If Death dies in the middle of forest, does he make a sound?
“Death Lives”, proclaims the subtitle on screens for Darksiders II, which prompts some interesting questions. While at a preview event for the game in San Francisco, my editor, Nick Tan, casually wondered aloud if that means that Death can die, and what the cosmological consequences of that might be. Assuming the beat-‘em-up nature of the game’s action indicates he can die, does he then, ahem, collect himself? is the Death that collects him still him, or a new Death? Is it some sort of sub-instance of himself, or does he manifest as two distinct entities? If it’s a sub, or more primal instance, can each of those die and be replaced by further, more pure versions of self-reflexive personifications of mortality? It’s the sort of pointless nerd-gasm that must make the ghost of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre sadly shake his head (or not… since Sartre was an atheist, one can assume the only thing that happens to him at this point is that his skeleton gets more brittle).
Darksiders II doesn’t seem that intellectually invested, though, and Death appears like he’s there more to be a replacement for the previous game’s protagonist, War, than for any specific mythological reason. Death is quicker than his brother, we are told, as the developers show the skull-faced juggernaut wall-running and leaping through a circular cavern to avoid a rising tide of lava below, addressing problems some people had with the first game.
The level shown the most during the demo was a sidequest, something new to the series, with a lot of stone areas with pools of lava. It makes me wonder if most action games take place in worlds where geology has gone haywire, since lava pits seem to be a regular feature. To evade the lava, Death must usually go through some jumping/wall-running puzzles called “Traversal Sequences”, before he lands in a large open area with a magical mech, a “rideable construct [that] the Makers use to construct the world". That's a cool little bit of world-building.
Most of the enemies in this area are constructs as well, with names like “Melee Construct”and “Construct Champ”, names that appear over their heads during the fight, along with a HP-status bar, numbers showing how much damage attacks do, and items that drop items after their defeat. For an action beat-em-up, it gives it a look that reminds me of an MMO, which is unexpected but plays into Darksiders II’s RPG elements.
Darksiders II features a pair of customizable skill trees: Harbinger, a warrior tree, and Necromancer, a magic tree. The player, of course, has the freedom to level up either or both as they progress. Items and armor dropped by enemies display a plus or minus value compared to Death’s current load-out, so that
In fighting, Death primarily uses two scythes that can be combined into a single, larger scythe for stronger but slower attacks. The developers also showed off a slow-but-large hammer and quicker-but-weaker claws as secondary weapons. Death has a “Ghost Hand” that is primarily used as a grappling hook in the environments and can also be used to close the gap between him and an enemy. They also showed off some special attacks, like Exhume which summons zombies to fight for you and Murder which summons a murder of crows to swarm the enemies.
It looked like the developers have made a significant effort to address issues player had with the original game. However, that being said, some enemies took a very long time to defeat. Hopefully, this padding will be addressed or is just a feature of the demo we were shown.
Back to the whole Death-as-protagonist thing, with the sequel having a new Horseman of the Apocalypse, it makes me wonder if we aren’t seeing a quadrilogy of games being set up with a new rider for each one. War and Death are the obvious choices for badass player characters, though sadly we won’t get a “Famine” Darksiders game, since the developers replaced him with “Fury". Man, I would have loved to see a game where you give enemies a cold.