It usually takes a few games for a franchise to really make their mark. Two of my favorite examples of this are Assassins Creed and Uncharted which both had good first outings but everyone knew that the exciting part was what was to come. And in fact Assassins Creed 2 and Uncharted 2 (90 & 96 respectively on MetaCritic) were the most critically acclaimed of their respective franchises so far. Today I am checking out the most anticipated game of the summer, Darksiders II.
At the onset of this review I should mention that I didn’t play the first Darksiders. It was released during a time that I was still playing the two aforementioned titles along with some of the other big holiday 2009 releases that I missed out on. So throughout this review I will not be making connections to the first game other then to connect to things that I had heard second hand. I also will not be discussing the game’s plot and leave it up to you to decide whether you want to engage in the 20+ hour campaign of Darksiders II.
I remember when Darksiders was released in 2010; the word on the street was that Darksiders was a Legend of Zelda clone. So of course that’s what I expected from Darksiders II, and the argument is about half way there. If I had to compare Darksiders II to a franchise I would say its about 50% Legend of Zelda, 40% God of War, and 10% RPG. However even that silly breakdown is not really doing Darksiders II justice, so I will stop with comparisons there.
Darksiders II has a ton of things going for it. First and foremost the combat is about as great as a hack and slash action game can be. Your character conveniently named Death, is a killing machine. Whether he is wielding his Scythers (primary weapon), or using some of his leveled up abilities the game packs a big punch. While you’re taking out the bad guys you will see the hit points above enemies heads. You will quickly go from shots in the double digits to leveling enemies with hits in the four digits in no time. One of the great accomplishments of the game is how well the game handles combat. As Death’s abilities grow, so too does the feeling of power you get when taking on enemies. The enemies do seem to level up at the same pace as how you level up but that doesn’t diminish Death’s increasing power.
Much of the combat is simple button mashing for the first couple hours but after that it becomes necessary to become very skilled with the dodge and special attack maneuvers. As you level up you can learn new abilities and these abilities can then be upgraded as well. For much of the first half of the game I refused to do anything other then mash the basic and strong attacks over and over and found I was dying more often than not. I found out through enough trial and error that with each dungeon comes a new strategy that usually works throughout the whole dungeon including the boss. For some you will have to do non-stop dodging, and for others you just need unload on the enemies. The game doesn’t hold your hand at all on normal difficulty and I for one found the combat to be extremely challenging.
Combat is only maybe 20%-25% of the game. The majority of the game is spent on exploration and puzzles. This is both the best and worst parts of Darksiders II. Death has two side kicks throughout the game which come in the form of Despair the horse and Dust the bird. You can ride Despair on the open areas of the game but right when you get to anything restrictive the game automatically takes you off the horse. Despair’s mechanics are very similar to Red Dead Redemption where you get a few chances to kick your horse into gear before he won’t take it anymore. Dust on the other hand is supposed to act as your saving grace in case you can’t figure out where to go. Sometimes Dust works other times you are left even more lost as Dust circles in the air with no apparent idea where to go next. The idea for Dust is extremely important for a game that is so heavy on both puzzles and exploration.
Darksiders II throughout its 20+ hour campaign sticks to a pretty constant pattern. Start off in a new dungeon with a few puzzles, get locked in a room to take on the new breed of bad guys, get to a cut scene, locate multiple items/people, and solve a bunch of puzzles and traverse a lot of walls to get to the boss of the dungeon. That formula is the bread and butter of the game and outside a few hours in the middle of the game works extremely well. One of the only troubles I had at the onset of the game was getting used to controls when scaling walls and jumping to nearby ledges. Once you get further into Darksiders II you start to learn which walls you can and cannot run up and which ledges you’re allowed to jump up to and which you aren’t.
Almost everything about Darksiders II blends together nicely; however there are some problems. There were times throughout Darksiders II that I just got extremely frustrated for the wrong reasons. Some of the environments are too complex for their own good and cause unintended consquences. I am all for a good head scratching puzzle but when my bird is telling me to go one way the map looks like it is leading me the other way and there is an open door in another direction it can be frustrating. The game also has a fast travel which works perfectly when warping back to the dungeon but when your warp to a place on the map it kind of throws you in the vicinity and leaves you to go travel the remaining distance. It’s not usually too far from your intended spot but not nearly as accurate. Then there is the camera which is fine for about 95% of the game but when you are doing a lot of acrobatics the camera can get hung up in weird spots making it even more difficult to figure out where your next move should be. This also makes the controls a bit tedious because it can hard to nail jumps and wall runs when you don’t know where you’re going.
Having not played Darksiders I can’t comment on the improvement from the first game. However in my mind Darksiders II is just an average looking game at this point in this generation. Environments tend to be on the bland side with a lot of grey and blacks. Which you might say is what they were going for but often times everything looks muddied. The dungeons start to look and feel the same which reiterates my point earlier about the game causes more head scratchers then what was actually intended for the game.
I would be doing everyone a disservice however if I didn’t mention that the game does turn it up a couple of notches when a boss battle occurs. Wow some of those bosses are pretty spectacular. Although you almost always look outmatched the game does a great job of allowing you to maneuver around far bigger enemies which can at times give you tactical advantages. These are by far some of the most visually striking moments of the game.
One of the most memorable moments in Darksiders II was in the first hour there is an epic battle that is set to one of the best scores in a videogame this year. The sound is some of the best I have heard in a videogame this year and is one of the few scores that I would actually be interested in listening outside of the game. Another memorable moment is a multi-staged arena match a little over halfway through the game where you get wave after wave of enemies and your job is to survive. It might sound like this would be a button mashing paradise but after dying at least five times I figured out that it was actually a lot more than that and had me using every trick I had up my sleeve plus some. The satisfaction of completing that stage was a huge triumph in the overall experience of the game.
Technically speaking Darksiders II is not a perfect game. There are some small lingering issues that can get in the way at times. Luckily those minor inconveniences do little to detract from the game as a whole. Combat is near perfect, puzzles are varied, and the world of Darksiders II is ready for the taking. If you have been fighting the dog days of summer wondering when your next ‘AAA’ adventure would come, wait no further, it’s here in Darksiders II.