Thursday, 31 January 2013

Darksiders II - Game Review

Darksiders II is the second in the Darksiders series of games, about the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the end times. In the story so far, the apocalypse has been prematurely instigated and humanity has been wiped out. Demons and angels and all manner of weird beasties fight over the remains of the Earth. The Charred Council, who watch over the Balance, are not happy. It seems that everyone is blaming War for riding forth before the final seal was broken, but War is just as confused as the rest of them.

In the first game, we played as War, exploring the shattered world and trying to piece together who had framed us, and who was responsible for beginning the End War.

In the second game, we play as Death, on a mission to resurrect humanity and so save our brother War from the Council’s wrath. Whereas the first game took place on Earth, the second shifts between many realms, all connected by the Tree of Life.

Setting and Visuals

I thought the first game had a fantastic story, a truly brilliant concept, and beautiful world-building. The idea of setting a game thousands of years after the death of humanity was inspired. It’s so rare to find any kind of story with absolutely no humans at all in it. This concept also allowed for amazing visuals and characters – Earth overrun by the supernatural. Shattered shells of skyscrapers with strange demon growths protruding from them, sunken cities populated by underwater weirdies, subway tunnels half-transformed into faerie dens... everything in the game was interesting, with a very unique blend of abandoned human world and distinctly-other. It’s actually quite hard to do justice with words, and I would absolutely recommend playing it for yourself.

Unfortunately, there was nothing in Darksiders II that really matched up to this aspect of the first game. The fact that Death moves between different realms meant that the game designers had scope for literally anything, but all the areas are actually a little disappointing. The first one has a traditional fantasy, vaguely Celtic feel. The second is standard world of the dead stuff. Revealing what the other worlds are might give away mini-spoilers, but it’s enough to say that they felt a bit like they had taken the less inspired bits from the first game and shoved them in without thinking of anything new. Shame.

Characters do look really good though. And can I take a sec to say how much I love angel armour? Especially the wing plates. Pic from The Armchair Empire.


Gameplay is similar to the first. Lots of bashing X and Y in various combinations to do cool moves and smash baddies. Fighting’s not terribly hard: figure out how and when to dodge, and buy the torpedo-through-stuff ability (I forget what it’s called) from the level-up screen, and you’re pretty much sorted for the entire game, though you’ll get more enjoyment from trying out other moves too. It’s fun stuff, and there’s a great variety of weapons and moves to choose from (though frustratingly little that actually helps against flying monsters).

Both my husband and I had a vague feeling that fighting in the previous game had been more fun, perhaps better moves or animations, or perhaps just a bit of misremembered nostalgia... not sure. However, one thing was definitely missing, and that was being able to use the environment around you. I really enjoyed throwing cars at monsters, or uprooting lampposts to wallop beasties over the head with. I can’t understand why that element was removed.

 No, THIS is an axe.

The puzzles are similar to those of the first game, including switching things, pulling levers, throwing bombs, climbing, free-running, rolling balls into sockets (A LOT of rolling balls into sockets, sometimes in order to release more balls to roll into more sockets), swimming, hook grabbing, making portals, etc. The free-running element has been added to, meaning that Death leaps from wall to wall and traverses vertical landscapes like Ezio. I thought this was really fun, though the controls for doing it were a bit clunky and didn’t always respond very well. This made the occasional ‘climb for your life to escape rising lava or spikes or lava-spikes’ one of the most frustrating experiences a game could ever create.

The game is very careful about introducing new puzzles, to the point of being a little patronising. How many times do they think we need to do one thing before we’ve got it? This meant that the entire first realm was essentially a training ground, with very linear dungeons and pointlessly easy puzzles. I didn’t really begin to enjoy the puzzles until the realm of the dead, and it wasn’t until getting the portal gun that things actually got even semi-challenging. Time-travel was a nice touch though (if a bit stupid for the reason time-travel is always stupid when shoe-horned into a story – if you had a time-travel device this entire time, why didn’t you just...?).

 Roll MOAR balls into sockets!
Pic from Paperblog

Boss Fights

Boss fights! Everyone loves boss fights! Except me. No really, you can never use your best moves on them, the ones you worked really hard to buy and are the most fun to do and look really good on screen. Instead, every boss fight is dodge, dodge, dodge, dodge, throw bomb at its mouth when it roars, hit it three times before it gets back up, dodge dodge dodge... rinse and repeat. Or something along those lines; you know the score. Most of the time I prefer just fighting waves and waves of littlies, and a lot of the time that’s a harder challenge anyway. This is why I generally prefer arenas, but don’t get me started on the arena in this game because it sucked.

But yes, anyway, boss fights! Occasionally bosses can be interesting, and the Darksiders games do boast a few really good ones (more so in the first game though). Surprisingly, most of the actually fun bosses are found early game, with later ones becoming increasingly tedious. This is very subjective though, of course, and you may love them. Huge-hammer-guy (trying not to give things away by using real names) was the most unique in terms of strategy. I also appreciated cthulu-face, mainly for the aesthetic.

It also seemed like the more dramatic the enemy, the easier it was. Super powerful angel! Died really quick. Lord of Hell! Wasn’t even trying. End boss!! Blink and you’ll miss the fight. Random dude in dungeon I don’t even have to go into for the main questline... squashed me like a grape. Weird.

 Cthulu-face (not his actual name)
Pic from KitGuru


I found myself constantly confused by the story. It didn’t help that it’d been about two years since I played the first game and there was no real recap. TV series give you a recap of what happened a week ago... never mind two years ago! And I’m still confused about just when Darksiders II was supposed to have taken place. Is this set before the first game? Pretty sure it is, but how long before? How come humans aren’t alive in the first game, if this is set before it? Did I just utterly miss the point somewhere?

Besides which, the story was actually one of those slightly pointless and annoying interim stories, which feels like it’s filling the gap between other games to keep the franchise going. The game relies on a string of vagueness – go here to get this guy to not quite tell you something so you can go here and do this in order to not quite fully find out how to do this other thing. Every now and again characters pop up to throw exposition at you, and then it’s more monsters and puzzles and vagueness til the next one. A lot of games are like this, granted, but I prefer it when they hide it better, or give you plot hooks that you’re actually interested in.

Other Stuff

They’ve added customisation to the game! Now you can dress up your very own Death! It’s fun giving your Death a unique look, and deciding which weapon/armour attributes are better suited for your style of play. In general this is a good thing, though slightly baffling why Death starts off so nekkid and helpless. You can see a weapon’s stats hovering beside it before you pick it up, and can equip it straight away with one button. I also loved the idea of possessed weapons, which made collecting loot (always so compulsive) actually very useful.


‘Not as good as the first game’ seems to be the recurring motif of this review doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that sums it up pretty well. Darksiders II is fun, but in many aspects it’s also disappointing and frustrating. Without the first game to compare it to I might be singing its praises, but that’s not the case. An average to good game.

Good – Death is an interesting character and has a lot of personality. The worlds and monsters might not be breathtaking, but they are very good. The music is truly stunning. Most of the time fighting is fun. Customising possessed weapons is a great new element. As before, the Legend-of-Zelda style combination of monster fighting, story and puzzles is fun.

Bad – Clunky controls, annoying glitches, and elements that have not been planned well means you’ll be yelling at the screen a lot. Puzzles are dumbed-down a lot since the first game. I found the majority of boss fights boring. The story was confusing and slightly pointless. Almost everything good about the game can be tempered with ‘but not as good as the first’.

Worth a Play? – Yes

Replay? – Unlikely

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