning even more Crucible exclusive loot in the process. You can easily spend hours in the arena alone, it’s that compelling, and it even gives you the chance to fight old boss battles again to see how you’ve improved since.
For gamers who really want to take the game further, completing it once unlocks ‘Nightmare Mode’, an extra difficulty where more powerful armour and weapons can be earned by defeating much more punishing bosses. You can also carry your Death over from one game to the next, enabling you to start from the beginning with all your upgrades and beloved equipment intact. Perhaps this level of attention to replay is leaving the door open for some of the promised DLC in months to come, and this is the game’s biggest problem.
It’s filled with content and atmosphere, it looks great, and beats the original game without question in almost every aspect. Towards the end of the game, the scale seriously starts slimming down, areas become more focused, dungeons become much smaller, and worlds go from yawning plains to glorified roads leading straight to your objective. Earth, for example, is one great big brown linear path which just doesn’t do even the first game’s vision of the world, devoid of human life, justice. The story loses most of its momentum and doesn’t really top some of the more fantastic moments in the first half, which leaves the incredibly short ending feeling a little flat. DLC has been promised to bulk this out, but as it stands, the endgame doesn’t outdo the stronger beginning.
The final verdict: It’s got tons of replay value, the amount of areas and dungeons to explore is incredible, and the difficulty is perfectly balanced. Customising Death from start to finish with the huge array of options available is brilliant, but there are some minor technical issues with the graphics themselves that stop the game from looking completely finished. Most of the problems with Darksiders II can easily be brushed away, because despite the flagging story and weird audio drops, it’s just a great experience that manages to effectively Frankenstein elements of the best games of the last decade into one glorious package. Death is finally here, and it’s been worth the wait.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.