Review by DarkSymbiote

"With Death comes new life"

When War landed back in 2010, his outing was met with lukewarm reception. Often graded as an unoriginal robbery of more famous games including The Legend of Zelda and Devil May Cry, it did have a fairly innovative world and plot. If anything, War's plight was a tad intriguing one. Two years later, Vigil Games aims to elevate the series in a journey of superior quality with a new assortment of ingredients. Consisting of several improvements, a new protagonist as well as deeper exploration, can Darksiders II exalt the franchise's potential or are the Four Horsemen destined to forever battle against Hell's minions?

Story

Let us now cast our gaze to one amongst the Four. Not War, who lies chained at the Council's feet, professing his innocence, but one who would save his brother, above all else.

Acting as a parallel sequel, Darksiders II follows Death's resoluteness in searching for a way in bringing humans back from extinction to bargain for his brother's freedom. During your globetrotting across various realms for access to the Tree of Life, you'll meet several friends and foes, each of whom will reveal at least something new about the universe. Death is more ruthless than his brother but a lot nicer and more caring at the same time.

As much expository conversations you'll have, the story lags for a long time in the middle and takes a while to get back up again, ending with a weak finale with disappointing results. The interactions between the Rider and characters have improved tremendously. Heavy and to the point interactions are generally resolved in cutscenes but deeper commentary goes into modern RPG territory involving Death and the other participant involved in a tete a tete.

Dialogue doesn't sound unnaturally forced and overly brutish or 'demonic' anymore and has a smoother feel with the overall story taking a leap from the first Darksiders. Death speaks in a clam, cynical manner, and is a huge step forward from his droning brother. The general writing stays good and focused even if the plot feels like wandering off at times.

Design and Gameplay

And in the final moment of battle, Death was banished to one such world-in the autumn of its life, yet not far from the edge of darkness.

Darksiders II eschews the single hub area of its predecessor and focuses more on a pseudo open world style. Death's horse, Despair, serves as a primary mode of transportation when outside of dungeons. The amount of overall unique equipment in general has gone down considerably though. Each overworld is connected through a nexus and littered with dungeons, including multiple optional ones, keeping in theme with their macrocosm. Aside from the main quest, NPCs will frequently task Death with cliched RPG tasks, the worst of them being fetch quests. These plague the story with their tedium. You are forced to reclaim and destroy among other multiple things continuously throughout the story. These often make the game lose its sense of adventure. Thankfully, Darksiders II doesn't feel as notoriously padded as the original, even though it's second act's dungeons look extremely similar to each other. There is also the Serpent Tomes which allow you to exchange equipment online but this feels totally out of place.

Incorporating RPG elements, Darksiders II deviates a fair amount from its forefather. While enemies do provide a supply experience and gilt, completion of missions present them in a greater quantity. New skills are unlocked by levelling up, coming across paraphernalia or buying new moves from trainers. Vulgrim isn't the only the only merchant this time around and his role has been reduced significantly. A dungeon generally ends with an epic boss before asking you to navigate by jumping across walls, finding keys from chests and unlocking doors as well as solving puzzles. Another of Death's animal companions is Dust. This unusual crow will point you toward the right direction with a simple click of the left stick without making it too easy. The amount of puzzles has been simplified considerably although it doesn't necessarily make for a bad abridgement. Unlike the previous installment, the dungeons don't look varied as much even though they are less unnecessarily stretched out. This is accentuated by the ones present in the Land of the Dead. Staying true to the loot system, enemies, crates and chest drops new equipment quite frequently. Along with the regular spoils, you will often come across possessed weapons which can be enhanced by feeding them other equipment. It does take a while to make them level to your current status though.

Combat works just like any other analogous action-adventure with dial-a-combos. Primary weapons are always dual scythes but secondary one's can vary from heavy hitters like glaives and hammers to swift and effective bucklers and claws. Fighting is fast, perhaps a bit too much. Skill points can be used to unlock abilities from two skill trees: The physical Harbinger and the summoning Necromancer. Each side brings its own advantages and you don't necessarily have to purchase all prior abilities to unlock new ones. A level requirement and the preceding skills in its particular chain are all that's needed.

The camera generally does a poor jop keeping up with the action and this is accentuated by the series' flawed lock on system. Focussing in on an enemy requires holding down a shoulder button and the game presents a very widescreen mode with black bars on top and bottom. Besides limiting your perspective and making a sudden and odd transition, the camera remains wobbly and you need to manage it still, which is the same method of switching between enemies. Heightening the frustration is Death's ignorance to button inputs. Often after getting hit with heavy attacks, Death doesn't seem to respond unless you move him around a bit first. It's not as if he is stunned either, he just ignores most button inputs during this period. This can lead to being pummeled a lot more than it should have been, intensified by the poor button mapping on the controller. It's refreshing then that there is a much greater enemy variety this time around mixed up with more diverse gameplay.

The platforming is a bit simple. Failure has little repercussion and you'll be promptly flown back to the nearest platform. For some reason Death can only grab onto wooden edges and it feels downright dumb and outdated when he can't climb over a short block. As smooth as the platforming is at times, the Death Grip, ripped straight out of Devil May Cry 4, often fails at platforming. It's only precise 70% of the time.

The game's biggest offender is the lack of polish. Freezes and glitches are abound, many of them being game breaking. This could have been alleviated with multiple save files similar to the game's progenitor. Make sure you back up using a flash drive. The online pass and pre-order content makes Darksiders II feel like an incomplete experience when you come across those obvious quests meant to be included from the beginning.

Visulas

See your journey to its end Horseman, you will understand soon enough.

Joe Madureira's art does a good job at representing the Darksiders world. While not a big step up from the original, it retains the neat and almost comic book style. Some characters have unsettling faces however. Perhaps it's a good thing that Death wears a mask. For a 2012 game, it doesn't look too impressive but in no way can it be considered visually bad. If only the blood didn't look like wet paper.

Audio

Voices... always voices... torment without end.

Jepser Kyd's score steals the show. A huge step up with thumping tracks during boss encounters and beautiful melodies in the course of platforming and puzzles, the music makes up for a large number of faults. The game is at its best during a big fight when a characteristically fitting tune pops up. The rush is indeed satisfying.

Voice is quite good with Michael Wincott's Death being the star. Sound effects, while generally satisfactory, have a tendency to surge in volume during some cinematics. Having the remote nearby is recommended.

Pros:

- Beautiful and pumping music
- Game lasts around 20 hours
- Most boss fights are well done

Cons:

- Multiple game breaking glitches
- Weak climax
- Online pass and pre-order bonuses make it seem like a piecemeal

Final verdict

Had Death been sent to his doom? That answer would be found in the Horseman's future-and in his past.

Darksiders II is a massive improvement from the first game. Handling pacing much better, a superior soundtrack, improved gameplay and smoother platforming. However, the world feeling partial at times complete with disastrous glitches that may make you lose countless hours of play. That said it isn't a total deal breaker and delight can be found within this cruel world of Angels & Demons.

Rating: 8.4


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/30/12, Updated 09/19/12

Game Release: Darksiders II (US, 08/14/12)


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