|Title: Darksiders II
Developer: Vigil Games
Release Date: August 14, 2012 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC), November 18, 2012 (Wii U)
Genre: Action RPG
Platforms: Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Age Rating: ESRB Mature, PEGI 16+
In the months leading up to the Wii U’s launch, Nintendo Power (May they rest in peace) published a number of articles about Darksiders II. I was intrigued. What was the big deal about this series coming to the Wii U? I decided that I wanted to get this “Darksiders” when the Wii U came out. But first, I decided that I had to try and find the original. I managed to do so, and at a bargain price, too. It was a good game, if rather short, but it cemented in my mind the fact that I would be buying its sequel.
If someone asked me to describe the original Darksiders to them, I’d tell them that it’s essentially an M-rated Legend of Zelda game with over-the-top combat. It had all the hallmarks of a Zelda game; an overworld-dungeon flow, puzzles within said dungeons, items to solve puzzles, a distinctive chime when a puzzle was solved, dungeon maps, dungeon keys, it even had its own version of Zelda’s “heart pieces” to increase health. Sure, the combat was more in-depth, with various combos, additional weapons, and a basic leveling up system, but, for all intents and purposes, Darksiders was a Legend of Zelda game. Darksiders II, on the other hand, does a bit better at forging its own identity, while remaining similar enough to its predecessor that they don’t appear to be parts of two different series.
Darksiders II is a prequel/concurrent story to Darksiders. War, one of the four Riders of the Apocalypse has accidentally kick-started the End of Days; the war between the angels, demons, and humanity. The angels and demons raze the Earth, wiping out humanity during the fighting, and War is imprisoned by the Charred Council; the keepers of the balance between the three groups. Darksiders followed War as he attempted to clear his name after being imprisoned for decades. Darksiders II, on the other hand, follows War’s brother, Death, during War’s imprisonment, as he tries to restore humanity as a means to undo the crimes that War has been accused of. This interesting take on an old biblical story comes from the mind of the series’ creative director, comic book artist/writer, Joe Madureira, who also provides the series’ distinctive art style.
The plot of Darksiders II mainly focuses on Death; his background, his motivations, his regrets. As a result, the overarching narrative seems a bit unfocused. Some plot points are brought up near the start, only to be forgotten until much later. Fortunately, Death is interesting and sympathetic as a character, which kept me engaged, as I hoped to see how the story would pan out for him. Other than Death, there are a number of other characters fleshing out the narrative; some new, and some returning, but these are mostly just devices used to advance the plot, and they don’t get much development. This is fine, since the focus is Death, but it would have been nice to have one or two more really memorable characters.
The story is well presented in the audio department. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Jesper Kyd, of Assassin’s Creed fame. The music is usually appropriate for the situation, from dark and spooky in the depths of an ancient tomb, to lighter and mystical sounding in a sacred temple. I found some of the tracks to be quite lovely, actually. In addition, the game’s cutscenes are fully voiced, with the recording done by the ever competent PCB Productions, which Oprainfall’s followers may know better for their work in ATLUS games. There are actually a lot of the same actors you’d expect to hear in an ATLUS game included in the cast, which is nice if you’re a voice actor fan. Death’s voice is particularly well done. He sounds appropriately sinister for his appearance, and he emotes believably.
Visually, Darksiders II meshes quite well with Joe Madureira’s art, but the graphics themselves aren’t particularly extraordinary. Everything has a sort of shiny appearance that I notice in lots of HD games, and that I’m not especially fond of. In addition, there are some very poor textures in places that are extremely muddy or flat looking. Some are both. There are also lots of little graphical issues present in the game. There’s a great deal of aliasing (a.k.a. “jaggies”) which doesn’t seem to be nearly as prevalent in the other Wii U launch games I’ve played. In addition, there’s a common occurrence of screen-tearing that occurs when rotating the camera (this is more noticeable when playing on the gamepad). The framerate also takes some noticeable hits, particularly when there are a lot of enemies on screen, when rotating the camera while Death is riding his horse, Despair, and, this is particularly bad; I don’t know why, when using a portal item that you obtain later in the game. I will say that I found some of the game’s settings to be very interesting and well done graphically, however.
Okay, now let’s talk about how the game actually plays (You know, since it’s a game?). As I mentioned at the start of the review, the first Darksiders took a bunch of cues from the Legend of Zelda series, and that Darksiders II manages a bit better to forge its own identity. It retains the first game’s overworld-dungeon flow, but in a greatly expanded form. The overworld is much larger, and the dungeons more numerous. Where Darksiders was more following a straight path to the next dungeon, Darksiders II, while still linear, has a great deal more to explore between dungeons. There are also “towns” with NPCs who sell items and give quests. I put towns in quotation marks because they’re not full-fledged towns, but small, safe areas with no enemies. The quests that NPCs give out are generally your average “Find X item” or “Kill Y enemy.” They’re not particularly interesting, but they give you something to do if you feel like it. There are also some optional dungeons, as well as the included DLC in the Wii U version that add even more quests.
Inside the dungeons, there are puzzles to solve and items to find; eventually leading to a boss that needs killing. The puzzles start off with regular block pushing (they’re actually sphere rolling puzzles in Darksiders II) and bomb throwing puzzles, but as the game progresses, you obtain new puzzle solving tools that make the puzzles greatly more interesting. By the end of the game, you’ll need to combine all of your tools in order to solve some puzzles. I noticed that some puzzles had extremely strange solutions that were harder to figure out, but that may be my problem, rather than the designers’. Traversing dungeons also requires the use of Death’s agility. He can climb, jump, and wall-run in order to get to places where regular running and jumping won’t cut it.
Dungeons also contain lots of treasure chests that either include dungeon keys or equipment. The equipment is one of the big additions to the formula established by the original Darksiders. You find armour and weapons all over, and they can also be purchased from merchants. There are primary weapons (Death’s dual scythes), secondary weapons (A variety including; huge, slow axes, maces, and glaives, or small, quick, bucklers, gauntlets, and armblades), pauldrons and shrouds (shoulder/upper body armour), leg/torso armour, boots, gloves, and talismans. All of this equipment has a level that indicates the minimum level Death has to be at in order to equip it, and that also indicates its stats. Equipment can also have special attributes, like regeneration for armour, or elemental effects for weapons. In addition, you’ll sometimes come across “possessed weapons” that can have other equipment sacrificed to them in order to increase their stats and level. The sacrificed equipment will also add an additional attribute to the possessed weapon that can be picked when it levels up after enough has been sacrificed.
In addition to all the equipment to choose from, Death gains experience points from fighting enemies and completing quests. Leveling up improves his stats, like health and wrath (Darksiders’ version of MP, which is used for special attacks). Leveling up also grants Death a skill point that can be applied to either of his two skill trees, which allows death to use special attacks, like summoning zombie allies, or cutting a wide swath around him.
All of this adds a welcome customization and a greater RPG element to Darksiders II, which is definitely a big plus for RPG fans.
Now, all of this customization comes into play during combat. On the Wii U gamepad, primary weapon attacks are mapped to the y-button, and secondary attacks are mapped to the x-button. There are some basic button combos that result in different attacks, but mashing buttons can usually work, and still make Death look powerful, but the combos are more impressive looking and effective. There are additional combo moves that can be purchased from trainers, but I rarely found myself using theses, falling back on attacks that I was used to. Special attacks can be mapped to shortcuts to be used during combat. Pressing the R-button while holding the left control stick to move allows Death to dodge, which is vital if you want to survive, as the fights can be very tough. Death also has access to his more traditional looking Reaper-form, which is more powerful and durable. Reaper-form can be used once Death has accumulated enough Reaper energy.
In addition to the graphical issues noted above, there are also some more severe glitches in Darksiders II. The game crashed precisely three times during my playthrough. It occurred twice in one specific dungeon; in these instances, I lost control of Death and he started running on his own into a wall. The gamepad stopped responding and I was unable to turn off the system with the power button, leading me to unplug the system. There was one other, more traditional crash in which everything froze. At one point, I had Death jump at a wall to try and climb it, but he fell into a narrow recess in the wall, and got caught in a free-fall, unable to move. I had to save and quit in this instance. The same “free-falling” glitch happened a couple of other times, but I was able to escape. There are also some locations that don’t seem to be intentionally accessible, but are, leading to parts of the geometry that can be passed through. I never got trapped in such a place, fortunately.
The Wii U version has a few extra features over the other versions. I already mentioned the DLC that’s included for free on the disc, but there are a few simple, but effective gamepad additions. Death’s inventory is always available on the gamepad screen, allowing for quick equipment swapping, and inventory management. The full map is also available on the screen, which allows for easier navigation. Death’s ability and tool wheel can also be brought up on the gamepad screen, allowing for quick use of the skills and tools you don’t have room for on the button shortcuts. Darksiders II also features off-screen play, though activating it requires going through the whole options menu to change various settings. Off-screen mode has the benefit of making some of the graphical issues less obvious, but the screen-tearing is way more prevalent. There are also some motion control options for the gamepad, but these are totally useless.
Darksiders II took me about 20 hours to complete, which, I think is a decent length. However, I was rushing a bit, and I skipped quite a few sidequests, which could have extended the length by a few hours. If you want more Darksiders once you finish the game, a New Game + mode becomes available upon completion, as well as the “Nightmare” difficulty. Considering that I found the normal difficulty to be quite hard at times, I expect that Nightmare would hold quite a bit of value for the challenge seekers out there.
Darksiders II has a bit of something for everyone; a deep customization system for RPG fans, satisfying combat for action game fans, and a large world to explore and puzzles to solve for adventure game fans. Death as a character is interesting, and you’ll grow to care about what happens to him as more and more of his character is revealed. Unfortunately, outside of Death himself, the narrative falls a bit flat, but it’s pushed along by great music and voice acting. The game is also, sadly, brought down by a number of glitches and issues. Fortunately, none of these are truly game-breaking. It’s very unfortunate that, given THQ’s financial troubles, we may never see the conclusion to the Darksiders saga. But I’ll hold on to hope that we’ll see Darksiders III at some point in the future.
Review copy provided by author.
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.