Darksiders 2, Death lives…and rides for War.
The Darksiders franchise began with a surprise for gamers. The first Darksiders was a game that combined the best elements of a variety of franchises and worked in a great story with solid gameplay. Many reviewers spent too much time focused on the similarities it shared with other well-known games such as The Legend of Zelda and God of War. However, Darksiders paved the way for an even better game; and that game is Darksiders 2. Sequels are usually hit or miss and Darksiders 2 walks carefully upon safe ground without taking too many chances. However, as a sequel it does stand out as a massive effort that added much-needed elements the first game neglected.
As with the first Darksiders, Darksiders 2 is set during a time when the Earth has been laid waste by a prematurely triggered apocalypse. Instead of playing as the Horseman War from the first game, you are now his brother Death. Death is the oldest and (for good reason) most well-known and feared of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death is on a quest to redeem his brother War who was blamed for the destruction of the human race and beginning the final conflict between Heaven and Hell.
Death’s journey is actually a parallel sequel that is also a prequel to the later events of the first game. Never before have I come across such an interesting time and setting for a plot. All of the events in Darksiders 2 actually take place during the 100 year period in the beginning of the first game when it is revealed that War has been imprisoned for allegedly beginning the destruction of Earth before the Seven Seals were broken.
Death begins his quest searching for help in discovering what happened to his brother and what he can do to redeem him with the Charred Council that governs both Heaven and Hell. He discovers that he must seek the Tree of Life and restore humanity. This is more than saving a world. This is about bringing back an entire race of billions of people and righting the wrongs against your brother. The Tree lies deep within a realm called The Forge Lands which is fighting an evil blight called Corruption. With every new plot element discovered you soon begin to realize that the events are all interconnected between games and the bigger picture begins to awaken in your mind giving you greater purpose to see your mission through to its end.
Many reviews have focused on the negative, calling the tale convoluted. I only attribute this to a lack of knowledge of the complexities of RPG stories and impatience on the gamer’s part. Darksiders 2 requires patience. It is 3x as large in both story and setting than the first game and is best digested at a steady pace instead of rushing through like you would a meal you haven’t really made the time to enjoy. The familiar icons of angels and demons, their powers and principalities help set the tone and structure of the game. So even if you feel somewhat lost on the story before it begins to concrete together, you will recognize enough of the types of characters involved that you will push forward, eager to see who will you meet and fight next. I very much enjoyed that while this game has biblical settings and backdrops, it never goes into anything religious nor does it talk about God, Satan, or Jesus and make some lame attempt at using them in the story. The biblical elements are merely the canvas and the story is painted with layers of fantasy.
Here is another area where Darksiders 2 really shines. I will admit, I have a soft spot for combo-based combat systems. Darksiders 2 wears its influences on its sleeve here and has combat that will engage you and only require minimal memorization in order to master and, most importantly, have fun with. Besides the variety of weapons you will find, you will also have access to an upgradable range of magic abilities. Death, like revenge, is a dish best served cold and throughout the game, you will find many ways of enhancing your abilities and upgrading your weapons for the satisfying feast of carnage thrown before you. Death’s enemies show no mercy towards him, and so none should be given in return.
Now, here comes the second part that continues to make me smile. In a lot of ways, the reason I play RPGs is for the loot. Yes, Darksiders 2 has added a loot system for items, weapons, and armor that will constantly leave you smiling as you find that new piece of gear that you quickly equip in favor of the previous piece of epic gear you thought you’d keep for the rest of your life. I love loot and Darksiders 2 gives it to you. There are chests to be found throughout the various realms and loot is randomly dropped by slain enemies. Death earns XP as he fights and explores and skills points as he levels up. The skill tree is large enough that you can experiment with various abilities and still not max it out by the end of your 20-30+ hour first playthrough. However, fear not! There is now a New Game+ mode that unlocks after the first playthrough. So you can quest on keeping your upgrades and weapons and enjoying the endless find of even better gear.
Now, one downside is that as a veteran button-masher, I had to turn the difficulty to its highest setting in order to feel properly challenged. This will not be the case for many gamers. Even on Normal, it is a very enjoyable experience. Considering the game has many shades of Diablo in its loot, XP and combat driven gameplay, I was hoping for the intense level of difficulty you unlock as you complete each playthrough of Diablo. A con however is that sometimes in all the combat the camera can get slightly beyond where you want it and you have to make a conscience effort to swing it where you want it.
In the previous game, War was a tank. He was somewhat slow and sluggish, but what he lacked in speed he made up for with immense power. (Dat sword!!!) Death is the exact opposite. Death is not just fast, he’s lightening fast. He is also a lot more agile than his brother War. You will dash and dodge and slice your way through the battlefields at a heart stopping pace that left me craving more. Do you like to climb? Did you enjoy Prince of Persia? Well, you’re in luck. Because Death is an avid and quick climber who can move around walls, up pillars, and over obstacles with ease. While it is sometimes too obvious what is climbable in the game, it was still fun to feel so able to traverse the environment with such grace. There are also arena challenges that fully satiated my desires for combat challenges. Once you unlock the arena, you will be tested. You will suffer; and you will die. There is a nice risk vs reward system in place for the arena as well in the loot you obtain.
Sound and Graphics
The developers should be commended for created such a beautiful world. The art of Joe Mad is a perfect fit for this type of fantasy game and the sound design and soundtrack composed by Jesper Kyd will keep you immersed and engaged throughout. In fact, Darksiders 2 has what is no doubt my favorite game soundtrack of 2012. If you know me and know the amount of game soundtracks I’ve listened to outside of the game, that’s saying a lot. Many will not find the art style as gorgeous as I did. It is a tad on the lower side of what most gamers expect from modern games. There are other fantasy genre games that have a more crisp and high fidelity to their visuals. However, Darksiders 2 delivers with what it attempts to do and is still visually stimulating with its otherworldly elements and characters.
Darksiders 2 is an amazing game. Yes, it has elements borrowed and mashed up from other great franchises. However, I decided not to focus on those comparisons as if it was a bad thing. I think every gamer who loves RPGs, lengthy story-lines, great combat, and loot will find something about Darksiders 2 they will enjoy. Even though graphically it doesn’t stand up to a lot of modern games, and the combat can be too easy if you are an experienced 3rd person action gamer, there is a great narrative here and an entertaining game. It may confuse those who aren’t vested in the genre of the cross fantasy/religious themes and characters it creates. But thankfully you don’t have to have played the first game to enjoy and understand this one. It does require attention and patience. So those looking to skip cut scenes or dialogue just to get to the next fight sequence or boss may be frustrated and eventually bored with the game’s length.
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