Darksiders II – Spoiler-free Review

I finally got around to playing Darksiders II last week, as I found it on a 66% off sale on Steam, and coincidentally it’s on sale again right now! I quite enjoyed the first Darksiders, and was looking forward to the sequel, but monetary concerns got in the way. Now I’ve gotten to complete and muse over it though, and I have words to share.

By way of Dishonoured's fog.

Vigil Games were in charge of development like with the first game, and THQ handled the publishing. Sadly I don’t think the game sold as well as they were hoping, and as such the future of the franchise is likely in peril. I would have liked another game or two so we could be introduced to the final two Horsemen, but I also wanted more Legacy of Kain games, and we saw how that went. I will be doing two posts on this: First this spoiler-free review, and then a spoiler-heavy story/lore musing that combines what I remember from the first game with what I learned in the second one.

I won’t talk about the story here, apart from the obvious stuff. You play as Death, and you’re not confined to Earth.

Now there are two main things you’ll be doing in Darksiders II: Exploring and fighting.

Underdressed for the weather.

Our hero’s humble beginnings.

There are several different worlds of varying size to explore this time around, and you get your horse from the very beginning so getting around is not much of a problem. There are also several fast travel points spread around the maps to allow you to quickly get back to places you’ve already been. There’s even a waypoint system in the dungeons where you can fast travel out, like if your inventory is full and you need to sell stuff, or buy more supplies. And then you can simply hop back in to the same place you left.

The environments are varied and beautiful. Not every place looks as good, I will admit that much, but at least they do a good job at making them fairly distinct. I was impressed at the art direction and always looked forward to seeing what a new area looked like. If I have one complaint it’s that the second world you go to is perhaps a bit too homogeneous for its size and the amount of time you spend there, but at least they have a good explanation for it.

Are big throne rooms about overcompensating too?

Bleak, but pretty.

Pretty much everywhere you go is full of more or less hidden secrets, and there’s even entire optional dungeons and areas with puzzles to solve and enemies to defeat. Some of the optional dungeons can get quite large, but on the whole they’re smaller than the mandatory ones. The Zelda stuff has been toned from the first game, but there’s still new equipment to find that lets you access new areas and secrets. I don’t really want to spoil all of it, but the first two you get are a revolver and an ethereal grappling hook (called Death’s Grip). It’s a lot of fun just riding around areas, spying something in the distance and going to explore it.

Speaking of spying...

In spite of their size, the Makers remind me of dwarves.

Now there are a lot of hidden collectibles in the game. Chests show up on the map when you get close, but other collectibles do not, so they can be tricky to find. Honestly I didn’t bother hunting down all of them, as that would have certainly required an open guide and a lot of backtracking. I did check every nook and cranny I came across, remembered to look behind things, and smash everything I could. I even did the occasional backtracking when I remembered where something I hadn’t been able to get yet was. Most collectibles can be sold to certain merchants in exchange for some benefit; like increased stats, extra skill points or just more money. Honestly the backtracking can get a bit tedious, especially as the game is pretty long even if you just follow the main quests.

Notice my how low my health is? I had just fought an optional boss, and forgot to heal afterwards. First teeny enemy I fought killed me.

A forest with ruins to explore! CHAERG!

You see, the RPG elements have been played up for this game. You gain levels, which gives you skill points to spend on two different skill trees, auto-levels your stats and gives you access to wear better equipment. The game has taken some inspiration from Diablo, so chests, breakables and enemies have a tendency of exploding into loot and gold. You can equip scythes as your primary weapons, and a wide variety of large and small weapons as your secondary, plus bits of armour that makes you look increasingly awesome or silly depending on your point of view. Personally I preferred going for the large and slow secondary weapons, and spend points on the magic tree, mainly into my summoned ghouls.

I do wonder if Teleport Slash is any good. The Internet claims so.

And who doesn’t want to be a necromancer, huh?

I should probably also mention the possessed weapons. Occasionally you will find orange-quality weapons that are called Possessed. I’m not particularly fond of how you can only get them via random draw, but when I did get some appropriate level ones it felt great. That’s when the work begins. You can feed other items (anything not legendary status) to the possessed weapons which grants them experience, and you can level them up to five times to add more damage, extra stats and boost to the stats already on. Sadly the stats available to put on are random as well, but you do get a choice from 2-4 randomly drawn ones. I highly recommend slapping Execution Chance on there if it appears, and I will explain why later.

The inventory systems works okay, I guess.

Not the most thrilling menu, but I learned to look forward to it.

As a segue into combat, I will mention the movement system. This seems to be heavily inspired by Prince of Persia considering how Death scurries up and along walls, climbs on ledges and beams, leaps around and also how he acts in combat. I quite enjoyed the increased mobility from the first game, as it emphasised well how Death is a lot more lithe and limber than War. He also seems very comfortable with his powers and utilises them in many ways, such as to open doors and chests. There’s a certain style to him that I appreciate. As a big bonus you can also swim! And you don’t have to worry about breath.

And then they pull the key out of it. It's kinda cool. :D

Tearing a chest to pieces to get at what’s inside.

And now we’re onto the second thing you’ll be doing a lot of: Fighting. The combat system has had a major overhaul since the outing with War, and Death feels a lot better to control. There is however one caveat: You kinda have to use a controller. I tried starting with the keyboard and mouse controls, and while they are technically functional, they are not ideal. They worked fine so long as I was just fighting the normal enemies and moving around, but then I ran into my first optional boss, and things got a lot trickier. Boss battles often rely on quick and precise dodging, and without an analogue stick the times you dodge in the wrong direction, and get struck when you shouldn’t be, just occur too often. Even with a controller the dodging takes some getting used to, so I really wouldn’t recommend anyone playing this without one. Plus my hand started cramping up from trying to keep a lock on the enemy while also moving and fighting freely.

This was before I learned that heavy weapons weren't the best versus bosses.

I feel the need to mention that the heavy weapons just feel really good to use. The feedback is delicious.

Though when you do get a feel for it and start pulling off the right moves it feels very nice. That is why it’s such a good idea for the game to make the first optional boss a duel. I was severely under-leveled (I was level 2 and he was 9), and all it took was one hit from him to end the duel. So I had to learn how to dodge properly, strike quickly, learn his patterns and wear him down. I was too stubborn to walk away and try again a few levels later with better gear, so when I did pull it off it really felt like an accomplishment. I cursed often and loudly when he struck me though. The payoff was that when I got to my second optional boss, where I was also severely under-leveled I was able to adapt to his attack patterns quite fast and only suffered a few deaths. Thankfully I never felt screwed over by the checkpoint system in the game.

This battle took quite some time.

Can’t touch this.

The enemy variety is decent, and the bosses tend to require more skill and reflexes rather than relying on gadgets and gimmicks (a few exceptions exist), both of which I consider good, even though I can appreciate the Zelda style of gadget-focused combat as well. It’s just something that can be hard to pull off, so better that they stick to what they know better. Unfortunately there are also several re-skinned enemies that I kinda have to detract a little for. Not a huge deal, but noticeable.

There are basically four classes of enemies: Tiny swarmers that pile on you, and can be one-shotted with a press of the B button. Normal enemies that often come in groups and can be smashed fairly quickly. For both these I recommend having a large two-hander as your secondary and just swinging it around. Then there’s the large enemies that require a more careful approach. And finally the boss enemies that can require some thorough strategy to figure out. For these larger enemies it can be better to rely on the faster scythe strikes to deal damage, or string together combos of both primary and secondary weapons if you’re feeling brave.

Smashing is fun.

Hammers + skeletons = super-effective.

And then you have the executions. Every time you strike an enemy you have a chance to trigger an execution prompt, and if you hit B (you can choose to just keep fighting normal, which can occasionally be better for the flow) it will trigger an insta-kill execution of that enemy, big or small. By stacking Execution Chance on your gear it can make battles against big enemies or big groups a lot easier. It’s a fairly rare stat though, so I was always really happy whenever I was able to get some stuff with it on. The executions tend to be really vicious, especially on larger enemies, and usually involve the Reaper form, so it was always interesting to see a new one. The rule seems to be that as long as it doesn’t have a given name (the given names versus generic names show whether it’s a boss or not), it can be executed.

I love the fluid connection Death has to his Reaper form.

Do you fear the Reaper?

I can’t really say I had any problems with the voice actors. I wouldn’t call them spectacular, but they did a decent job, and Death’s snarky tones never got old to my ears at least. The music helped add to the ambiance, and it was nice to have in the background, but like a lot of modern videogame music it wasn’t especially memorable. It’s the kind of stuff you can have on in the background while you’re reading or studying and it won’t really intrude.

So did I have fun with it? Yes, I really did. It swallowed a lot of hours in succession, as I wanted to find out what happened next, or just explore this dungeon I found to see what goodies were inside. I’m one of the people who found the lore in Darksiders really interesting, and highly appreciated the extra insights this game provided. And Death is honestly a lot more interesting as a character than War was.

No prizes for guessing where I am.

Plus you end up looking like a Warcraft Orc! Only less colourful.

If you would like an interesting action game with some cool powers and a nice style, you could certainly do a lot worse. And I remind you again that it’s currently on sale. (I should probably edit that out once the sale is over).

~Wulf 

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Posted on November 21, 2012, in Games, Sorta reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’m glad Death doesn’t have to worry about drowning, what with being the elemental incarnation of the end of life and all.

    Thanks for that controller suggestion! Now that I have one, I’m on a constant lookout for places I might justify my purchase at.

    • I’m just glad the developers remembered that when they were making the game. I wonder if one of them went: “So how long should the breath metre last?” and then everyone else just stared at him like he was crazy until he went away.

  1. Pingback: Wulfy’s Favourites of 2012 « Wulf Space

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