Thursday, September 27, 2012

Darksiders II Review - A Sequel to Die For

Score: 9 / 10
Darksiders II
Xbox 360 - PC - PS3 - WiiU
Developer: Vigil Games
Publisher: THQ
Release Date:August 14th, 2012

  • A grand art style, with vibrant personality
  • Seamless, fluid platforming
  • Fantastic puzzle design and dungeons
  • High tempo combat keeps you engaged
  • Camera issues can hamper both platforming and combat
  • Lackluster final segment compared to other sequences in the game
  • No ability to toggle "lock on"
I only recently completed the original Darksiders, and found it hard to properly categorize the game. Several nods to other established franchises combined into one title; mixing God of War esque combat with puzzle style dungeons similar to Legend of Zelda. Darksiders felt like a hybrid game that was able to utilize these gameplay elements, while still maintaining its own identity with brilliant character design. After setting itself up for a sequel at its conclusion, Darksiders II continues to expand the established backstory of Earth's apocalypse instead of picking up right where the first game left off. Despite going back in time the game not only refines the initial formula, but provides a more expansive and addicting adventure.

Come at me bro

Darksiders II stays true in its previous pattern of melding together many different franchises, and it is hard not to draw comparisons when these cross your path. Hordes of zombies swarming your position at the sound of a howl like Left 4 Dead, scaling a large boss akin to Shadow of the Colossus, and even the dialogue wheels of Mass Effect make their appearance. Their adapted gameplay does not compell you to cry "copycat" but rather serve to bring variety to the overall experience. Despite the similarities the exceptional set pieces, unique character design, and memorable original soundtrack give Darksiders II its own personality.

Taking place during the incarceration of War for facing accusations of starting the apocalypse early, you assume the role of Death. Convinced of his brother's innocence, Death marches on for answers and a way to restore humanity. Though playing as Death does not have the fear-inducing effect you would expect when you enter a room, the cast of characters you encounter along the way keeps the story lively. While the quest to free War initially proves interesting its continual chain of collecting items to stave off corruption begins to wear thin, but it's the backstory of the Nephilim and haunting burden of their fate that becomes the most intriguing aspect of the plot.The story is given life through wonderfully crafted cinematic sequences, and top tier voice acting.

Two scythes are better than one

As Death you will constantly switch between a healthy mix of platforming and combat, both seamless in transitions and fluid in movement. Platforming consists of the expected wall running and grappling acrobatics, and thanks to Death's speedy movement it can become a joy to watch when everything comes together. Combat in the game is faster than before, as Death's speed and ferocity is much greater than his brother War. Established combos require only slight memorization, as experimenting with timing and mixing up variety between heavy and weak attacks can work out the abilities with the greatest impact. The controls work fine, except for the fact that there is no option to toggle the lock on ability, requiring you to continuously hold the Left Trigger/Shoulder. It would be no issue if I did not have to hit R1 to dodge and hold L1 in conjunction with the face buttons to use my special abilities, resulting in controller "Twister" sessions.

Beyond the combat and platforming you will also be working to solve the dungeon's various puzzles. These can be as simple as wall running to hit a switch or using something heavy to hold down a button. There will be a few puzzles that stop to make you scratch your head, especially on the later stages that involve splitting yourself in two pieces or utilizing portals in conjunction with platforming. The feeling of satisfaction when figuring out the solution is quite satisfying, and there are plenty of trial and error situations to give off that effect. While the puzzles are entertaining, you cannot get past Vigil's obsession with the number three. A majority of the time you will have to use three waterways to clear to the boss, or bring three souls to sacrifice to summon the boss; it was as though I knew where I was going, but not how I was going to get there.

RPG adaptation is becoming a common occurrence, and Darksiders II manages to incorporate it into the game both in and out if combat. Armor and weapons now drop off of enemies or are discovered in chests, littered with the expected stats like strength, resistance, or crit. While the menus can take a bit of time to load, the ease of slipping on a new piece of armor is immediate upon its drop allowing you to continue a dungeon with a new weapon or stash it away to sell later. Not only carrying stats, but aesthetic appeal warrants immediate gratification upon equipping a strong piece of armor or weaponry. These stats work in conjunction with a skill tree that you can upgrade with each level or milestone, to craft your character into a full fledged melee warrior or necromancer that bids undead minions to do the work for you.

All that grip training has paid off for Death

Darksiders II becomes a nightmare for completionists, as the game is littered with multiple collectibles and sidequests. The open world gives opportunity for many tucked away secrets including additional dungeons, labyrinth puzzles, and arena challenges. Where sidequests usually fall flat due to repetition, the consistency in puzzle design and combat does not lessen with these additional ventures. Upon completing a dungeon to recover a hammer for the blacksmith, I was able to complete a sort of "mini-dungeon" in addition to procuring a boosted list of available items to purchase.The promise of quick rewards and simplicity in fast traveling to a location through the map entice you to set aside your main goal for a grab at additional loot.

I walked away from Darksiders II eager to see more of the franchise. The subtle shadowy figures of Fury and Strife give teases at the possible futures offered (co-op play?). If the fantastic narrative and gameplay of Darksiders II is any indication, the series can only go up from here. Despite a lackluster final encounter, the game as a whole is a fantastic improvement upon the original and multiple difficulties including a nightmare difficulty where death is permanent is enough to keep you coming back for more punishment. The fine tuning and new additions to Darksiders II make it a high point for the franchise, and a subtle tease as to what could come...

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