Darksiders II Review

By DavieMarshall, 4 years ago
Darksiders II is a game which many have been waiting on since the success of http://www.trueachievements.com/Darksiders-xbox-360.htm two years ago. Now we're back as one of the four riders, this time playing as The Pale Rider, or to give him his true title - Death.


It is of course impossible to review a sequel without drawing comparisons to and reflections up on the original, but as a person who hasn't played the original title, I feel this review will offer up a fair analysis to those familiar with the game, and also those who may be looking to see what all the fuss is about after missing out last time round.

Setting It All Up
Set in the same time frame as the original title, we follow Death in his quest to discover the innocence of fellow rider War who stands accused of instigating the apocalypse on Earth early. As Death you will traverse various Netheworlds, encounter numerous friends (and foes) and embark upon nothing short of an epic quest in search of the truth.

The mood is of course exceptionally bleak as you encounter those who must have their souls judged and the might of the Corruption spreading throughout the land and claiming countless victories along the way. However, throughout the title is laced with the smallest lining of hope whether it's a line of dialogue, or the characters you meet and their worldly views. It's a nice touch and helps you feel the game is attached to humanity (often referenced, never seen) and not set in an inconsequential universe.

A Whole New World
Whichever way you look at it, Darksiders II is not an original game in terms of the gameplay mechanics it draws together. If I had to draw comparisons to other games for those new to it all I would say the following. You can expect to find elements of Prince of Persia, with some segments bearing startling resemblance to Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. There are also hints of Tomb Raider puzzles though on a smaller scale. Think room by room analysis for the most part, not sprawling ideas. As you play through the game you will be introduced to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to solve a puzzle. The developers have been very careful to build on ideas gradually and introduce new combinations and concepts as considerately as possible. The result of this is a perfectly weighted learning curve which will have you progress quickly and almost unnoticeably.

The times that you do fail are more likely to be at the hands of 'sticky' platforming controls rather than your own mistakes. You know you pushed that button to wall run, but Death instead jumped straight up and missed the timed jump. It's a frustration sure, but one that we can hardly attribute to Darksiders II for championing or innovating. These troubles have existed ever since controllers met the third dimension in games with an isometric camera angle.

While puzzles can be confined to localised areas, the game world is most certainly not. It's huge. A 'hub' system is deployed whereby you have a kind of 'safe zone' and base of operations where you can find supplies, new weapons, those capable of teaching you new moves etc. It's a familiar set-up which helps provide an anchor point for a game world which boasts far more dungeons and areas than the first title.

Arena Screenshot

Have Scythe, Will Reap
Death's greatest ally is in his mighty scythes... and his chosen secondary weapon, and his incantations, and his skills. What I'm getting at it is that Death is seriously equipped, and it only gets better the more you play. You start with a modest load-out but very quickly you're inundated with an overload of new and exciting options.

Various enemies will drop weapons, armour or talismans that you can pick up and equip (or even quick-equip by holding select near to the item if the on screen stats indicate it's a noted improvement to your currently equipped item) to take Death to the next level. If the items you find on the battlefield aren't to your liking, the gold you acquire can be set to work in the local hubs to fulfil your blood lust. The later level weapons provide additional damage in the form of 'shock' or 'fire' damage which are a massive help on enemies with seemingly insurmountable health bars.

On top of physical weapons, Death can acquire new skills such as Death Grip (grab and fling enemies from afar or fly close to them), a firearm, the ability to summons corpses and crows and impressive sweeping blows. I was over 17 hours into my playthrough and the game was still spewing out weapons I'd not yet seen, blessing me with new skills and encouraging new tactics to defeat my foe. I was hugely impressed that after exceeding 17 hours of gameplay I was still feverishly upgrading my arsenal and happily dismembering anything foolish enough to spawn nearby. The levelling system definitely helps here as you are rewarded with a new ability point per level to spend on upgrading an existing ability or unlocking a totally new one. It's not a totally free choice as abilities are linked and I might have to pay to unlock A+B+C before unrelated moves D+E are available to buy.

Arena Screenshot

Of course, such varied tastes and a cornucopia of skills come at a price. Sometimes the gameplay struggles to include all of the options coherently, so the temptation is there to focus on a select few and not to experience the wealth of upgrades. Skills are assigned to LB and all four coloured buttons which means you can only have four immediately available at any one time. Of course you can dive into the selection wheel, but this means holding down a button, pausing the action, selecting the skill required and dropping back in to the action. I experimented with this at first but I ultimately ended up re-speccing my attribute points onto just two effective skills and upgrading them to the maximum so I could have instant access during the intense heat of battle.

Some may counter with, 'but how else would you approach this? It's the way many games approach this problem. A menu system is a must', and they'd be right. The big kicker here is that the menu system isn't just sluggish, it's clumsy and sometimes susceptible to small yet annoying amounts of lag.

Don't Fear The Reaper
Fighting in the game is suitably frantic and chaotic, after all, you are the eponymous Death. Fights are often 'all or nothing' once the game breaks through the four to five hour mark. You are broken in very gently on Normal difficulty mode. This will please newcomers, but may frustrate veteran riders who want the game to bring on multiple enemy waves sooner rather than later.

Don't worry though. By the time you're finishing off the final areas of the game, you'll be loudly begging with your TV to cease the onslaught as you've just drank your last vial of health potion. If the battle looks to be lost though, and your best skills aren't digging you out of a tight spot there's one option left (if you have stored enough points acquired from enemy kills) - unleash your inner Reaper form in all it's winged and fearsome glory.

This approach seems to work best as although the game professes you have close control over the moves you deploy and when, the reality is that the enemy AI doesn't leave much room for error or thought. As a result gamers will tend to fall back on 80/20 button mashing vs. planned move execution when faced with several enemies. This could have been countered by tightening up the response time of Death, but a few extra animations when executing certain moves or flourishes (such as summoning corpses) means that you can end up worse for wear despite trying to be creative.

One aspect I'm undecided on (still after dozens of hours of gameplay) is how the pace changes suit Darksiders II. An epic battle of the mightiest combatants of the Netherworld is often carefully placed during a long dungeon exploration just before the final door/key etc and it can sometimes feel like it's a very long time until a comparably large fight breaks out. The more laid back pace is dictated by how adept you are at solving puzzles and exploring the whole dungeon, but if you get bogged down trying to find your way through a puzzle, you'll have to be prepared to take your heavy-handed action in strictly regulated and rationed doses in the earlier stages of the game.

The final third of the game breaks the mould that has been used in all previous situations though and fights are constant, brutal and fraught with dangers to your progress. I would have loved some of this to have spilled into the earlier sections of the game with lower level enemies to provide some standout fights earlier on. The combat system is good, not great. More importantly it's a lot of fun. Was it an attempt to make Darksiders II seem more considered and thoughtful in it's construction and avoid comparison to a hack 'n slash adventure romp? Perhaps, but the combat is definitely heavier in the later parts of the game, and it's a shame that's the case.

Are You Ready For Your Close-up?
I want to just note quickly here that during those furious battles the camera can often let you down. In fact, it can do that outside of battle, and it's particularly adept at freaking out if you venture under water. Quite often the camera will zoom in too close as you lock on to your target, and your view will be obstructed by the chaos in the foreground, a wall, or the debris that ends up flying around. A wider more considerate view may have been more helpful for the combat lock. After all, when you're locked on to an enemy you quickly gain the upper hand and beat them down into a merciless state. It's the attacks coming from everywhere else that should concern you. Sadly it's impossible to react to those with a well timed evade so you'll often end up bearing the brunt of the damage and coping with a few more retries than you planned. It's clear the combat in this game was developed and designed for larger spaces and wide angles, so why then doesn't the camera take this into consideration?

Whilst you may not be able to see exactly what is going on thanks to the narrow field of view from the camera, you will certainly be able to keep track of what is happening inside your field of view despite the flurry of trails, damage indicators and such. That's a point of redemption worth noting.

During those CPU intensive fights, some reviewers have made note of system crashes particularly on the Xbox 360, indeed it was something I was rather not looking forward to. However, I tested and reviewed across two consoles. One with the game installed and the other running from the disc. In 17+ hours of gameplay I didn't experience one single lock up. Don't take this as proof it can't happen, it's just I never had this issue.

Arena Screenshot

Fast Travel Is Fast...
A fantastic feature in the game is the ability to Fast Travel away from a dungeon to one of those aforementioned hubs for a new weapon, additional move set or healing potion and then to Fast Travel back again to exactly where you left off. There's no restrictions, and no limits on use. That means you don't feel so pressured into beating a boss with your current set up as if you fail the checkpoint will make sure to drop you in just before the action kicks off so you have an option to duck out and grab something to tip the odds in your favour.

Every once in a while this will cause a problem of it's own kind as some boss fights are played out in stages. In this scenarios, should you die, expect to play out all stages of the battle each and every time until you manage to pass each section. This didn't bother me at all during the first two thirds of the game, but by the time I was facing off against the final handful of bosses I was close to tears after being unable to skip a cut scene and battle the several waves of 'warm up' creatures before the root of my problem revealed himself once again.

On balance, the guys at Vigil Games have erred on the side of caution here by offering you that chance to back up each time rather than boxing you in to a situation where you haven't enough resources to take down the enemy waves.

In those times where you get a bit disoriented in a dungeon after wearing the ground thin trying to solve a puzzle, you can always turn to your feathered companion Dust, who unobtrusively follows Death around offering pointers on where to go next. The trouble is, when prompted, Dust can be totally useless. Holding down the left stick asks Dust to fly from you to where you need to go next so you can see the general path and direction you should follow. When it works, it's useful, but sadly often it's just useless. In one such situation I was lost and had no idea where to head next. I called upon Dust who flew to the door in order to suggest I should leave the room. I dutifully obliged and once outside called upon Dust again. He circled in the air for a moment or two appearing confused before alighting atop the very door I'd just come through. I ventured back in, curious, and repeated the experiment and the same happened once again. All he would suggest was to leave and re-enter the same room over and over again. It's a shame, it's useful when it works but Dust occasionally suffers from GPS interference within the other worldly realms it would seem.

Show me the achievements
The game is going to take you between 15 and 20 hours to complete the main story line without touching side quests. You can imagine then that achievements are not easy to come by or scattered carelessly. You will need to work for your unlocks here guys. You are generally rewarded for completing the key quests and for unlocking new abilities for use along the way.

There could be one troublesome one above them all though:

Darksiders IIBFAThe BFA achievement in Darksiders II worth 38 pointsUnlock Everything

This will require you to unlock all moves, all abilities, all Death Tombs, collect some collectibles and generally do a bit of legwork. In short, it's not an easy 1K. As pointed out, yes it is correct there is online pass locked content and achievements which requires the purchase of a code if bought second hand. The content is called "The Crucible' and locks two achievements from the original list if you do not have access to it.

The last words
If you played Darksiders you'll enjoy this massively. If you're coming to the series completely cold, don't worry you will absolutely get everything you were meant to out of this title. You won't miss out and you won't be punished.

An excellent game but some minor foibles prevent it from bagging a full five stars in my eyes. The puzzles are great and very well constructed so that you'll be feel a great sense of achievement when you crack them, but you'll be nursing a hunger for more frequent conflict to shake the pace up. The boss fights aren't inspiring enough for a game that thrives on over the top battles and imagery, yet oddly, the lesser enemies you will face are well varied, require different very different tactics and are consequently enjoyable to face off against, especially when lumped together in variable groups. However, these are relatively minor quibbles and I don't believe these are faults that will truly ruin your gaming experience. Simply put, these are easily dismissed.

Darksiders II guarantees success in store and very likely a third game in the series by reigning itself in and offering an exciting, consistent but ultimately safe gaming journey. You'll enjoy the game massively and be able to spend hours playing at a time, but when you're finished you may feel the game traded off a few too many of those 'wow' moments for a more a more controlled approach. Definitely worth a purchase and a lot of value in it's longevity.