Instead of a follow-up sequel, Darksiders II tells a story that runs parallel to the plotline of the first game. In the original, the Horseman War has been charged with breaking his sacred duty and causing the Endwar between the kingdoms of Heaven, Man and Hell. This time out, you control the Pale Rider himself, Death, as he seeks to clear his brother’s name.
Death is a nimble character, and the gameplay itself feels much lighter and responsive than the solid — and occasionally lumbering — strongman War. You’ll solve various logic puzzles while scaling heights, running along walls, leaping from rafter to rafter and activating various keys to progress. And then you’ll fight enemies; from small flying Stingers to titanic Constructs, from undead Soldiers to full-fledged Demons. Many, many enemies.
The combat feels more responsive, owing to Death’s quickness with the Scythes and his acrobatic ability. As you level up, you will have the option to choose new abilities and skills, including summoning a murder of crows or ghouls to attack and distract your enemies. Other abilities will help you to regenerate health or wrath (the “fuel” for your special abilities) as you decimate your foes.
One of my complaints from the first game, that of the camera being too close, has been fixed in this outing, and it was much easier to see the foes that were surrounding my character and plan strategy accordingly. One of my other gripes from the first game, however, still remains: When you pick up notable items, the game pauses and shows you an informational screen. This is really frustrating when you’re in the midst of a combat situation because it breaks the flow of the game and is very distracting.
The plot of Darksiders II also reveals much of the backstory for the Four Horseman, and as you go through the game, you’ll come across characters from, and references to, the first game’s events. The backstory is elaborate enough to be interesting, and add some much-needed depth to the main characters, but not so complex as to negate the over-arcing story of the franchise.
Another item that I mentioned in the first game has been resolved: that of the game world. Occasionally, in the first game, I wanted to see a more expansive world with more places to go and sights to see. That wish has been fulfilled in Darksiders II. The game worlds are large and lush, with many places to explore and re-explore, after gaining new abilities, to uncover new secrets you weren’t able to reach the first time through.
Also notable is the addition of loot. You’ll have various weapons and armor to compare and either sell or equip. One of the more intriguing options is the idea of “Possessed” weapons; you can sacrifice other items to these and level them up, gaining statistics and choosing new abilities for the weapons to grant you. It’s an ingenious addition to the game, and one that offers you some great variety in your weapons.
There are a few glitches, however, including stuttering loading mid-stride as Death traverses into a new area. Also, while the areas and dungeons are mostly self-guiding, you may occasionally call upon Dust. Dust is the crow companion of Death, and can be called upon to give you a hint as to which way to go when you’re lost. Unfortunately, Dust seems to get lost himself more often than not. He’ll start to fly off, then teleport back over your head and then disappear, or he’ll flutter about a door that you’ve just come through… a door that leads to an empty dead-end room.
The game has you focusing on quest “hubs” from which you then travel to new lands. The first such place has Death working to stop the destruction of an enclave of Makers. Makers are, basically, 9-foot-tall Dwarves that have the ability to build massive constructs to help Death on his quest to clear War’s name. They also have the ability to forge entirely new worlds.
Working with stone and magic, the Makers are a hardy lot, but they are threatened by a corruption that is tied to the Horsemen’s past. While they do have the method to transport Death to where he needs to go in order to free his brother, he’ll need to help them cleanse their lands first.
The occasional characters you meet throughout the game can be shallowly written, but you will get some intriguing glimpses into their various societies at times, and they do have some amusing moments, as well. Early in the game, one of them comments to Death, the Grim Reaper himself, that “now that you’re here, hope is not dead.” I found that line more than a bit ironic. Speaking of dialog: Why does, in popular culture, anything vaguely dwarf-like have to speak with a Scottish brogue? It’s a trope that could do with breaking.
The music is well done by Jesper Kyd, composer for the fun-to-play Borderlands, as well as Assassin’s Creed. I am looking forward to hearing more of his work on the soundtrack that was just released for Darksiders II, as well.
All in all, Darksiders II is a very solid game that’s a lot of fun and does a great job of adding layers of depth to the over-arcing storyline of the franchise so far. The combat is fast and quick, with only a few mind-contorting button combinations to remember, and pleasantly visceral. Though, I HIGHLY recommend you learn to use Death’s evade ability and his Reaper form well, and use them often! I’m curious to see where the franchise’s story will go (hey, we’ve only seen two of the four Horsemen) from here.
With the ability of creating a new game after you finish it the first time at a higher level to keep your skills and weapons, the inclusion of “Crucible Mode” (where you face increasingly difficult waves of foes), online leaderboards to track your stats and accomplishments, the ability to send items to friends through in-game messaging, and the allure of future DLC, Darksiders II will be in my PS3 for a good time to come.