Darksiders II

And Hell Followed With Him...

We finally got a chance to take Death and Despair for a test drive in Darksiders 2. Find out how Vigil's sophomore effort is shaping up.
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: March 22, 2012
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It would be hard for a game to take people by surprise any more than the original Darksiders did when it came on the scene in early 2010. It was one of those projects that sounded so tantalizing on paper that there was just no way it could possibly succeed, except for the fact that it did. Well before Curt Schilling proved that great game minds can come from unexpected places, Joe Madureira decided to take a break from being a well respected comic book artist and co-founded a video game studio, Vigil Games. Naturally, he decided that the studio's very first game should be an ambitious, high production value, Legend of Zelda-esque action adventure title set in a recently Armageddon'd Earth, and featuring one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as the protagonist. They don't call him “Joe Mad” for nothing.

The risk more than paid off though. The worst thing anyone could think of to say about Darksiders was that it borrowed heavily from its genre's revered progenitors. The best thing anyone had to say about it was that it might have surpassed them. A bold claim for sure, given how stacked the genre is with beloved classics, but at the very least, Darksiders was the best game of its kind in the year it came out.

The art, which looked like someone added three pints of badass to a Blizzard portfolio, was impressive – unsurprising given Joe Mad's pedigree. What was surprising however, was the well realized fiction, the expertly designed dungeons, the satisfyingly weighty combat, and the overall level of polish the production enjoyed. Plenty of veteran studios have screwed up games a lot less ambitious than the original Darksiders. The only thing more exciting than seeing a rookie studio pull off a game so big on the first try is seeing what they'll do on the second, and having played a nice sized chunk of Darksiders 2 I'd say that excitement is warranted.

Bigger, Longer, Faster, Stronger

While I won't get into the story related reasons for it, Darksiders 2 is not War's game like the first one was. This time around it's his brother Death, the most famous of the four riders and the only one to be mentioned in a Johnny Cash song, who takes center stage. While Vigil could have made him little more than a palette swap of the first game's protagonist, they instead took the opportunity to craft a character who feels as distinct as he looks. As you've no doubt heard by now, Death is far more lithe and agile than his shoulder pad laden brother.

This isn't expressed with a mere walk speed increase. His mobility actually alters the way in which the game is played. Unless you have a buckler equipped as your secondary weapon, Death can't block. To compensate, his ability to evade well outstrips his predecessor's, and his teleport slash, one of his many unique abilities, allows him to stay on the offensive while avoiding danger. Another new tool of his is the Death Grip, an ethereal hand of pulsing purple energy that he can use to pull individual enemies from a crowd, or to rapidly pull himself closer to distant foes. Combined with his quicker attack speed, Death can stay active in combat at all times, rather than resorting to the methodical block and counter tactics War was limited to.

That Death Grip comes in handy outside of combat too, giving him the ability to grapple and catapult past many suspended objects and ledges. Gone are the days of slowly floating through the air on ghostly currents. Death can hurtle through the sky at great speed given the proper surroundings. Complementing this further are his mantling and wall running abilities. Rather than having to grab rails dug into the walls, Death can just scamper across them like a Persian prince, vaulting off of wall fixtures along the way to maintain height. Not only does this help distinguish him from War, it actually makes the platforming element of the game far more fluid, entertaining and challenging than it was before.

Completing the overall theme of enhanced mobility is Death's steed, Despair. While players had to wait until almost three quarters into the game to get their mount in the original game, now they will have access to one near the beginning of the journey. The section I was allowed to play was about a quarter of the way into the game and I had access to Despair right from the get go. While he can't be summoned in close quarters, wide open areas are fair game and of course galloping along on horseback is a lot faster and cooler than hoofing it when you have long distances to cover.

And based on what we were told at the event, you'll be thankful for the extra transportation. The game world is an order of magnitude bigger in Darksiders 2 than it was in the original. The long, multi-part dungeon I played through was the culmination of the first of four main regions in which the game takes place, and each one is purported to be equal in size to the entire game world of Darksiders. That's a lot of extra real estate and in talking to Joe Mad after my demo, he seemed really eager to make use of all of it, re-iterating that since the Earth bound portion of the story is essentially done, they had the opportunity to introduce entirely new worlds - worlds he had always envisioned as part of the Darksiders universe but just didn't have the time or budget to fit into the original.

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