December 2018
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Review: Darksiders II

The original Darksiders was an easy game to describe to people. Whenever anyone would ask me what the game was like, I’d say “It’s a darker Legend of Zelda.” And that was 100% accurate – the game copied Zelda almost to a fault. That was both its biggest strength and its greatest weakness. I mean, if you’re going to copy something, copy something great – but at the same time, it still carried with it a strong feeling of “been there, done that.” So I was very excited to hear that with the sequel they were expanding the formula a great deal to try to get away from “Zelda clone” status. And I’m happy to say they succeeded – tho with the new systems came all-new problems.

The Crowfather

The Crowfather is extremely important to the story, for reasons I don’t really understand

The first major change is your main character – in Darksiders II, you play as another of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death. Brother to War, he is out to clear his brother’s name from what happened at the beginning of the first game. You see, Darksiders II takes place BEFORE the meat of the first Darksiders, tho the setup to both games is the same. Confused yet? Just wait. Death is transported to another world and sets off on a quest to find the Tree of Life, and later the Well of Souls, which will somehow allow him to clear his brother’s name. The biggest problem with this game is the story – it is extremely confusing and difficult to follow. Honestly, I’m not even sure that playing the original game would help all that much, either. You are given a vague goal to begin with, then tasked with a lot of smaller errands that don’t seem to relate much and only serve to confuse what you’re really doing. By the time you reach the unsatisfying ending cinematic, you most likely won’t know or care what’s going on – and that’s a pity.

From a gameplay perspective, it’s clear what this game is about – “more” and “bigger”. The game has a new loot system where enemies drop equipment with randomly generated stats. The combat has been vastly improved, truly earning the God of War comparisons some people threw around with the first game. Your character now earns experience and levels up, and in doing so gains skill points that you can assign in one of two skill trees. And there are more dungeons than the original, with great puzzles that require skill, abilities you pickup throughout the game and Prince of Persia-esque environment navigation. And every bit of that is as fun as it sounds.

Inventory

Obsessive-compulsive gamers like myself love this

Sure, the loot system isn’t perfect. It seems that the system is geared so that you will find equipment that has a very useful skill & then be hard-pressed to find anything better to replace it with. And the best weapons in the game, the Possessed weapons that allow you to sacrifice other weapons to them in order to level them up and give them new skills, are far too rare. But the system still adds a level of depth sorely needed in the series, as does the level up system. The skills you gain from this are very useful and give you a real feeling of progression. As for combat, it remains fairly simple with a button devoted to each of your weapons. That’s right, in addition to his Scythes, Death can equip one of many secondary weapon types which generally fall into two categories – slow but powerful or weak but fast. There is also a button for dodging, and those three buttons make up the bulk of combat. As you progress in the game, you’ll add in the occasional special skill you learn, but combat remains a simple affair. That is not to say it isn’t fun, or challenging – dodging and striking become very important skills. The same can be said for the timing-based combos you learn from trainers.

Combat

Please hammer, don’t hurt ’em

Boss fights are another highlight AND downfall of the game, simultaneously. Some of them are fantastically done, huge epic fights that are really satisfying. Some of them are needlessly frustrating, not because of sheer difficulty but because you have no clue what you’re supposed to do. I had to check online too often just to figure out how to hurt a boss, and even then sometimes the answer didn’t make a lot of sense. Strangely, the game loves to give you hints at other times, pointing out how to do mundane things and even telling you how to use special abilities in areas of the game that you could not have possibly reached if you didn’t already know how those abilities worked. Overall the game’s difficulty was all over the place, with enemies being extremely easy one minute then switching to incredibly hard the next. It seems more time was needed playtesting and balancing the game.

For those afraid that this extra combat and leveling focus comes at the expense of losing the intricate dungeons of the first game, fear not. The dungeon puzzles start out pretty tame, but by the end of the game some of them will really have you scratching your head. The care put into the dungeon design really shines through, and is a highlight of an already excellent game. The only real knock here is again related to story. You progress through five different realms during the course of the game, but unfortunately the realms are not equal. The pacing feels off – the first realm felt about right to me, when I got to the end of it, I had enjoyed it but was about ready to see something new. The second realm, however, stretches on for FAR too long. This causes the dungeons to start to feel repetitive due to the fact that they all more-or-less look the same. This isn’t helped by the amount of fetch quests and backtracking that is added here. It should come as no surprise then that this is the area where the game’s storyline really loses focus. By the time I left this realm, I thought it had long overstayed its welcome. And it did so at a price, since the last three realms have a measly one dungeon each.

Big

Yes, that small guy in front is Death

The game’s visual style is the same as the first one – exaggerated comic book. To me it looks great, but I’m also a sucker for cell shaded games. I will say that some of the things were a little TOO over the top. At one point, while passing through, my wife asked me “Are you supposed to be tiny or is everything else just REALLY big?” A fair question, even simple keys are massive in this universe. There was the occasional screen tear and the framerate did suffer some in the more open areas, but neither issue hurt the gameplay. The music ranged from fantastic to forgettable – some of the early dungeon themes were great, but later they seemed to blend into each other a little too much. Still, nothing really worth complaining about there.

So in the end, there are only really two main issues with the game: story and pacing. But what issues they are. By the time the credits rolled, my game clock showed a little over 26 hours, but it had felt much longer. Because as great as the minute-to-minute gameplay is, without a strong story to pull you along and give your actions meaning, or a more frequent change of scenery to help with the sense of exploration, it all just feels flat. So in the end, this one is hard for me to judge. If story is something you would list as most important in games, then I’d say skip this. However, if you’re more interested in fun, visceral combat and solving some very clever environmental puzzles, you could do much worse than Darksiders II.

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