So... is "Darksider" a code word for "will make you love a game, then tear your heart out when it doesn't work?"
By The Maker, Darksiders II is beautiful on the Wii U! The last time I saw the game was for a preview build earlier this year, and the game had had much more of a World of Warcraft look to it, lacking the desaturated tones and cool hues that now dominate it. Everything feels painted, like an illuminated storybook; it augments and enhances everything about the game, from the worldbuilding and character design to the icons on the weapon and wrath UI.
Owing to my recent playthrough of Ninja Gaiden 3 on the Wii U, I curiously set the difficulty on Darksiders II to the high setting, Apocalyptic, to find it it had a nice challenge but nothing too drastic. The gameplay is a mix of quick attacks and dashes away from telegraphed enemy strikes and puzzle-solving sections that never feel too hard or too easy. The game, when it works, is actually amazingly well-balanced and really fun.
The story, if you're not familiar, is a comic-book take on the apocalypse that has you following the horseman Death on a quest to redeem his brother, War, the protagonist of the first game set during the same timeframe. This creates potential for two more possible entries in the series, though their fate is questionable with the dire straights the publisher is in, and that the series' Creative Director Joe Madureira has recently retired from the studio to concentrate on a return to comic books.
The Wii U Gamepad integration isn't anything particularly special. The player can choose different weapons or armor on the fly, and when swimming or moving one of the game's large spheres can use the gyroscope in the Gamepad to shift the direction Death is moving. All in all, it feels like lame early PS3 games with gyroscopic control integration. Menu options can be selected with the Gamepad, but button presses work just as quickly. Aside from that, this appears to be a straight port that comes with bundled DLC.
The game is not without problems on the Wii U, in spite of there being more dev time for the title than other versions (something that has given some third-party Wii U launch titles an advantage over their last-gen console brethren). One notable problem in the game is poor player training for core mechanics. In one section I kept failing one of the traversal sections over and over, because it required a timed button press that was never explained.
Additionally, Darksiders II on Wii U is still impossibly buggy. It's the only game I've played for the system that actually caused it to freeze. Only it didn't just cause it to freeze, but it froze and emitted a keening buzz like the world's most horrible alarm clock straight from the console itself, which only ended when I unplugged the Wii U and plugged it back in after. For just one boss encounter, this happened three times before I was able to get through the entire encounter without failure. Leaving even this drastic bug aside, there was a section where I managed to find myself between walls and another where the construct I was riding ended up on a small square from which it could not be dislodged, prompting me to have to start that section over.
While we might count on a patch to fix issues like these on another game, with THQ in dire straights such a patch may never come, since as Tim Schafer explained in an interview earlier this year, consoles require upwards of $40K to patch games. This makes Darksiders II's bugs gamebusters. The bugs are so prevalent, the freezes such a problem, that I would only recommend the game to those willing to risk the wear and tear on their brand new hardware by having to unplug it regularly; this cannot be good for the Wii U's processors and hard drive.
It's a nasty enough problem that it really makes it impossible to recommend the game, which is too bad, since so much of it is amazingly well-implemented.