Hands On: Darksiders II

By Craig Pearson on July 26th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

Death, apparently auditioning for the WWE.

At a recent event in Dublin I got the chance to play the first few hours of the apocalyptic action-adventure, Darksiders II. It’s not really important that it was in Dublin, but it adds flavour. You can now imagine the Liffey drifting slowly by as I got all wrapped up in the first few moments of Death’s adventure. An adventure I realised was rather derivative, but also that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Darksiders 2 takes place in the same timeframe as the first game, but in a series of tangential worlds. Bizarrely, it’s about the brotherly love between the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. You’re now in control of Death, as he sets about trying to prove that War – star of the first game – didn’t deliberately kickstart the Apocalypse. Hands-up if you already love the lore? You can be a demi-god, with undreamed of power, but if you annoy someone they get all twiddly moustache on you and plant bloody gloves and knives in your pockets. Death views his brother as the most moral of the demons that will bring about the end of the world, who couldn’t possibly have done what he’s accused of. But instead of pouting, he scythes demons in order to prove War’s innocence. War. Is. Innocent. That’s brilliant. Also: scythes!

Not that there’s much detective work. Instead you set about problem solving the way all action heroes do. Death’s able to scrabble up or along walls, like Prince of Persia. He can jump between poles and dangle over drops, like Lara Croft. And now he can collect loot, like Mister RPG Diablo Face. Darksiders 2′s Death is daringly derivative.

That range of movement translates into a fun darting ball of killification. The fighting is combo and timing based, working between the softer swifter hits, and the harder but more difficult to pull off assaults. Coupled with the lock-on and dodge buttons it can feel a little button mashy to begin with, but it grows into a decent, reactive system for scything things. It nimbly responds, and you can eagerly take on clumps of demons, whacking them, jumping, and dodging in the same move, ducking out of attacks and finishing off with a blast of heavy combat. The only issue here was sparse health potions – it’s a tough slog, and health doesn’t regenerate.

Exploring will help the Makers (giant Scots who made the world) get their mojo back (Weirdly, the same is true of Jim – Ed), who’ll assist you in helping War. The journey to these story-centric dungeons can be a slow fight over huge plains, or if you fancy just avoiding it all, you can hop on Death’s horse, Despair, and ride past it all. I’m glad you can just canter around (does Death’s horse canter? Is there a more despairing word? Answers in comments, please) at your leisure, because the world is huge. Big and ugly in that beautiful way, with corridors filled with meteor showers, and building-sized eye-balls clinging onto mountain sides. It’s a step away from the crumbled cityscapes of War’s game, but still has the hub and spoke layout cribbed from the likes of Metroid and Zelda.

DSII feels like a mega-biff enhanced version of Prince of Persia, with wallruns, dramatic leaps, climbing, and lots of environmental puzzles. Again, these are nothing new, but they are fun, particularly as the levels are designed with the sort of garish ridiculousness that the story prompts. Places like the Charred Pass and Weeping Crag lead you to vast dungeons of molten metal, or sodden, empty palaces – huge, environmental puzzles that house problems and demons. There’s an impressive pacing to them – just enough fighting and just enough puzzling, although at least one fight threw an annoyingly over-powered lizard thing that could swipe half Death’s health away in one grab. I only cleared it by fleeing instead of fighting, which is at least an option.

The main addition is progression and loot. It was all a bit too simple the first time around, which limited you to whatever the game doled out. Now there’s a split skill tree, shops, and drops to customise your demi-god. It’s Choose Your Own Death. It’s Dr Kevorkian’s favourite game! Although in my hands-on it wasn’t obvious quite how widely it differentiates, as there’s only so much I could do with the opening sections. I plucked a few new scythes and fancy shoes from corpses and bartered for a few upgrades, and it felt generous enough to provide plenty of options. With a stack of things to sell after a couple of hours, it bodes well for loot hoarders.

The only real bum note in all this is that lack of something to make the game distinctive. It has lovely art and good acting, but it’s missing an obvious innovation, instead relying on calling in ideas from all over for a big group hug. It has character, but lacks soul.

Although, as a genre that is under-represented on the PC, it’s not all that bothersome. In the end this short play showed sink hole of inspiration, cobbling together an interesting and entertaining experience from a lot of sources. It was good, it was fun, and while it may not offer originality, it borrows wisely and delivers it well.

Darksiders II should be out in August this year.

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61 Comments »

  1. Ian says:

    I’m not sure if this will be my cup of tea but if they release a demo I’ll certainly give it a bash.

    And the backstory is tremendous.

  2. Schadenfreude says:

    Every time I catch a glimpse of this game I think it’s Raziel from Soul Reaver – then I look closer and am disappointed.

    The first Darksiders really did nothing for me so I’ll likely give this one a miss.

    • Ovno says:

      I totally agree, makes me wonder if they were involved in that too or just guilty of blatantly being ‘inspired’ by him.

    • Kdansky says:

      This. Every single screenshot reminds me of the awesome that was Raziel and Legacy of Kain. All three games (of the Soul Reaver series) had their flaws, but all were good. I still don’t get why Defiance is generally rated poorly. Good game-play with two differing styles, great atmosphere, great plot-twists, and wonderful conclusion of the story.

      I’m actually happy that they don’t make another LoK. That story has been told. Also, I believe the voice actor of the Elder God (Tony Jay) has sadly died in 2006.

    • belgand says:

      Odd. He looks a lot more like Skeletor to me.

  3. Mordsung says:

    One day, there will be a game involving the horsemen where I can be Pestilence.

    And yes, I realize Pestilence isn’t an original horseman, but how many people know Conquest is an original horseman? Most people go by Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence, not the original Death, Famine, War, and Conquest.

    (and technically, only Death was named in the bible, the other names are implied from imagery)

    • Merus says:

      From concept art released around the time of the first game, it looks like the development team aren’t doing the standard War, Death, Famine, Pestilence either. I think they’ve decided the other two are Fury and Conquest? I’m guessing Fury’s so they can have a female horseman because it’s a bit on the nose to have four blokes these days.

      I liked Darksiders while acknowledging that its writing was terrible and it brought nothing new to the table, mostly because I appreciated that at least it was stealing from games that I had a taste for.

      • kikito says:

        War, Death, Fury, and Chubby Cheeks.

      • Mordsung says:

        Darksiders uses War, Death, Fury, and Strife.

        • The Random One says:

          That seems redundant. Can you think of any situation that would be War but not Strife?

          Maybe a Risk charity match.

    • DXN says:

      Actually in the pre-nicene manuscripts the four are Death, Warface, Bankers and Traffic Jams.

      • Boothie says:

        think they should have went with grevious bodily harm and really cool people ( anyone who gets the reference pat urself on the back =D)

  4. brulleks says:

    Does it have a quicksave function, or at least well-placed checkpoints this time around?

    The first game is concurrently trying to destroy my soul and swallow all of my remaining time by forcing me to continually re-trudge the same dreary corridors every time I die. And there seems no way to alter difficulty to get through the more annoying sections either.

    I thought it was supposed to be based on Christian myth, not Greek.

    • JiminyJickers says:

      I would definitely like a quicksave as well. I unfortunately are not skilled enough to find these games easy as it appears the rest of the world does.

      I have played games many years but for some reason I hate redoing the same section over and over again like some people seem to love. I found the first one to be just on the just too difficult side to stop enjoying it. I did finish it eventually but would like an optoinal easier experience this time around.

      • brulleks says:

        As PC gamers, we just don’t get many of these kind of 3D platform slashy-slashy style games, so that might be one reason why the difficulty seems a bit out of our league.

        Also, I’m playing on keyboard and mouse rather than a gamepad, for the same reason, which again probably adds to the masochism. I doubt it would be any easier for me on gamepad though, as it would involve learning a completely new control method (I’ve only used it for driving and FIFA in the past).

        And I grew up on 8-bit games, so the hell of replaying the same thing over and over again is scarred on my memory. I’d like to avoid it wherever possible. Then there’s the aforementioned time issue as well, of course.

        Good to know I’m not the only wimp out there though ; )

        • Wut The Melon says:

          Do you mean that it’s too difficult even on easy? Because I’m playing through the game on normal (M/KB) and I think the difficulty is OK, I’m not getting through everything in one try but there’s nothing I have to retry more than 3 or 4 times.

          Haven’t had any real issues with the checkpointing either, and while there may not be a quicksave there is a normal save function that you can use at any time outside of combat, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

        • Aatch says:

          Uh, I used a gamepad and ran through on Apocalyptic first time. It was tough in some spots, but generally ok.

          As for the autosave, it’s generally pretty good from my experience, not much retracing at all.

          Then again, I’m quite good at these kinds of games, cutting my gaming teeth on OoT, Super Mario and similar games. I also enjoy the more technical DMC games. I’m good at patterns and know the tropes for these kinds of games.

          I think that most PC-only gamers have been so focussed that they only play FPS, clicky-RPG (Diablo), RTS and platformers. I know you guys love your Mouse+Keyboard, but some games just work better with a gamepad. It’s not too complicated to use, even for someone that hasn’t used a pad, except for maybe some of the aiming sections, but those aren’t that common, and normally puzzle based so you can take as long as you want to line up the shot.

  5. The JG Man says:

    I think the distinctiveness of Darksiders is that it is the lovely blend of the sum of its parts. What it does, it does well (based on DS1, obviously). The fact that it’s in the context of an action-adventure title makes it even better. There’s something to be said for not being inventive, but polishing what there is. I have no problem with the latter.

    Also, he has two scythes. Two!

  6. Jason Moyer says:

    Picked up the first game for $3 at GMG the other day and I’m kicking myself for not having got it sooner. I need more action hack-and-slash games in my life apparently, as it’s like playing a Diablo clone with the repetitive clicking and inventory management replaced by non-stop awesome action-oriented asskicking.

  7. RogerioFM says:

    As long as it is wel done I actually don’t mind the originality, yes, the marked has a serious lack of originality latelly, but this is not a new IP.

    What matters in the end is the delivery, take Freespace and Freespace 2 for instance, it canibalized aspects from every Space Flight Simulator until that date, and it still managed to become the best SFS of all time in my opinion, thanks to the splendid gameplay and incredibly well done story, which was not wholly original, but very well done.

  8. caddyB says:

    I hope this does well. I actually like THQ. On the other hand, I don’t know if I’m going to pay full price for it, yet.

    Gonna have to wait for some sort of WTF is, I guess.

  9. arrjayjee says:

    I loved the first one. Despite being a simple port, despite doing nothing original, it did what it did well enough that it had a soul of its own. Like Dog from Half Life 2. Totally artificial, not even human, but goddamn if I didn’t cheer that little bastard on during the Strider battle. What a boss.

  10. Njordsk says:

    Preordered already, the first one was great.

    This and dark souls will make a good august month. And maybe torchlight 2, if they dare to release it someday.

  11. Gap Gen says:

    Don’t you have to go to deepest Somerset to get your hands on the dark ciders?

  12. Freud says:

    Will be a budget purchase for me since I have such a big backlog as it is, but I’ll get around to it eventually. I really enjoyed the first one.

  13. Phantoon says:

    It was the first Zelda game I’d actually enjoyed in years. Preordered this as soon as it was available (and when I had money).

    • Brun says:

      “…the first Zelda game I enjoyed in years…”

      Whaaaaaaaaaaat. You didn’t like Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword?

      • Obc says:

        TP is awesome. Also there are some great Zelda games on the Gameboys.

        • AJ_Wings says:

          I absolutely love TP but holy heck was the combat boring. In the first 5 minutes of Darksiders, I got to chop a demon’s leg off and decapitate him while he’s gargling in his own blood.

          That’s how you do an awesome button Bioware!

  14. McDan says:

    Deaths horse would murder-canter, or manslaughter trot at low speeds. Then serial killer charge or something Shen running an enemy down.

  15. The Random One says:

    Since no one’s brought it up, I’d probably refer to a skeletal horse’s movement as “skulking”. Which is also how I’d refer to a skeletal horse Pokémon.

    Edit: Well now someone brought it up and I look quite silly.

  16. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I’d appreciate people would stop comparing anything with a exploration and a hub with zelda, metroid or castlevania (or the pointless shorthand of metroidvania/hemorroid/whatever they’ve been calling it these days). i get the need to direct people to reknown templates but a line’s got to me made somewhere, no?

    regardless i can’t get into darksiders. it has as much charm as image comics had – overtly muscular, boring people in poses in pissing matches. it’s like jim sterling was bombarded with gamma rays instead of bruce banner. all that “lore” and this is still about the personification of mankind’s greatest fear rolled into an errand boy. does it also start like the first game, where war-as-in-goddamn-horseman-of-the-apocalypse-war has to be told how to attack?

    • belgand says:

      That’s a pretty fair assessment. It’s Image comics when it comes to art design and plot with gameplay that’s a combination of God of War with Zelda and threw in a bit of Portal (where the puzzles are all very obvious because the portals can only go on specific pads). Personally I felt that it was rather too much GoW compared to Zelda and that the level design was largely crap. The ending in particular felt rushed and half-baked.

      It also had a very bad problem of throwing stuff in, but not knowing how to actually use it. So you get that portal gun, but only use it in one level. You get a horse, but you can only really ride it once or twice in a very specific area (and the boss fight there oddly reminded me of the Shadow of the Colossus fight where you ride your horse), there’s a horn for unlocking things that you use three times in the game. The overworld isn’t even particularly large and feels really samey. A small hub area that leads to doorways where you have a short corridor section and then a dungeon… or perhaps just another slightly longer corridor because we can’t be bothered to actually make a proper dungeon that isn’t painfully linear.

      It was fun, but it was definitely a second-tier game best appreciated when bought on heavy discount.

      • Aatch says:

        That seems a little harsh. Sure it was light on the story, but I didn’t find it that boring. Most of the “major” characters were, if not fleshed out, somewhat interesting. Samael certainly leaves you guessing most of the time, which adds to his demonic persona. While War doesn’t talk much, that kinda fits his action-focussed personality.

        And yes, he is overtly muscular, he is also one of the smallest living creatures in the game! He is also the personification of war! I would be worried if he wasn’t a little buff.

        As for DS2, it seems that they are looking to expand the lore somewhat, make Death a little more talkative and flesh the world out a little in terms of in-game information.

  17. TormDK says:

    I never did get to complete DarkSiders 1, but I am going to buy this simply to support THQ in the frail hope that they are also having Relic make Dawn of War 3

  18. Buttless Boy says:

    Why are we already seeing a Darksiders sequel when there still isn’t a Mister RPG Diablo Face 2? A travesty, I calls it.

  19. Uthred says:

    Surely innovation isnt the major metric for quality? A series of tried and tested mechanics skillfully combined to provide an enjoyable experience is better to me than a buggy mess pushed out the door purely because its “innovative” (obviously a combination of the two would be best) I feel the constant demand for innovation for innovations sake is in no ones intrest

  20. obie191970 says:

    This has been ordered. I absolutely loved the first one. For those interested, if you pre-order directly through THQ, you get a season pass which entitles you to the three planned DLC’s for free.

    And for lore junkies like myself – A book called The Abomination Vault just came out this week. It’s quite good, surprisingly.

    • TormDK says:

      Very nice! I like that THQ awards the loyal fans. In effect giving the Valve cut (30%) to their customers in the form of an all DLC pass.

  21. Urthman says:

    The only real bum note in all this is that lack of something to make the game distinctive. It has lovely art and good acting, but it’s missing an obvious innovation, instead relying on calling in ideas from all over for a big group hug. It has character, but lacks soul.

    I totally disagree with this sentiment. It’s much more common for games to be built around OUR ONE NIFTY NEW IDEA and everything else is the same old shooting men in the face in brown corridors.

    The problem is not when games are derivative, it’s when they’re all derivative of the same stuff in the same way.

    I want more games that say, “Rather than spend all our time trying to make this new idea work right and fun to play, we’re going to steal a whole bunch of good, proven gameplay ideas that haven’t been overused yet and spend that time polishing and integrating them, and also making a setting that’s novel and interesting.”

    • Archipelagos says:

      Agreed. I’d take a dozen of this over the next generic manshoot.

    • Obc says:

      i concur good man, a good example for your point would be inversion. it has that one gravity gimmick (which also only shows a few times) and the rest is garbage brown facetowall shooter.

      i’d rather see games that copy and polish from many different sources to create something in its own art style and design than one gimmick and everything else is ignored.

      Bayonetta is a fun game and its basically God of War and Devil May Cry with some weird fetish. But the parts from the other games are so well polished and well done that its still a fun game. i hope this will also be the case for DSII.

    • Aatch says:

      Agreed.

      Many modern games seem to fall into two categories: Some innovative gameplay mechanic that we base the game around or previous game with a new title, new graphics and a different story.

      Out of the first category, some do it really well (see: Portal), and others don’t (see: Inversion). And well, the second category…

      Refining a polishing a combination of good things from a set of well-known gameplay elements is a perfectly valid way of creating a game. Nobody gets upset with constantly refined meal recipes, finding the small innovations that make something perfect, rather than looking for something completely new. Blind macroscopic innovation leads to this: http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Harvest-Collection-Semen-Based-Recipes/dp/B0073V7CAK/ref=sr_1_1 and we don’t want that…

  22. MadMinstrel says:

    What’s with the eye-gouging rimlight shaders? Eww.

  23. HaVoK308 says:

    The fact that if borrows from so many sources has an originality all its own in my opinion. And to pull it off so well, that’s a rarity.

    I enjoyed every minute of the first installment. DS2 looks even better.

  24. Suits says:

    I’ll take any bit of Zelda on PC

  25. Obc says:

    oh please don’t tell me you take yahtzee seriously xD

  26. Arathain says:

    To be fair to Yahtzee, his comments on the armour were spot on. I never did like the look of War’s armour.

  27. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    What I’d like from a series of games using concepts as characters is to make them different from ordinary (im)mortal characters. Such broad, powerful concepts as War and Death should have specific powers and weaknesses wholly unlike others (including their companions).

    But I didn’t play Darksiders so I don’t know if they dipped into that. If not, well, that does seem like a missed opportunity.

  28. Belsameth says:

    I DO HOPE DEATH SOUNDS LIKE THIS.

    Also, pre ordered. The previous one was excelent \o/

  29. motorsep says:

    I noticed that no matter how good a game is, reviewers just want one thing – innovation. It seems like if there is innovation, nothing else matters. I personally don’t give a damn about innovations as I prefer a good story, good characters, solid gameplay and decent visuals.

    The case of Darksiders 2 exceeds my expectations :)