Do Darksiders II's RPG elements make a difference?
"Death comes equally to us all," said the sixteenth-century poet, scourge of A-Level students and father of 12, John Donne. But this is clearly not the case, as Darksiders II so elegantly proves: Death can bash faces with a massive hammer, use some fancy claws or just make short work of, well, pretty much everything with a scythe.
Donne clearly had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
Darksiders II, then, is a story about Death. He's replacing his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse brother War as protagonist - a move rumoured (by me) to have happened because THQ was tired of games journalists using the strapline "What is it good for?" in their coverage of the original game.
But, you know, what does Death actually do? Unlike his brother he can't block, for a start, which is pretty significant change for a game that trades in third-person brawling - think more Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, rather than God of War and Ninja Gaiden.
Death's signature weapon is understandably the scythe - known in the game as the Harvester, presumably because of the Grim Reaper's penchant for barrel-scraping salad bar chains - although Vigil Games' interpretation gives him a modular dual-bladed weapon that can be wielded in different forms, based on the combo you're inputting. It can be chopped and changed into a hulking polearm, or held in each hand for a flurry of quick attacks.
Then there's the Ghost Hand, an ethereal gizmo that can used for both combat and movement, either flinging Death forwards or yanking enemies closer. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Nero's Devil Bringer from Devil May Cry 4, and has similar uses - including combat against hulking multi-storey bosses. One quick sequence teased an enemy whose sword alone was the size of a skyscraper.
Death is a lithe, agile fighter who'd rather run along beams than tackle them hand-over-hand. A new focus on traversing the environment means you'll also partake in all the wall-running hijinks of a good Prince of Persia game, ping-ponging from pillars and shimmying like you're at a 1920's themed club night.
A new level shown to journalists at a recent preview event made sure to show off all of Death's fancy new bells and whistles, throwing him headfirst into one of gaming's most beloved aesthetic tropes: the lava level. Here the target is a rogue golem known as Ghorn, and the game has you swatting away minions and leaping over pits as you progress towards the inevitable boss fight on the horizon.
Darksiders II is a tough game to show off in a preview. It's easy to make a few snarky comments about a lava level, but this is an experience that you appreciate over time, and a game that develops as you play. It also helps that Vigil Games' sophomore effort is packed with all the dings and flashes of a good RPG, allowing Death to hoover up experience and customise two independent skill trees, Harbinger and Necromancer. The former lets him pack a stronger punch, while the latter gives him, amongst other things, the ability to summon a zombie army.
There are also three different armour sets to clad the Pale Rider in: Slayer, Necromancer and Wanderer. These can, of course, be mixed-and-matched to customise your own stylish and effective attire, because you don't want to head out into the apocalypse with your undead minions without looking snazzy.
It's more than cosmetic, of course - Vigil Games understands the powerful effect a customisable character can bring to the RPG experience. Just look at Skyrim. But Vigil is looking to bridge the experience, mixing together the build-your-own-adventure approach of the MMO with the context and plot of games like the original Darksiders, and The Legend of Zelda. It's a best of both worlds approach, but it looks like it could work wonders.