Darksiders II screenshot
Darksiders II screenshot

If the opening hours of Darksiders II confuse you, well, I honestly don't blame you. An ice palace? A big forest filled with monsters? Loot? There's a lot going on and it's all especially confusing because, when we left off, all the angels and demons were on the brink of another fresh betrayal-spurred conflict on our post-apocalyptic planet, all while being accompanied by a stirring orchestral accompaniment.

But none of that has actually happened yet. For the most part, Darksiders II is a sideways story, taking place concurrently with the events of the first game.

So your host for the proceedings will now be Death, not War, although within a couple of hours the eldest of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse has racked up a bodycount high enough to suggest at least a partial declaration of some form of prolonged conflict. Despite the change of character and scenery it's all very much business as usual - Vigil has once again lifted its gameplay mechanics of gentle third-person puzzling, wide-open exploration and swift combat from some very familiar surroundings.

Vigil and THQ have always been quick to play down Darksiders' similarity to the other games it so copiously borrows from, which is never something I've properly understood; these developers should wear their influences proudly. This is a game that cribs from the very best, after all, becoming an amalgamation of some of the most celebrated games of all time. It's like a mixtape of pure belters, only something's gone wonky and every sensational hit is coming out of the speakers at once: Zelda! God of War! Prince of Persia! There's even a couple of Shadow of the Colossus bits!

It is to Vigil's enormous credit that this busy mix of myriad inspirations feels, for the most part, harmoniously balanced.

Darksiders II screenshot

Much of the balancing act is performed by Death himself. The Pale Rider is both lithe and chunky, his sinewy muscles bulging in the way that only games and comic books can adequately portray. He is also, like the game itself, an amalgamation; Vigil's Grim Reaper has the look of Soul Reaver's Raziel mixed with the flair of Dante and the agility of the Prince. That's just a really lovely mix, and he's a great character - snarky and confident, but curiously friendly and baronial. He's also out to restore the now-extinct human race, so (as a human myself) it's pretty hard to properly dislike him. The game also bobs along at a rather pleasant cadence alongside its star, with plenty of nice touches and twists peppered into familiar scenes. Vigil even manages to work in the classic 'tree of life' trope without making my brain want to hand in its notice and become an accountant.

Still, with War off fighting the forces of heaven and hell, and Death stumbling upon an ancient corruption threatening to destroy everything ever, well, I can only begin to imagine what Strife and Fury are going to have to put up with down the line.

But, really, the meat of Darksiders II is about thwacking baddies with great prejudice, over and over and over until there are no more baddies left to thwack, and then solving a puzzle. It's nice, then, that combat has been tightened and focused from the original's overlong confrontations, and Death's nippier attacks - from his potent dual scythes and various secondary weapon options - are met by equally hastened opponents. Darksiders II is a game rich in enemy variety, including various automatons, zombies and demons, so if it bleeds (and even if it doesn't) Death will probably off it.

'Each of the numerous hub worlds feel roughly comparable to the space on offer in the original...'

The increased speed allows much more detail to explode on the screen, then, but the attack prompts of enemies and general pace of the pugilism demand faster fingers (especially on higher difficulties) than the original. The trade-off is worth it, however, though there's still a slight disconnect between the player and the fighting; the systems aren't all that complicated and players are never really incentivised to master them to begin with, so once you've found your bread-and-butter set of moves (I like to dart in with a teleport dash, let off a couple of whirlwind combos and zip back out again) you'll likely stick with that for the entire game.

Another thing which doesn't quite work is the game's new loot system, which throws up all kinds of potential possibilities on paper but doesn't quite add much in reality - the loot on offer is just a bit too random and boring to really make much of a difference. You'll see a better scythe, for instance, and replace your old one; the range of modifiers on offer don't come close to rivalling Borderlands or Diablo, so you won't really develop any kind of attachment to the loot. It is, sadly, rarely more than just bog-standard, everyday loot. Bad loot. Most of your gear will just be fed to Possessed Weapons, which get stronger by eating your vanilla gear, and that's the end of that. I quickly switched on the ability to joylessly hoover up all items automatically, and sporadically checked what I'd picked up between missions.

Levelling up, on the other hand, slots into the mix quite nicely. Death has access to two skill trees, Harbinger and Necromancer, with the former bestowing new physical abilities and the latter conferring things you can summon - crows, ghouls and tornadoes, to name a few. There are about thirty different skills in all, feeding into a handful of core abilities you'll start to rely on by the game's half-way point. You'll also get plenty of other thingies and wotsits from clearing out dungeons and forcing your scythe into the squishy bits of boss monsters.

Darksiders II screenshot

Make no mistake, this is a long game. Each of the numerous hub worlds feel roughly comparable to the space on offer in the original, creating an overall world map that feels at least three times bigger than what has come before. Darksiders II, then, is absolutely stuffed with content, including numerous side-quests - many of which I'm still in the process of finishing off now. Optional missions range from the usual item collectathons to your standard B-tier dungeons, but my favourite so far involves you travelling around the various hubs in a bid to knock off a handful of particularly nasty boss monsters. If you're looking for a recent game that's built to last, well, I can't think of a better example than this.

This is a game that is very much the sum of its parts, and Vigil should be commended for managing to bring together so many component features from so many disparate parts, and without reaching critical mass. Death has managed to reap most of his systems from other titles, and in doing so he feels like a proper journeyman - his jumping isn't the highest, his fighting isn't the fiercest and his puzzles aren't the most cerebral. But these are secondary factors, taking a backseat to how Vigil has managed to capture a sense of one of the rarest feelings in video games: a genuine adventure.

I sincerely hope Death is not the end for this series, as Darksiders II is a fascinatingly hokey journey through an impressive array of otherworldly locales and a bizarrely lovable cast of characters, and a few underwhelming jumps and puzzles doesn't detract from one of the most earnest and generous titles of the summer.

You could ask for Darksiders II to be more imaginative, then, and it would be nice to see some sharper puzzles, tighter combat and loftier jumps, but for a game obsessed with revenge and murder Vigil has crafted something with a surprising amount of heart.

Version Tested: Xbox 360

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McFlange's Avatar

McFlange

I downloaded the original as part of the fantastic PS service recently after a recommendation by a friend who loved it. To date i have played about 1.5 hours but still don't feel that pulled in or grabbed by the game in general. I plan on seeing it through to the end and hopefully by then I will singing it's praises as everyone else seems to be.
Posted 20:41 on 24 August 2012
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

Darksiders II ended up with 26 reviews scoring 90 or higher, the User metascore is higher than the Review metascore. Should really be a no-brainer buy, it would be for me but I picked up Sleeping Dogs last week, but it's definitely on the 'to get' list.
Posted 19:42 on 23 August 2012
Dragons33's Avatar

Dragons33

I just bought the game the other day, for the most part the reviews don't give the game justice. The game has a lot of new concepts with the looting system along with the skill tree that is available. The only complaint I could give is to have more things going on n the areas like more monsters and more side quests to do. If another game is made and I hope there is, don't make the game smaller keep the game big just polish it up better after the initial size is attained and add more to it. Love the series hope to see them do at least two more games
Posted 19:31 on 23 August 2012
Wido's Avatar

Wido

Been seeing the game getting 7.5/10 reviews, again not bad, but somewhat worried a little with the potential this series has. Putting that aside... I recently finished (got round) to finish Darksiders, and it has got me excited to play the game. I read your review earlier today Martin, and it was a good read. Roll on Tuesday!
Posted 15:34 on 15 August 2012
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

I will get around to playing darksiders sometime soon (hopefully this year)... :-/

Does the loot allow a great deal of appearance customisation...? That is a little touch that I do like in such games. As opposed to just adding 'behind the scenes' buffs and bonuses...
Posted 09:47 on 15 August 2012
Endless's Avatar

Endless

Strife and Fury? I'm sure you mean Pestilence and Famine right? Or were you not talking about the remaining two horsemen?

I'll probably have to rent this ufortunately, much as I would love to be able to buy it. I've still a smidgen of the original left to finish and I loved that to bits, exactly my kind of game.
Posted 09:33 on 15 August 2012
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker

Sorry to hear you had some problems with the game, but it also sounds like you found a lot to like. Darksiders 1 was a damn near perfect game I thought, so I think i'll def pick this up because I like the mishmash of mechanics as well as the story.
Posted 04:39 on 15 August 2012
Gollum_85's Avatar

Gollum_85

I always wanted to pick up the original Darksiders, but this sounds pretty damn good too.
Posted 20:39 on 14 August 2012

Game Stats

Technical Specs
8
Out of 10
Darksiders II
  • A nice mix of many different gameplay styles
  • Plenty of content on offer
  • Doesn't bring anything new to the table
  • Not quite all it could be
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 21/08/2012
Platforms: Xbox 360 , PS3 , PC , Wii U
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Action
Rating: BBFC 15
Site Rank: 760 19
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