I wasn’t the biggest fan of Darksiders. There was no real sense of progression, no New Game+, no real reason to come back, and most of all, I felt like it borrowed a bit too much from its source material.
Although people are quick to compare the franchise to Zelda, I think Soul Reaver is a better fit: especially given the more ethereal nature of both stories. Still, despite borrowing from a few of my favorite franchises, it was a bit too similar to really make a mark on me.
Thankfully, Darksiders II improves upon the first game, all while forging its own identity.
One thing that needs to be mentioned right off the bat is that Darksiders II has a phenomenal soundtrack. Many tunes sound like they belong in a major motion picture, and I honestly think if game soundtracks were eligible, this would at least get a nod at the Academy Awards — it’s that good.
While the first game wasn’t bad by any means musically, with Darksiders II, I’m actually interested in picking up the OST very soon — considering I haven’t bought a game soundtrack since Shatter, that’s easily a good thing.
In terms of gameplay, you’re going to notice that Death is a bit more spry than his brother War, and the game is all the better for it. Most of your combat time is going to be spent dodging, and wracking up combos with your scythes (Square button, X), or your secondary weapon (Triangle, Y).
Secondary weapons? Yep, that’s right, Darksiders II features ancillary weapon loot, all which can be gained from chests, enemies, or found in the environment. These weapons range from hammers, claws, axes, and so on, but the loot doesn’t stop there: you can equip a myriad of armor, scythes, and amulets to help bolster your stats.
Unwanted loot can either be offloaded at merchants for cash or fed to “possessed” weapons, which levels them up and allows you to customize their name/stats. While looting works very well, there’s a bit of a conundrum found within the game’s two options. As a default option, loot has to be picked up, but can be equipped in-game by holding the select/back button.
This is a pretty well done streamlined approach to loot in what should be a high-octane game that suffers very little setbacks in terms of menu surfing. While this option seems great, the sheer amount of loot you’re going to pick up will force you to change the setting to auto-loot, which picks up everything automatically.
Sadly, this option doesn’t have any tooltips or descriptions in-game of the loot you pick up, which means you’re going to spend a lot of time in menus comparing and contrasting different pieces. While it isn’t 100% neccesary to menu surf to beat the game, it is a bit jarring to have to constantly go in/out of menus to find that perfect piece. If the game allowed auto-loot and tooltips, you wouldn’t have to go into your inventory constantly and break up the action.
Minor issues aside, the inventory system works, and it works well, especially alongside the skill system. Darksiders II offers two skill trees, which work very similarly to Blizzard’s classic Diablo or WoW trees. There are two specializations: one which caters to melee, and one which caters to summoning/spellcasting.
You can opt to min/max one or the other, or delve into both: it’s your choice. Every time you level up you earn a skill point that can be invested within. It’s not the deepest system ever, but compared to the first game, the level of customization really draws you into the game.
If you’re so inclined, you can switch your skills at any time through the merchant Vulgrim, who can swap them out for a 1000 coin flat rate — this price stays the same, even through subsequent respecs. This means that you’re free to play the game the way you want to at all times.
While questing, most of your time is going to be spent platforming, figuring out puzzles, and fighting. While there are boss battles galore, none of them feel nearly as epic as the first game: Darksiders II has a decidedly more tactical and puzzle-like feel to it, making it feel more unique, and less of a direct sequel.
Death gets around well enough, with a few issues here and there with platforming, but thankfully, if you fall to your doom, you’ll restart right back where you fell, which makes things a lot less frustrating.
Environmentally, the game is absolutely stunning. The game contains four worlds which are roughly each the size of the first game. Note that most of said areas are not playable per se, it’s just that the sheer size and detail of them rival entire games — and impressive feat that may not be replicated in the future, as the budget was no doubt massive.
Story wise, the game is kind of a mixed bag. Death is trying to save his brother War while the first game is happening in the background — in order to do this, he enlists the help of several mythological creatures and beings along the way, all of which who are a bit bland.
Thankfully, Death himself is an infinitely more interesting protagonist than War, which makes the story a bit more tolerable. Death is a bit of a wise ass, yet he will stop at nothing to protect those that he cares about. He isn’t going to be winning any depth awards anytime soon, but for an action game, he’s easily one of the more interesting, and cooler heroes to hit the action scene in the last ten years.
The side quests in the game, like any other RPG, range from menial to major, although there are enough of the latter to keep people busy for a long while: at least, longer than the original game. There are going to be a lot of fetch quests on offer, but thankfully, one can opt to completely ignore them in favor of a meaty 25-30 hour main story.
Provided you’re willing to keep playing, Darksiders II will welcome you back with open arms. There’s a New Game+ mode, an arena to test your mettle in, and a “Hardcore Mode,” which functions the exact same as it does in the Diablo series — one death, and your progress is erased. There’s also DLC on the way.
It’ll be interesting to see if Darksiders III (if it ever comes) makes as many changes as this iteration did in comparison to the first. Simply put, Death feels utterly different from War, both in characterization and mechanically, which I think is for the better. When juxtaposed to War, Death feels more fun, more agile, and more interesting than his other brother ever was.
This review is based on a physical copy of Darksiders II for the Xbox 360.