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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Reaper Roleplay

The larger game world isn't only there to give the art department a stage on which to strut their stuff though. Gameplay wise, Darksiders 2 has been expanded tremendously, to the point where it resembles an action RPG nearly as much as an action/adventure. I remember hearing talks of adding more RPG elements to the game, but I really wasn't prepared for just how far they would go with it.

For starters, you have a proper “paper doll” equipment setup, complete with slots for head, chest, leg and arm gear, primary and secondary weapons and an accessory. By comparison, can you name the last Final Fantasy that gave you that many equip slots? There's even a full, robust itemization system to back it up. Loot drops randomly off of enemies and bosses, and you never know what you'll get next. Where the first game only gave you three main weapons to choose from, there are 8 different weapon types to choose from besides your defacto dual scythes, for a total of 9 weapon classes and there are several tiers of rarity and a wide variety of different sub-types for each. Not only do they affect an entire pool of stats for your character, but each one has a distinct look and every piece of gear you equip is represented on the character model, allowing you to craft a look just as distinct as your play style.

Rounding out all the looty goodness are set items, a la Diablo, which confer unique bonuses if you find the entire batch, and finally, Possessed weapons. These behemoths are the rarest of drops, and can be leveled up by sacrificing other items to them. This accomplishes two things: first it gives the game a much needed item sink, which any fan of loot based ARPG's understands the importance of. If you don't have anything worthwhile to do with the loot you are finding, because it's all worse than what you have, finding loot stops being fun. But if Possessed weapons are as rare as Joe made them sound, attaining one will be tough, and once you do, you'll still look forward to getting more loot so you can feed it. The second thing they accomplish is adding another layer of customization. Possessed weapons take on unique abilities and attributes depending on what types of items you feed to them. So two different people who get their hands on a Possessed pole-arm can have drastically different weapons by the end of the game.

Customization doesn't end there though. Death gains XP and levels up over the course of the game and each time he does, you get a point to spend in one of two branching skill trees. The “Harbinger” tree is a melee focused skill set, while the “Necromancer” tree is more magic based. There are a total of 33 skills to choose from and many of them have multiple ranks to earn, making maxing everything an impossibility. With so many options available, it seems like multiple runs will be a must, if only to see what other cool bits of loot you can find and what new skill builds you can make work. Throw in some side quests to boot and you have a game that is much deeper and far more replayable than its predecessor.

Right, But How Does It Play?

Even in the pre-alpha state it was presented in, it's clear that Darksiders 2 maintains the pitch perfect pacing and balance that made the original such a continuous joy to play. The folks at Vigil seem to have such a good sense of how to mix and match platforming, exploration, combat and set pieces in such a way that you get to do just enough of each for it to feel satisfying, but just little enough to keep any one element from overstaying its welcome. The large, multisection dungeon I played through retained that logical, intuitive progression that made the dungeons in the first game interesting without ever being confusing.

For most of the demo, I was accompanied by a mountain of a man named Karn, who would aid me in battle and occasionally toss me over particularly large gaps or lift particularly heavy gates to let me pass. It's unclear at this point how often he will be with you throughout the game, but I'd prefer if it were a rare occurrence. While he functioned well and provided some insight on what I was doing and why, there's something odd about playing as one of the dreaded Horsemen of the Apocalypse and needing to be tossed like Dwarf by a big lunkhead with a Scottish accent. Part of the first game's appeal was the power fantasy of being a singular, powerful being. Having hired muscle tanking a bulk of the damage for you in a fight kind of diminishes that feeling so I hope the final game doesn't have too much of it.

A new addition I did like was that of the Custodians. They're these big rolling destruction engines that Death can ride on the back of and control. They're capable of traversing lava and dealing immense damage to any enemies unfortunate enough to cross you while you're in control of one. They also have puzzle solving uses since they can break down destructible obstacles and shoot their arm out like a harpoon to create footing for Death, granting him access to normally out of reach places. I wouldn't mind seeing more of them, as their ponderous nature and hefty melee swings complement the graceful, balletic movements of Death nicely.

All that extra agility pays off in spades when you get into the thick of battle. War lent himself to more of a plodding approach to combat where you took your space and held it. Death can't really do that but his speed, teleport slash and Death Grip allow him to control the ebb and flow of battles in a far more dynamic way. It takes getting used to at first but it becomes strongly kinetic and infectiously empowering once you dial in. Of course, teleport slash was only one of a multitude of skills available and I barely scratched the surface of what all the new secondary weapons can do. The ability to perform stylized finishing maneuvers on weakened foes returns and remains just as grin inducing as it has ever been. The reference guide I was provided with also implied that hitting the circle button in other contexts could yield other satisfying results, but sadly I wasn't able to come up with anything. I'm looking forward to toying around more to see what other tricks Death has up his tattered sleeves.

You'll notice that I haven't talked about the setting of the demo or what exactly Death is trying to accomplish during it. Since Earth is no longer a big part of the picture, Vigil has leveraged that freedom to take to some incredible new locations and introduce completely new factions and characters to the game's lore. On top of that, the dungeon I ran through definitely had a couple of fun twists that I would hate to ruin for anyone. Without spoiling too much, I will say that the demo concluded with a huge boss battle of Shadow of the Colossus type proportions. Like the many memorable boss encounters from Darksiders, it felt very much like a “final exam”, testing all the skills you've learned up to that point. All I can really say is that if the boss I fought is the cherry on top of the first quarter of the game, I can't wait to see what else lies ahead.

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