Darksiders II review
Tue, 21 Aug 2012 10:42a.m.
By Michael Quartly–Kelly
I never played past the initial few stages of the first episode in the Darksiders franchise. Aside from the over-the-top drama of playing as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the gameplay seemed like nothing more than the same repetitive, pattern-seeking, brainless arcade-style nonsense that we’ve all gotten used to and bored with.
A week ago I was 12 hours into Darksiders II and ready to write it off as another RPG-lite third-person button-masher, owing more than a little to those that have come before. All the clichés were there – running and jumping, swishing and stabbing, and every combination thereof. Every merchant has some swishier weapons for sale and every dungeon has a bigger beasties to be jump-stabbed. All in all, very par-for-the-course and totally uninspired.
A week later however and my opinion has been flipped entirely.
In Darksiders II you take on the mantel of Death, another horseman and War’s protective sibling, on a quest to save his little brother from the some sort of cosmic judiciary who have trapped him in the nether realm. In doing so he might have to save all of mankind, but that just seems like a means to an end, as Death and literally everyone else in this game seems pretty blasé about what happens to all the mortal souls that are strewn about as torture art and set dressing.
Graphically the game is as crisp as you can expect on the current consoles, with a heavily stylised cartoon look. The hulking Asgardian-like denizens of the Forgelands near the start of the game are all gender-extreme caricatures and contrast heavily with the emaciated forces of the dead you need to deal with in the next section. As you travel through the individual motif-laden worlds on your fraternal quest, you should come to appreciate the tight artistic bulwark that makes up each realm and the characters within.
There is nothing too complex about the gameplay. The standard joystick and run button combo has you wall climbing in no time and, with a few additional jump presses, soon gives way to wall running and leaping from surface to surface, the like of which we’ve seen in Prince of Persia and its stellar spinoff, Assassin’s Creed. Attack button combos are also easy enough that you’ll be pulling off Kratos-like brutal moves accidentally, more often than not. The levelling system is almost non-existent. Every now and then you are awarded a skill point which can be assigned to a bunch of magic abilities. As skill points seem pretty rare, I opted to put all mine in a single basket and levelled up my zombie summoning powers, letting me unleash some damage soaking minions whenever I felt I needed to.
Death really starts to come into his own however, when he finds his first possessed weapon. These artefacts can be levelled up by sacrificing other items and can soon develop into powerful sources of additional benefits – from extra damage and defence to faster gold and experience gathering. You pick up some nifty items and skills along the way too, like an energy claw that lets you grasp items at a distance and the ability to split yourself into three separate bodies for some clever multi-tasking. In this way the game reminded me a lot of the Playstation’s Legacy of Kain series or even Nintendo’s mighty Zelda franchise, where a new item or ability allowed you to progress past a previously impossible situation.
This game works some subtle magic on a player ready to persevere past the opening tutorial stages and into the deeper game levels. It’s all very dungeon crawl-oriented, but each delve seemed to be about the right length – long enough to seem like an achievement, but never so long that you’ll run out of patience. The puzzle-solving is also nicely paced and, with a good menu and mapping system, never too difficult to work through. A level head and a thorough investigation of your surroundings always sets you on the right path to success, even in the most fiendish catacombs.
There were a few hanging problems in my play through and a few background glitches in the distance, but no more than what is seen in most games today and certainly not at the level of some of the more graphically ambitious titles. All up this is a fun time-killer with an interesting mythology and some seriously killer dungeons, so much so that I’m going to dust off that first Darksiders game and give it another shot.
Four and a half out of five stars.
:: Publisher: THQ
:: Developer: Vigil Games
:: Format: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
:: Rating: R16
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