War, what is it good for?
While War's story has already been told, THQ and Vigil Games are back to tell Death's side of the tale. Taking place at the same time as the first game, Darksiders II promised more, more, more. Death is out to redeem his brother War for a crime he's convinced the more honorable of the two didn't commit.
With the war between Heaven and Hell to be decided by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, are we to welcome Death's coming, or was his brother War the better? Will THQ and Vigil live to tell another tale or does Death become them?
It's an undeniable fact that Death is cooler than War. He's mouthy, he struts around like he owns the place, he's the grim reaper and a living embodiment of the end of all things… the list goes on. So it's fitting then that Darksiders II is most definitely a better game than the first.
For one, Death is more nimble and faster than his brother, War. I felt at odds with War's hulking mass, but Death is lithe, acrobatic, and somehow just as brutal. Players will rely heavily on the the dual scythes our hero carries, while also mixing in arm blades, hand-maces, axes, glaives, and the occasional blunt instrument.
All of Death's weapons come with unique stats and abilities. My favorite scythes were a pair of frost-inducing blades that slowed enemies and provided more opportunities for executions than other weapons. I complemented them with arm blades of shock for persistent, impeding damage. I certainly preferred the faster, more combo-prone light-secondary weapons to the heavy glaives and axes.
Of course, Death's arsenal doesn't end there. Throughout Darksiders II, players will obtain more tools that are both practical and combat-ready. Early in the game, players obtain a pistol and a ghoulish claw that extends their reach for platforming sections. The pistol's in-combat use is obvious (you shoot people with it) but the claw acts as a grappling hook that can pull small enemies to Death for an extended combo (or vice versa).
Not every dungeon has a new tool for Death, unlike those found in the Legend of Zelda series, but Darksiders II successfully mixes gameplay in a much more satisfying way. (Watch an example of dungeon-puzzle-solving in the video above.) I kept thinking back to Arkham City's expertly paced hideouts.
Throughout temples, arenas and puzzles are mixed and matched. Some temples rely heavily on combat to urge players forward. Some temples are strictly platforming affairs. Regardless of the mix, both have been designed to perfection.
The Zelda team at Nintendo would be foolish to ignore the way Darksiders II encroaches on their territory. The dungeon design here is so perfectly paced, so deep, and so entertaining that it's nearing the pitch-perfect work that's made Ocarina of Time and other Zelda titles classics.
What's more, Death and Vigil have achieved a truly mature, dark, and violent level of visceral combat that will not be matched by Link and the Master Sword. (Check out the arena combat video above.)
Boss battles take a massive scale, with many baddies towering stories above Death. One such boss requires death to mount his trusty stead, Despair, just to avoid attacks and projectiles. It can feel like Death crawls around like an insect, waiting to be crushed…. That is, until you put your scythe right through the breast of your foe.
THQ claimed that Darksiders II would encompass a world roughly double in size to the first game, and that's true, but the real advancement in the overworld is that elements of the temples have been drawn out and scatter across the landscape. Now, as you ride through the map, you'll come across the off-hand chest, but the small gameplay loop it takes to obtain that chest is its own reward.
New copies of the game also come with the challenging Crucible Mode and eager gamers can loop back around with Death to play New Game+, complete with all the loot and skills they've obtained in previous playthroughs.
The stats page alone has compelled me to pick up the controller again. Any game that measures the gallons of blood spilled by your hands makes a strong impression in my book.
There's frankly very little to complain about in Darksiders II, and that's a great sign for those disappointed with War's outing in early 2010. It's a huge leap forward for the series and I'm left with a promising outlook on the (upcoming?) tales for Strife and Fury. Still, a word of warning for Vigil in the future.
If it weren't for the grace of Wikipedia, I would have absolutely no clue as to what exactly is going on in the universe or why Death is so intent on saving his brother, War. In fact, nothing told me that Darksiders II was taking place before or even at the same time as Darksiders I.
I can't be bothered to guess at these things, and other overlapping characters in the game don't illuminate the player, either. All of this bears on the game's abrupt conclusion. After a 20-hour investment, I'd like to know what it is I've done and what effect it has on the world.
That said, Darksiders II is fantastic, well worth your money, and even more worthy of your time. Death is an investment that pays back dividends, in coins, gems, armor, and blood. It's high praise that Darksiders II is comparable to Batman: Arkham City and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Won't you join me on a stroll in the shadow of Death?