Darksiders II gives you Death.
Darksiders II is four times bigger than its 8/10 scoring predecessor. The overworld is split into a quartet of main zones, each built around a town-based hub. Branching off from these hubs are dungeons - it's still very similar to the established template used in Zelda games.
"All the dungeons in the first zone of Darksiders II" explains Vigil Games' Studio Marketing Manager Jay Fitzloff, "are already larger than Darksiders 1." In just one zone, there's more game content - more combat, puzzles and exploration - than the whole of the first game combined.
Darksiders II is different to many sequels in that it doesn't follow on from the original; no, Darksiders II happens in parallel to it.
Suspecting foul play that War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, has banished to Earth at the start of the original Darksiders, his brother (and new protagonist) Death decides to go off and sniff out the truth in the sequel. Making his way to the Nether Realms, a strange void somewhere between Heaven and Hell, Death decides to call in a few favours from the powerful beings that rule the land.
In the 30 minute demo I saw, Death is off on a journey to find the Lord of Bones, who, he hopes, can help prove War's innocence. This ominously named character will not grant Death counsel until he's proven his worth, however, so it's off to the Gilded Arena to collect the head of its champion. Just like in real life, a decapitated head usually does the trick.
The Arena, an early dungeon, offers a glimpse at how Death differs to his brother. While War conformed to the archetype of a warrior - with his heavy build and incorruptible nature – Death is better described as a rogue. He's lighter and more nimble than his sibling, scrambling up walls and swinging about his environment with comparative ease.
He's also armed with the Ghost Hook, which - similar to War's Abyssal Chain - allows Death to latch on to ghostly objects about his environment, and swing from it to otherwise inaccessible areas.
The RPG side of the experience been brought to the forefront. Combat is a flurry of swords and numbers, indicating how much damage you're doing with each hit. Knowing how powerful you are at any given moment makes developing your character more satisfying, according to Fitzloff.
While Vigil won't reveal it yet, a comprehensive skill tree will allow players to tailor combat to their exact tastes. If melee isn't your thing, and you prefer necromancy - wielding spells instead of swords - the tree will offer skills and abilities to support this, with an extensive loot system in place to complement your progression. It's more than just numbers, too: your choice of armour will directly affect the look of your character.
The end of the demonstration sees Death squaring up against the champion of the dungeon - a snake-like creature swimming beneath the surface of the arena. After using the Ghost Hook to yank the beast from the ground, and giving it a solid thrashing, the snake gathers the carcasses of armoured warriors littered about the arena and uses them to create a giant suit of armour. The snake then forms the spine of the new bipedal enemy - which it occasionally rips from its own body to use as a flail.
The original game went down fairly well with critics, but wasn't without its flaws. "If War was a more engaging character and the combat more refined, Darksiders would stand as one of the early contenders for game of the year," said Tom in his Darksiders review.
Another problem critics had was the amount of back-tracking involved, and Fitzloff assured me this wouldn't be a problem for the sequel - the player will be given the reins to a horse much quicker than in the original, for instance.
The Zelda template isn't used all too often in games these days, and Darksiders II more than does it justice. "Zelda’s an awesome game, but it’s not an easy game to create," explains Fitzloff, who appreciates the comparison, but believes Darksiders is very much its own thing. "Educating, but still having fun, learning new elements as you go along; there'd be more if it was an easy thing to do, it's easier to focus on one element - maybe we're masochists."
"It's difficult to pull off, but when it works, it works," added Fitzloff.
Darksiders 2 is due for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U in 2012.