Play as Death in Darksiders II

A really appealing aspect of THQ and Vigil Games’ Darksiders was its fiction. The idea that an end-war between heaven and hell would result in the destruction of Earth and mankind; as well as a conspiracy that resulted in War (one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse) being made a scapegoat was interesting to say the least. The supporting fiction (featurettes, graphic novels) added a great deal to the existing mythos — ultimately making it both immersive and engaging. While its story base was solid, Darksiders mixed up the gameplay, incorporating elements of hack-and-slash, loose RPG mechanics, environmental puzzles and Legend of Zelda-inspired dungeons. Not much has changed.

In Darksiders II, you play as Death, another of the apocalyptic horsemen. It isn’t a proper sequel at all — the events take place during War’s 100-year imprisonment at the hands of the Charred Council, which in essence is approximately two minutes of the first game’s prologue section. Death is convinced that War is innocent and sets out on a mission to prove this — in direct violation of the council’s orders, of course. The journey first takes him to the ‘Keeper of Secrets’, an older gentleman who promptly attacks Death after revealing a substantial amount of information (obviously) — in particular about Death finding the Tree of Life. After the ensuing battle, Death ends up in the Forge Lands, a dying world inhabited by an ancient race called the Makers, who, apart from sporting distinctly Scottish accents, also created the universe, apparently. His journey then gets pretty interesting, and the series’ storytelling comes to the fore once more — and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s some good voice acting here as well — even if most of the characters in the first third sound like Gimli from Lord of the Rings. Most importantly, Darksiders II does a great job of expanding the series’ fiction.

“Derived” would probably be the best term to describe the gameplay (“ripped off” would be a little harsh). Like the first game, Darksiders II combines elements from several games — and it does this rather cheekily, and well. Combat has a strategy side to it, while remaining satisfying (a combination of Devil May Cry and God of War, if you will), while the environmental puzzles are very Prince of Persia: Sands of Time inspired. There’s a pseudo open-world also, with long distances that can be traversed on horseback with the occasional random encounter with enemies. Inventory and character progression systems add a little bit of RPG depth to the gameplay, topped off with multiple resource bars (Health, Wrath and Reaper). No complaints about the combat in general — the character progression system is well paced, so there’s always a new skill just around the corner, waiting to be unlocked. And just as monotony begins to set in, you’ve got a boss or mini-boss to contend with. Apart from an occasionally wonky camera, combat is aces. The same can’t be said for the environmental puzzles and immensely confusing dungeons.

The platforming feels a bit tedious, and perhaps a little too heavily scripted. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t much amiss with the mechanics themselves (they are well refined for the most part) — it’s just that there’s way too much of it. Dungeons have also been designed for the sole purpose of making you question your sense of direction. Then there’s the frustrating moment when Death can barely jump a foot and hold on to something if there isn’t a provision for it (a wooden ledge, for instance). It would have helped if Vigil went easy on the environmental puzzles (or removed them entirely!) in the next Darksiders.

Overall, Darksiders II is a highly competent hack-and-slash action adventure with a story that adds a great deal to the series’ fiction. Now, if only there were fewer of those cursed environmental puzzles. Darksiders II is now available on PC, PS3 and X360.

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