The original Darksiders is what you might call a surprise hit. Released in early 2010 by THQ and Vigil Games, it was up against the likes of Bayonetta, God of War III, Mass Effect 2 and other juggernauts. It emerged from the pile-up, however, with critical acclaim and good sales, proving that it was a franchise with potential. The sequel is now a mere two weeks away, and it’s hoping to provide the same fantasy action-adventure experience minus the first game’s flaws. We’re here to give you the ultimate preview and provide you with all the info you need to know on the most anticipated title of the summer, Darksiders II.
The story of Darksiders II begins around the time the first game does. The horseman War (protagonist of the first game), having been accused of sparking a war between Heaven and Hell and bringing about the apocalypse, is banished to Earth by the Charred Council. Upon hearing the news, horseman Death immediately has his doubts and swears that his brother is innocent. After such claims are rejected by the council, Death sets off for the Nether Realm, a land between Heaven and Hell, to seek aid in freeing War. A guide by the name of Elder Eidard, as well as Death’s horse Despair, will be his most trusted allies in this long journey.
Many characters from the first game will return in the sequel, though we don’t want to spoil the fun and surprise of eventually meeting them. Death himself is voiced by the venerable Michael Wincott (Halo 2, Syndicate, Alien: Resurrection), whose deep voice is fitting for a being in charge of the way lives end. Elder Eidard’s voice, meanwhile, is provided by James Cosmo (Game of Thrones, Trainspotting, Braveheart).
Darksiders II is, like the first, a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to gameplay. Usually labeled as an action-adventure title, the game combines action, platforming, exploration, puzzles, and RPG elements into a seamless whole. The combat is mostly a hack-and-slash affair, albeit with some magic thrown in (more on that later). The combat system was heavily criticized in the first game for being slow and repetitive, so it’s been injected with huge amounts of variety this time around. Whereas War only had a single sword, gun, and scythe to deal pain with, Death has access to many different swords, axes, halberds, scythes, spears, projectile weapons, and more, each of which have several different combos and secondary attacks. In fact, Death’s move list in general has been greatly expanded. Blocking has been replaced with dodging, and Death is much more agile than War is, making the combat a truly fast and furious affair that more resembles the outstanding combat system from Batman: Arkham Asylum. Boss fights are another selling point for the game, as their gigantic size and the methods in which you’ll defeat them ensures you’ll need to be on your toes as well as your brain cells. Many of you have seen the titan in the trailers, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the game’s boss designs.
The platforming sections resemble those of Prince of Persia, with Death able to traverse pillars, ledges, and beams in a more realistic fashion than, say, a Mario title. Death will have access to some tools, like wings and a grappling hook, to further help with acrobatics. The puzzles utilize a lot platforming themselves, but also require outside-of-the-box thinking that nicely breaks up the pace from the action. They appear are just as frequently as they did before, though Vigil Games stated that they’ve made sure certain puzzles weren’t as frustrating or obtuse as last time. The game will last several dozens of hours even if you’re simply rushing through it, so variety within the game’s design is definitely welcome.
Darksiders II can also be classified an RPG, much more so than its predecessor. The world has not only been doubled in size, but its structure has changed considerably. Rather than the mostly linear progression of the first, the realms of Darksiders II consist of a hub connected to several different dungeons. Death can call on his horse Despair at any time, who comes in handy while traversing the large worlds, which are now more varied and colorful than ever. There are also a lot more NPCs in the sequel, all inhabiting the various hub cities. This should help bring the world to life and bring a sense that your actions are affecting the world. Primary and side quests are plentiful in the game, with the latter sometimes based on humorous situations to contrast with the more serious nature of the main quest.
A leveling and loot systems are arguably the biggest new additions to the game. Death can now gain experience in order to progress one of two skill tress; Harbinger or Necromancer. The first gives Death more melee abilities and boosts stats in that area, while the Necromancer skill tree allows for more spells and magical attacks to be used. This helps to keep additional playthroughs fresh, as you can customize Death however you want to. Another way to customize him, of course, is with different armor and weapons. Upgrade shops return this time around, but Death can find various kinds of loot in dungeons and scattered across the world. Legendary loot is the rarest of these, and grants special bonuses for Death. Possessed loot, on the other hand, can itself be leveled up to become more powerful, even having its own skill trees.
The original Darksiders had a striking, slightly cel-shaded visual style that was reminiscent of graphic novels and fantasy trading cards. The same look returns for Darksiders II, and the variety of new environments only make the game look even better. Death will visit lush forests, angelic cathedrals, volcanic chasms, ghostly fields, and other wondrous locations, none of which feel too similar. A lot of the first Darksiders took place in dilapidated urban environments, so this is a refreshing change. A lot of work has also been put into the animations, especially those of Death himself. The developer has stated that they carefully designed his animations to reflect his personality, extending as far as his idle animations. The various NPCs also have their own animation routines, including some impressive facial animation (Death doesn’t have a mouth, so he gets a free ride in this area).
On the musical front, Jesper Kyd is the composer for Darksiders II, and the sample tracks that have been released so far are incredible, setting the mood perfectly for a fantasy adventure of biblical proportions while still maintaining a unique feel. Various wind instruments are put to good use in several tracks, giving the whole game a whimsical feel that’s simply breathtaking. We recommend checking out the sample tracks here.
Darksiders did a great job of livening up the market at the time of release, and Darksiders II looks as if it will do the same. With various improvements over the first, an ambitious new storyline, and a lengthy quest to undertake, it comes highly recommended for all single-players looking for a vast fantasy adventure. It releases on August 14th for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.