Review by Hak

"Death rides forth, but in fairly unspectacular style"

So, Darksiders gave us the Apocalypse, unleashing one quarter of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse on Earth due to some sort of administrative error. As a result, War (the being himself, not the favoured pasttime of developed nations) was put on trial and had to account for himself. At some point while War was serving time for being a naughty boy, his brother Death decides that he's going to fix everything - not by proving War's innocence, as would happen in most other stories, but instead by erasing the crime itself. Yes, it's ambitious, but Death believes that he's up to the task - enter Darksiders 2.

Anyone who played Darksiders will find themselves in a fairly familiar setting - an amalgamation of ideas borrowed from other contemporary games, where your super-powered self has to go forth and find out how to complete the main objective. It's a decent formula, and certainly has its attractions, but the lack of innovation does have its downsides. Death plays very differently from his predecessor; he's quicker and more agile, relying on dodges rather than blocks and parries. He's less honourable than War was too, and thinks nothing of beating up a crazy old man in the opening sequence to get his own way.

The game itself is big. Very big. It's easily double the size of the first game, and that in itself was a fairly decent length. On a straight playthrough time of between 17-20 hours, Darksiders 2 certainly holds its own in respect to most modern adventures. Put that up to around 25 hours for all the sidequests to be completed, and we have an impressive clock-in for a current generation adventure. As there is no multiplayer, the extra length does help to justify spending the money on Darksiders 2 from an on-paper perspective, and the many varied sidequests add more flavour and depth to the title.

Graphically, Darksiders 2 is more of the same from the first game. Fortunately, the screen-tearing issues that plagued the prequel on the Xbox 360 have been resolved, and there aren't many areas where the game forces scenery popups on you by surprise. The art style suits the environments well - the first area giving you a mixture of corrupted architecture in stages of decay along with large, verdant fields. Further areas also feel "just right" - the backgrounds fit the areas that the story sends you to, with nothing ever obviously feeling out of place. I've not experienced any slowdown, even in larger battles with many on-screen enemies, and the character designs fit in with the overall feeling of the world itself. The audio is well done, with the voiceover actors fitting the characters they portray. The music itself is fantastic, with the themes in each area fitting in as well as the graphics do. The combat effects are meaty and well defined, making combat a little more satisfying when the loud crunch of the heavier weapons hit home.

From a gameplay perspective, Darksiders was often compared to the Legend of Zelda games. The sequel continues in that vein, while also adding in God of War like combat, Soul Reaver style puzzles, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time obstacle traversal. The puzzles themselves are never overly difficult, and generally involve making use of climbable areas of the environment to reach a switch that will, in some way, allow access to the next part of the area. The gameplay is fluid, fast-paced, and fun. In a new feature from Darksiders, Darksiders 2 also brings in certain RPG elements. Death can level up, earning skill points which give access to new abilities, and allow him to use better items. Some items can be fully customised and upgraded, while certain rare items have unique effects, such as stealing health from enemies on every hit, or unlocking the full range of moves for Death to utilise before they've been purchased from the trainers. The skill system gives access to 2 unique skill trees - one side focuses on physical combat abilities and their upgrades, while the other side focuses more on magical moves such as summoning ghouls to assist you. Should you wish to change your specialisations, for a nominal fee a respec can be purchased, resetting all the points and allowing you to customise your setup again. This adds a sense of depth to the game which Darksiders lacked, and which caters to players who would prefer to play in a particular way. Death has access to a large number of secondary weapons to complement his main scythes - fast attacking claws and armblades, to slow, heavy hitting hammers and heavy axes. These make the combat interesting, and the ability to customise "possessed" versions of all weapons allow for players to create setups which work specifically for them.

There are a generous amount of sidequests available to Death as he goes through his journey to absolve his brother. These range from finding special stones to feed to one of the many NPCs, to finding pages of the Book of the Dead, to doing fetch quests for other individuals. The rewards from these quests vary in usefulness, however they do add more breadth to the overall experience and help flesh out the core game. New copies of DS2 also include a "Crucible Code" which allows access to a large arena area, giving a very solid challenge over 101 waves of enemies.

So far, we've got a great game in-the-making - a very large gameworld, a generous amount of content in that world, a super-powered protagonist with a bad attitude, and an interesting story, so what could go wrong? Well, unfortunately, quite a few things. The game has launched with various glitches on the 360 version, one or two of which are so severe they can prevent players from continuing from certain points of the game. While these may be patched out in the future, it's worrying that THQ delayed the release from June to ensure that the title was "perfect" on release. If played for a while, the sound will stutter and can actually end up stopping entirely - if this happens at a particular point in the story, there is the effect of an NPC not opening the way to the next area, forcing a restart of the console and a reload of the game. The loot system also follows that of the Diablo series, with too many items dropping which are essentially "useless", and while a quick teleport system allows you to return to hubs to sell these items, I would have preferred less items dropping but with a better chance of useful side-effects or abilities on them.

Unfortunately, the main problem with Darksiders 2 is the story. While the first game set up an epic story of a war between Heaven and Hell, with the Four Horsemen being unleashed to restore the balance, Darksiders 2 feels like one long fetch quest. The main objective is discovered within the opening minutes of the game, and the remainder of the plot serves only that one objective. To complete this, Death - one of the Four, a being whose entire existence is to "ride forth" and destroy things - seems to do mundane tasks for just about everyone he meets in the course of the game. While the first Darksiders had a plot which expanded over time, and nuggets of information were given to the player over the course of the plot which all created an epic, interweaving plot of justice, betrayal, and redemption, Darksiders 2's plot has little to none of this. There are no particular recurring characters through it, so you feel no real attachment to the NPCs through the course of the game. Each areas individual storylines are predictable and shallow, with the third area's being a prime example of this, and even one of the most dramatic sections of the game is rendered entirely meaningless mere moments later. There is also the introduction of various plot holes when the story of the first game is taken into account, which further adds to the disappointment.

On completion, Darksiders Part Deux allows players to either reload their last save if they wish to complete their sidequests, or start a "New Game+" on that save. New Game+ will carry over all skill points, character level, and items to start again. It also allows Death to level up further than is possible on the first playthrough. Also on completion, the "Nightmare" mode is unlocked. This is similar to Hardcore mode in Diablo, in that death is permanent (although environmental deaths are allowed) - should Death fall in combat, the save is wiped and all progress is gone. There are no achievements associated with this game mode, so for those trying to get a "perfect" score it isn't required, however it does give a "gamble" to players who feel that the game is too easy, even on the higher difficulty setting.

Darksiders 2 is a good game, something that has been in short supply this year. There is plenty of playability and replayability there, and the gameplay provides a fun distraction. However, given the glitches and the shallow story, in addition to the reliance on forthcoming DLC to flesh it out, I can't offer a full recommendation for purchase. The main concern is where the series can go from here - THQ have shown that the mythology behind the series, while interesting, isn't something they're able to flesh out, and so the final Horsemen - Strife and Fury - may find themselves out of a job.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/27/12

Game Release: Darksiders II (EU, 08/21/12)

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