“I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come and see!’ I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.”
What do you get if the Prince of Persia and The Legend of Zelda series’ got together and formed a love child? Darksiders II would be the results of that unholy union and it seems to have survived the birth without any major defects. Darksiders II isn’t only influenced by those games, but seemingly the whole history of video gaming up to its creation. It’s refined down the essence of a thousand iterations to create a game that feels oddly familiar, yet alien in its design and content; but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Darksiders II is the sequel to Vigil’s 2010 game Darksiders, a game that was overlooked by many people and with a sense of shame I have to admit I was one of those people that missed it. Since playing this game however I know I’ll have to correct that at some point, if only to understand the back-story completely. See in Darksiders War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, was tricked into bringing forth the apocalypse early and accidently destroying mankind in the process. Naturally the higher-ups, the Charred Council, are unhappy about this and War is to be pacified. Death, yet another horseman, convinces the council to let him prove the innocence of his brother and to undo his mistake; to resurrect humanity somehow…he hasn’t got a clue how to do it, just yet.
The universe in which the games are based in are wonderfully rich in lore and story. It’s never forced down your throat, you’re not given twenty pages of text to understand what is going on, but underneath everything there is complicated power-play between factions and mythos which seems to be barely tapped. It’s something that many fantasy games forget to do; create a rich and diverse world and then place a story within it. Don’t make a story and then create the world around it because it shows if the player just peaks behind the scenery they’ll find nothing but cardboard and paint. The story itself is a rather simple case of go here, do this and an interesting character will point you in the correct direction to your final goal. Death doesn’t linger long enough to invest in the multitude of sub-plots going on; he just drifts through intent on saving his brother. It would be a rather dull game without all that extra work in the background, like multiple unseen layers on a painting masterpiece, it creates an illusion of depth.
The game is set across four distinctive worlds, each one having a rather large (although they get increasingly smaller as you progress) overworld which the player must travel around to reach the various dungeons scatter about. This is where the Zelda feeling comes into it. In each dungeon, or just before a before a new dungeon, you’ll gain a new skill. This new skill then will be essential for getting into the next dungeon thus giving you the illusion of freedom yet keeping you on a strict linear path. However it’s not all linear paths, there are more than a few option dungeons to explore. While they’re not as extensive as the story-line dungeons it again helps create the illusion that you’re in control over the progress of the game.
The inside of the dungeons will again be familiar to anybody who has played a 3D Zelda game in the last 10 years: multiple floors, locked doors, treasure chests and loads of puzzles to solve. The puzzle element of the game is very well done. It’s never too taxing, I doubt there will be any puzzle that’ll have you stumped and going on the internet to look for the solution but at the same time they’re rarely so blatantly obvious that the puzzle feels more like an insult to your intelligence and a waste of time. No, what you’ve got is a series of puzzles that helps reinforce the gameplay mechanics of the world and provide that little pleasurable sensation in the back of your mind after you’ve just cleared a room. It also helps that the various items and skills you pick up are varied enough to keep you interested, with: bombs, riding golems, creating multiple copies of yourself, creating Portal-like portals and many other gimmicks to boot. Unlike Zelda however is that dungeons require you to be constantly reusing the items and skills you’ve already learned. There is only one dungeon where you learn a skill/power and it never pops up again…and that was the last dungeon so I think we can give it a pass.
To traverse the dungeons you’ll be doing all sorts of acrobatics that looks extremely similar to the Prince of Persia series. Throughout the game there are obvious hand-holds for Death to grip and then a series of obvious pathways for death to run along. You can run up walls, run along walls, perform wall jumps and grab hold of pillars. This is how it sounds and for the most part it works; if you’ve played any PoP game since The Sands of Time then you’ll be instantly at home. The platforming element is extremely fussy however. You can only grab hold of the designated handholds, you shall not attempt to run up any walls that are not meant to be ran up and invisible walls will greet you if you do attempt to travel in a way the developers didn’t want you to. Also around half way through the game you get an item called the Deathgrip that allows you to grab hold of rings in the wall/ceiling. This enables you to cross distances you normally couldn’t. Only sometimes the game just fails to register that you’ve pressed the right button, leaving you hovering in the air firing your long range weapon which can be rather irritating.
Within the dungeons and throughout the overworlds are various enemies which Death can dispatch with his double scythes and with his changeable secondary weapon. The secondary weapon can be: hammers, glaives, claws, gauntlet fists and probably a few I’m forgetting. The combat itself is a fast paced, high combo affair focused on getting in quick hits and dodging out of the way of enemy attacks and feels a bit like the God of war franchise. It’s easy to pick up and a lot of fun against groups of enemies or single battles against the many impressive bosses. As you progress through the game you’ll level up which increases health and damage dealt but it also gives you skill points. You can then spend these on special abilities; like the ability to quickly teleport across the room and attack an opponent, summon zombies to help in the fight, create a defensive aura that’ll lessen the damage given or created an offensive aura that’ll increase your attack power. These skill points can be easily removed by buying an object from the shops; so the game allows you to experiment to your heart’s desire until you decide what your style is. As you fight you’ll increase a little meter in the corner, once full you’ll be able to unleash Death’s true form. Known as Reaper mode you’ll transform into a large hovering demon clad in a dark cloak and brandishing a deadly scythe, this mode will deal out massive damage but is only active for a very limited frame of time. Oh and of course your secondary weapons will change the fighting style of Death, plus items you’ve picked up in your journey sometimes have combat roles too. The Deathgrip for example will pull small enemies towards you or launch you at larger foes.
After you defeat an enemy they’ll drop money and sometimes new weapons and armour. Yes this game has an inventory system with the player able to decide what weapons to use and what armour to equip. Naturally there are base attributes like attack and speed for weapons and physical defence and magical resistance for armours, but there are also many additional attributes items might gain. Things like the ability to set enemies on fire, or freeze them to the spot for a limit period of time. Or items that’ll leech health off enemies with each attack or increase the rate at which your wraith meter regenerates (and thus the speed at which you can perform special attacks). Then there are special “possessed” weapons where you can “feed” it other items to increase its own attributes or invent brand new ones. It’s a nice element to the game and you can easily see the base attitudes of a weapon before picking it up and equip it instantly without going into the menu to boot. There is also a shopping element to the game which is completely worthless. You pay a lot of money for something that is slightly better than what you found in a dungeon and in the next dungeon you’ll find something even betterer just lying around. Then towards the end of the game you’ve just got so much money and nothing to spend it on. I ended up with over 160,000coin just burning a hole in my impossibly large pockets.
There are a couple of minor problems with the game. It glitches a fair bit, with Death occasionally getting stuck on the terrain forcing a restart, but it’s not a major issue because the good auto-save function means you’ll lose very little progress with the game. Death himself feels a tad too slow when running, you’ll spend most of the game rolling around the floor (again just like in Zelda) attempting to cover large distances. Towards the end of this ~25 hour long game I felt it dragged a little bit. They do try to keep things fresh by adding new powers (even throwing in third-person shooter level of sorts) but for me it wasn’t enough to save me becoming tired with the same formula. Speaking of which by the time you enter the second world you’re already getting tired of the old videogame cliché; go collect three things before you can actually progress.
The game doesn’t do anything brilliantly, but it does a lot well. As such the game just feels like a pleasure to play through. If there was the videogame equivalent of comfort food Darksiders II would be it. That’s not a bad thing and it’s something we all want to indulge ourselves with at one point or another, and if I was offered a third helping; I would definitely say “yes please!”