It’s round two for Darksiders and for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Darksiders II (D2) features a new Horseman, new characters, and a slightly new direction, but still manages to feel pretty familiar. While there are still many aspects crying for a little polish, borrowed ideas from other amazing games gives D2 solid ground to stand on.
War has been blamed and imprisoned for kicking off the Apocalypse too soon and eradicating all human life. Death, believing his brother is a victim of conspiracy, has decided to take up the task of proving his brother’s innocence and restoring humanity. This requires Death to blaze forward on a long, tasking journey, dealing with demons, angels, giants and monsters. When I say long and tasking, what I mean is that D2 is thoroughly dedicated to providing the gamer with plenty of dungeons, puzzles, and battles that feel significant to the progression of the story, rather than a grind.
Most of the time, Death is asked to obtain a few items which are inside different dungeons, which are only accessible through different NPCs, and so on and so forth. It may sound like a frustrating way to spend hours of your time, but the pace is manageable and the tasks feel necessary. Once again the series relies on the fighting and item-drop style found in God of War, giving us a fun and combo-heavy hack & slash adventure. D2 provides a simple skill tree system, allowing the player to pick between warrior or arcane abilities as XP is earned. Players are allowed to pick and choose abilities from both sides of the tree, giving every play-through a unique spin on combat. Your main weapon, a pair of scythes, can at first only be combined with your heavy weapon (either a huge blunt or pointy two-handed weapon). As you gain access to more abilities, your combos increase to a near frenzy, giving you plenty interesting ways to kill your targets.
Combinations stretch from simple combat to your puzzles and environments. Like combat, the puzzles start out simple, almost teaching you how to both recognize assets and apply them to the environment around you. As you discover more and more assets, the puzzles become increasingly difficult, giving you strange combinations of clues as well as a difficult map to traverse. It is left up to the player to figure out how to use the assets to achieve your goals. Now, in all honesty, the puzzles aren’t terribly difficult, but they are challenging enough to make you feel pretty smart when you finally figure it out. If there was ever a game that wanted to stroke your problem-solving ego, it’s D2.
An added bonus to D2 is your little raven friend, Dust. Dust can be sent out from your character at any time to help point you in the right direction if you are a little lost on your quest. Sometimes the sheer enormity of the maps and multitude of doors and puzzles can leave you a bit dizzy and cloud your way. All you have to do is send out Dust and follow his little tail feathers to your destination. However, Dust is replacing Mark Hamill’s Watcher from D1, and the companion aspect is sorely missed…but I digress. Another helpful aspect to dungeon crawling comes in the form of instant fast-travel. If you are in desperate need of supplies while ass-deep in dungeon monsters, you can fast-travel to a shop outside of the dungeon. That’s right, if you are a sissy and use up all of your health potions, Darksiders II gives you the ability to pop out, hit the Kwiky Mart, and pop back in without the dungeon monsters knowing the difference.
As far as the battles go, Darksiders II has made vast improvements to the overall combat system. Death’s moves are much more varied and exciting than his burly brother War, and pulling off combos remains simple with intuitive, short combo strings. A wide variety of weapon choices keeps the combat interesting, offering different special moves with each weapon. Lightning fast combos encourage the player to string together moves incorporating both weapons in one string, giving us seemingly endless possibilities for satisfying bloodshed.
D2‘s art direction and style stay true to the original vision. Everything has the look and feel of a 90’s Marvel comic book, with hulking heroes, enormous bad-guys, an outrageous color scheme, and lots of testosterone. Once again, these aspects give the game quite a lot of character and really set it apart from other games in the same genre circles. The actors were also spot on, bringing a level of depth to the occasionally cheesy dialog.
No game is without faults, and Darksiders II is no exception. The only major complaint with this one is the fast-travel aspect. Sure, it’s handy when you are in a pinch for supplies, but after beating a boss, you are required to use the map to get back to your quest start point. It just seems like an unnecessary step, hanging you up in a multitude of loading time and framerate issues (especially for Xbox gamers who don’t want to upload seven gigs of content to help with the stuttering issues).
Ultimately, Darksiders II has improved on nearly every feature, aspect, and unique style that was implemented in the original game. The combat is deep and satisfying, the exploration and loot elements are incredibly addictive, and the dungeons provide a near perfect amount of challenge and consistency to keep you playing to the end. If you’re looking for an expansive adventure with an interesting story, massive world and robust combat, Death has come for you.
I give Darksiders II 4.5 “Familiar Faces” out of 5