Darksiders II Review

In 2010, Vigil Games unleashed the apocalypse upon the world, bringing about the end of days. While other games have taken place during cataclysmic events, or are set in post-apocalyptic universes, very few, if any, games have actually made you apart of the event, let alone put players in the shoes of one of the harbingers of the apocalypse itself.

The first Darksiders game starred War, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, who made his way to earth after the start of the final war between Heaven and Hell. He eventually is accused of bringing forth the end of days prematurely, and by the end, it seems as though Heaven and Hell are against War, forcing him to summon the other horsemen to aid him, bringing us to Darksiders II.

Due to War’s actions in the first game, he is facing a 100 year imprisonment, and therefore cannot clear his name, leaving his brother, Death, to absolve him and resurrect humanity by himself. It is revealed that the horsemen are the last of the nephilim, who are half angel/half demon beings, and Death’s amulet actually holds the souls of the slain members of his race, which are then thrust into his body causing a parasite-like growth on his chest. After being sent through an inter-dimensional portal after being “infected”, Death ends up in the Forge Lands, home of the gigantic Makers who are the creators of the worlds and other constructs, and discovers that a plague known as the Corruption has taken over the Tree of Life, and much of the Forge Lands. Death is then tasked to save the Forge Lands, rescue the Tree of Life, and therefore gain the ability to resurrect the humans, and possibly find whomever it is that framed War for starting the apocalypse early.

We won’t go into details on the story beyond that, but it was nice to play a game that uses God of War’s gameplay style without the story being too much of a revenge tale. Yes, there are some elements of revenge used, but the story doesn’t rely on it, and neither does the character. Death is angry, Death is powerful, but he’s not without humanity. He’s often polite, at least to those that understand that they are beneath the horsemen, but is quick to start a brawl to test his might against those who believe they are better. Playing as a god-like character that is so human is a refreshing element, even if this fairly down-to-earth deity is riding a flaming horse named Despair. We wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a good story, unfortunately, as the game makes it very hard to care about the world it’s set in. Sure the Forge Lands look good enough to be worth saving, but none of the characters are very likeable, they become extremely stale extremely fast, and their flaws help build up to what is an extremely underwhelming ending.

While Death slices enemies in the style of Kratos (mostly with a scythe that splits into two smaller sickles), his running and platforming are much more agility-based, mimicking many of the actions that made the Prince of Persia series such a hit. A great deal of the exploring is based on his running abilities, again introducing a fresh mechanic to this gameplay style, requiring players to run along one wall, jump to the next wall before your momentum fails, then likely jump to a platform or vine, only to get to another platforming segment which now demands running along the wall over lava, to a piece of wood sticking out of the wall to vault over, and continue the frantic climbing. These may change the pace of what can be a very repetitive hack-n-slash section of the game, but require a great deal of memorization of controls, as just a day or two away from the game can make it very hard to remember how to perform certain actions since there are so many to keep in mind while playing. That may be a little annoying, but is a vast improvement from War’s heavy lugging around in the first game, despite it being very easy to walk off ledges and launch off of walls during wall-running in the complete opposite direction you wanted to go.

As mentioned, the combat is anchored by Death’s dual-blade slicing and dicing, which perform light attacks and combos, but is enhanced by equipping heavier weapons that take on the task of adding those heavy attacks that shatter armor and bones. You can equip everything from giant battle axes, to hammers that are taller than the character, proving that being one of the horsemen has some perks. Adding further depth to the game is the RPG-style levelling and equipment system. Darksiders II is packed full of loot, usually in the form of money and equipment, which can change the appearance of Death from a leather-covered bum, to a cloaked destroyer of worlds. The various pieces of armor can also carry stat boosts, and ‘Possessed’ pieces can actually be fed other equipment to level it up so that your stats can be increased to even greater heights. As you kill more and more fiends, you’ll gain experience which helps towards levelling your character, allowing him to equip stronger weapons and armor, as well as giving Death the ability to unlock skills on his skill tree, earning either Harbringer (attack-based) or Necromancer (magic-based) abilities.

Unfortunately, this is where the differences with the God of War series stop. The music definitely isn’t as epic, but has the same chorus/orchestra soundtrack, packed with loud brass instruments during cutscenes and battles. Comparisons aside, it’s a very lackluster and forgettable soundtrack, having little to no chance of making or breaking the game, nor does it properly score moments that should be epic. Thankfully, the visuals do help to ease the pain, but not by too much. DS2 has you searching through more and more ruins, all of which look like copies of each other, and even though the world has climate and setting changes, it does still feel like more of the same, and isn’t interesting enough to want to hang around in. That said, the team at Vigil Games definitely made a beautiful, colourful game, which would have been great to have had out in 2010, prior to games like Uncharted 3, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

The lackluster story, repetitive gameplay, and absence of compelling characters makes this a game that is only really worth replaying if you’re very invested in this series. Completing the game unlocks a new game plus mode, allowing you to play the game again with all of the items and skills you earned the first time through, with even more extra items to find the second time around, but the game only allows one new game plus per playthrough, so what is already a bit of a waste of time can suddenly become meaningless once more.

All in all, we were pretty harsh on this game, and even if all comparisons to other games in this genre are 100% removed, Darksiders II still leaves us with an experience that doesn’t realize it’s full potential, nor does it capitalize on the release schedule it’s been given, as it falls right before the blockbuster release season, and could have become the game that sets off what may be a season of game of the year candidates. Instead we wonder: How could I not care about this world in the game after 10 hours of saving it?

Overall: 7 generic boss battles out of 10.

Comment 1
Patrick Bach's picture

I personally really loved Darksiders (the first one) but felt somewhat disappointed by this one. The entire "loot" concept felt half assed and there were not many "real" choices to be made. If green = better stats = auto equip. Yeah it was kinda neat that it changed how you looked in the game, and I did like how the secondary weapons you chose somewhat affected gameplay, but beyond that it was more a distraction to the core gameplay than anything else. Don't get me started on how disapointing it is to get that "super hidden chest" only for it to have crap loot. Let's keep that mundane stuff to MMOs please.

On another note, I also felt that the narrative was much weaker than the first game's. The motivation behind each task was vague and unconvincing. And let's be honest, Darksiders was built around arbitrary use of "collect 4 of this to forge the key to get to the next area where you'll need 7 doodads" but Darksiders II took it to a whole new level. It was shameless.

Overall though, I'd agree with the score. It is a lot of fun, the voice acting and storyline are entertaining and the gameplay is fun.