Death, the second horseman (and hoarse man) of the Apocalypse is locked in battle with an enormous beetle. Deftly rolling out of the way of its charge attack with an agility never showcased by War in the first game, Death promptly delivers a series of all-business, blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em slashes with his scythe. And what should come tumbling out from the beetle? Viscous, nightshade-coloured ichor? No. Numbers. For Darksiders 2, Vigil are taking the first game’s paltry handful of RPG elements and pushing them as hard as they can.
The plot, however, is once again bombastic fluff that’s about as self-aware as a guided missile. At one point during the first Darksiders, War vanishes for 100 years after accidentally bringing about the apocalypse (we’ve all been there, eh?). Darksiders 2 tells the story of his brother Death as he roams the abyssal plane, trying to reverse that terrible mistake and, in doing so, save his brother.
The chunk of the game demoed to us saw Death seeking an audience with the Lord of Bones, who’s described to us as an “air traffic director of souls”. Cutting the bell used to summon him clean in half with his scythe, Death watches as an airship the size of a stadium pulled by two colossal, flying snakes comes rumbling into view, so much as a floating object can rumble. A cutscene followed by a jumping segment has Death first racing down the snakes on his pale horse before clambering all over the ship to get up top. This, right here, was where the game stopped being loud and started getting interesting.
Atop the airship was a small “town” of emaciated and sinister freaks who were on hand to buy and sell loot, as well as offer quests. Not only will Darksiders 2’s world be four times the size of the first game, with whole dungeons lurking off the beaten track for inquisitive players to explore, but Death will have equipment slots for different pieces of armour, weapons, secondary weapons, talismans, capes and even bags. And, sure enough, when he lands some vicious blow on a monster, numbers now come floating up like abandoned balloons telling you exactly how much damage you did.
The original game’s skill unlocking system is also being ejected from the premises to make room for a vast skill tree with the important feature that even at max level, you won’t be able to unlock all of Death’s abilities. This is good, because as we all know – and I’m being completely honest here – the single most exciting part of many games is staring dumbly at the skill tree for minutes on end, agonising over what to pick next.
Speaking as someone who never saw much in the original Darksiders, the whole demo made me sit up and take notice. The combat looks richer and more colourful, the world even more eyeliner-slurpingly emo, the platforming more pacy (he’s surprisingly spritely, is Death), and the whole package looks elevated in a way that it’s much safer not expect of sequels. With the game still clinging to a release date in the misty future of “2012”, there’s plenty of time for polish, too. Keep an eye on this one. It just might be alright.