Retrospective: Darksiders II – Deathinitive Edition

Returning to Darksiders II [official site] nearly five years after I first reviewed it, for a worrying time I wondered what on Earth I’d been on about. I remember absolutely loving the game, and writing a rave review back in 2012, so why was I struggling to even want to carry on in the first hour? It turns out, it just has a really dull first hour, because ten hours in I’m so utterly engrossed, and want to rave about it all over again.

Another thing I’d forgotten is that Darksiders II is a ridiculously enormous game. Far, far bigger than it ever needed to be. Realising that after ten hours I wasn’t even close to halfway through, and even then leaving many side quests untouched along the way, I’m absolutely staggered. If it had ended at the end of the quest chain related to the Makers in their Forge Lands, everyone would have said, “Splendid! Good work! But what was the rest of the skill tree going to be for?” That it just keeps carrying on is extraordinary.

This is the tale of Death, reacting to the events in the original Darksiders (which for some reason I’ve never played) featuring War. He’s awfully cross about his brother’s predicament, and is determined to reach the Tree Of Life to prove War’s innocence, which involves asking a pesky chap called the Keeper Of Secrets for some help. Except the Keeper is an old grumpygrump, cursed by an amulet full of the souls of the Nephilim that Death once slaughtered, and- oh, look, there’s a lot of plot. Mostly Death is ironically trying to restore life to the world. That leads to Death killing the Keeper and being dragged into a portal created by his demise, plopping him out in the Forge Lands, surrounded by the monolothic Makers. They themselves are in a spot of bother, their giant world-creating forge broken via something called the Corruption, which Death must remove through a series of elaborate quests. Which, as it turns out, is only the beginning.

I think what I most like about Darksiders II is that it’s a game that makes you feel really good at playing it. It is, in many senses, the antidote to Dark Souls. A third-person action game in which you rush around fighting enemies many times bigger than you, in waves of attacks, except it really, really wants you to be the winner.

Attacks are capable of being enormously complicated, but you can feel super-good at fighting without delving into the complexities of the controller juggling. There are special moves that require holding down about seventeen buttons at once, that I look at and just think: nope. Because I can still win the fights by jumping about the four face buttons in random and silly patterns, somehow pulling off mighty moves. Were I to try harder, the game would reward me by offering more interesting combat, but it so splendidly caters for my approach anyway.

Which isn’t to say it’s easy. Fights are often challenging, especially when faced with the most gargantuan opponents, and dying isn’t unlikely. It’s just that when it starts you off again right next to the fight (although unfortunately doesn’t have the sense to let you skip the accompanying reveal animations, grrr) you get the feeling the game’s rooting for you. That seems so very old-fashioned, so quaint, some five years on.

Of course, Darksiders II was also a massive Tomb Raider/Prince Of Persia rip-off too, and fantastically so. With absolutely no shame at all it mimics just about every athletic move Lara had at her disposal, seemingly only forgetting to let Death pull himself up into a graceful handstand. You spend a wonderful amount of time nimbly climbing, leaping, swinging and backward somersaulting off poles in a manner surely unbecoming of a Horseman, and it manages to deliver something that gets close to Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time’s thrilling acrobatics.

The result of messy (or precise if you’re a cleverclogs) combat and spritely leaping around, is a game that captures that purity of controller-led antics. It’s just so damned playable. I realise that’s a pretty criminal word for a games critic to use, but it feels just so perfectly right to describe this. While many of the best games are about asking you to outdo yourself, or delve deeply in, or chip away at, Darksiders II is just there, in front of you, waiting to be played. It’s a giant plate of fast food. Feet up on the desk, chair tipped back, controller in your lap, and you munch away at it, devouring the hour after hour of entertaining fat.

I guess that’s also why it’s an oddly disliked game. People seem to have strong feeling about it, for not being quite enough of something or other, for falling short of some expectation. But for me it fills a massive need, the sort of game that’s like a favourite action movie you can never switch over from when you stumble upon it on TV.

Which almost feels rude, and definitely doesn’t give credit to the ridiculous levels of story and lore they’ve put in place here. Mostly because I just want it to be quiet so I can carry on biffing and jumping and riding the horse really fast across the giant lands. Reaching the secret chests, solving puzzles the size of mountains, winning a fight against an enemy fifty times bigger than me. It’s for this that I celebrate it, and that I find it a game that’s so enjoyable to return to (after that dreary opening hour). I feel daunted by its enormousness, it’s too big of a game for me to have time to finish, but I love that it’s all there, so easily enjoyed.

This was my first time playing the Deathinitive Edition, Nordic Games’ tidied up version after they bought the license in THQ’s fire sale. Which is already notably out of date, being nearly two years old. Nothing problematic, other than its professed support for 3440×1440 not working for me – I got a stretched image which made Death look very silly. And there’s no better time to grab it, in Steam’s Summer sale down 80%, for just a fiver.

Which all leaves me very excited for the finally-existing Darksiders III, so long as THQ Nordic can resist the temptation to jump on the Dark Souls bandwagon and take the series away from being a giant comfortable beanbag, to a spiky uncomfortable throne. Early footage looks promising, except for that awful-looking weakly whip. And if it doesn’t get there, I’ll still have the remaining dozens of hours of the second game to entertain me.

25 Comments

  1. kud13 says:

    Pretty fantastic game.
    Never finished it, because I got bogged down in the arena-like Cauldron challenge and then life got in the way, but besides that I had only the final boss to go through, so I felt quite good about my time with it. Plays well with a KB + M, too.

    I’m also excited about Darksiders 3. This series remains my go-to Gothic action/adventure fix ever since Legacy of Kain series was put in stasis.

  2. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    It’s very good, but not as good as the first game. It’s not just “far, far bigger than it ever needed to be”, it’s much bigger than it should have been, the loot system is completely unnecessary (first game didn’t have it), the sheer number of trashmobs is completely unnecessary (first game didn’t have them), the size of the maps is blown way out of proportion (first game had smaller and much more manageable maps).

    I mean, I do agree with most of what John wrote, but it’s just all a bit too much. Too sprawling and unfocused where the first game was tight and straight to the point.

    I’m still very excited for Darksiders 3, though.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Thirith says:

    To be honest, “ridiculously enormous” isn’t something I look for in games anymore; in fact, hearing it almost tends to turn me off, which is a shame, because I still consider RPGs one of my favourite genres. There are games that absolutely need the scale to work their magic, e.g. The Witcher 3, but most long games these days overstay their welcome… and its not even that I’ve got kids.

    • Great Cthulhu says:

      Totally agree. Besides not having as much leisure time as I used to, there are just way too many worthwhile games nowadays. I’d much rather play a dozen tightly focused 4 hour games than one 40 hour game that almost inevitably has some redundant bits.

    • smeaa mario says:

      Well, then there are players like me, who want it as long as it possibly could be. Of course that is assuming it doesn’t get stale. In the case of both Darksiders II and Witcher 3, I was more than thrilled to have such a lengthy experience. If either game was only half as long as they actually are, I would be disappointed. Especially when it comes to an rpg game, a long playtime is not just important but also essential to me.

  4. Blackcompany says:

    Funny.

    One of the family kids just gave up playing this yesterday. Reminded me of why I did the same:

    Motion sickness inducing cameras, awful, pointless platforming sections with horrible, clunky camera angles and godawful puzzle bosses.

    Conceptually this is a great game. Implementation, however, left a LOT to be desired.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    Do you remember OnLive? You could play a demo of the game for 30 minutes at the time, and Darksiders 2 was one of the games available.

    I found it a fun and played the demo a few times, getting up to the open area. I then bought the game at a steep discount on Steam.

    OnLive, the best games showroom ever built.

  6. DaftPunk says:

    One of the ugliest ports i played.. They should be ashamed what shitty game they released.

    • kud13 says:

      Could be the reason they released a graphical updated with the PC bells and whistles, with discounts to those who owned the original.

  7. Jay Load says:

    While I bounced off the first one a bit, this second game was just brilliant. I played the entire thing to the climax (oo-er) and was just blown away. That last boss fight counts as one of the most tense, enjoyable and well put together fights of my entire gaming career. The controls were amazing; knowing you had a split-second to perform a dodge but that the controls would actually let you pull it off in that time was a feeling like no other. You had total control. Few games in my thirty-plus years of have ever given me that sense of power over a character.

    To have that coupled with the huge and imaginative worlds was an incredible experience. I’m really hoping the third game keeps what made this so utterly brilliant.

  8. haldolium says:

    Hm. Kind of gave DS2 up after a while.

    I really like a great deal of the Darksiders universe, but for me the combat never really took of and always felt a bit out of touch too much micromanaging and especially with the horrid aiming controls for everything ranged.

    I’ll go and get DS3 most definitively and see if they may changed some core gameplay elements, but otherwise I’ll always consider Devil May Cry, God of War and the like far superior in terms of great Hack&Slash combat.

  9. Addie says:

    Love this game – or at least, love the original with all the dlc. Never found the ‘deathinitive’ edition at a price I thought appropriate for a lighting upgrade. The chunky artstyle still holds up great, even without higher-res textures. And it’s not frame-rate locked, which means it’s a fancy showcase for a 144 Hz monitor.

    I think of this game as a Zelda-like puzzler, with some splendid brawler combat. Enjoyed playing it enough that I played it through again on ‘apocalyptic’ difficulty, which you will not win by button mashing. Unfortunately, it’s so brutal at that difficulty that spamming the most effective moves is required for some of the fights. But it’s really really good when it works well, with some great tunes, awesome scenery, nice characterisation, and satisfying gameplay.

    Eagerly anticipating DS3 as well. Hopefully they’ll put the maps together so that you can find all the collectibles without a guide (pages of the dead, could be hidden in any corner of the extremely sprawling world grr) and hopefully don’t repeat the mechanic where you buy random possessed items. Possessed scythes? Broken the game. Possessed claws? Force quit without saving and restart, because otherwise you’ve wasted twenty hours of play.

  10. Ibed says:

    I tried Darksiders (the first one), and I bounced off hard. I didn’t like the tone or its colour palette and didn’t think the gameplay was interesting. I own Darksiders 2 because of a bundle, so I have a question: is it worth it to try the second one and just skip the first? Has anyone who also didn’t like the first one tried that?

    Edit: I somehow missed Jay Loads response above, I probably should have replied to them.

    • Cryio says:

      Both games play very very differently. DS1 is more like Arkham Asylum, tight and focused and DS2 is more like Arkham City, less focused, but bigger and scale and more versatile.

      Personally, I liked the 2nd entry in both franchises better.

  11. Simbosan says:

    This is the review I would have written if a) I had been asked and b) could write proper like.

    Big fkn awesome bunch of biffing fun with great characters, great voice acting, rumbustious rollicking fighting and amazing scenery.

    So much fun and so much of it.

  12. gulag says:

    Lovely, giddy, fun.

    Sometimes more is more. Can’t wait to see what they do with the next one.

  13. Merus says:

    I mean, it’s so derivative, but it’s so shameless about it and it mostly works. They were trying to do the Diablo 2 “four worlds and a big meandering overworld” instead of the more focused Zelda-style setup of Darksiders 1, and then ran out of money halfway through. That’s why the first world is basically complete, including a bunch of dungeons that have no point, the second world’s mostly built but has this weird bit towards the end, and the third and fourth worlds are basically one dungeon each as they rushed to the finish line.

    I rather wish the dungeon design was better, as in, good. There’s some moments there, but for the most part they’re suffocatingly linear.

  14. JigglyNaga says:

    I loved the ingredients — the brawling, the puzzles, the visuals, the oversized… everything — but don’t know if I’d enjoy a second playthrough. I take a while to get over motion sickness in new games, and the camera tracking during the puzzle/acrobatic sections, plus the miserable shooter section (PS3, so no KB+M) meant that I couldn’t just sit down and slam through this.

    Eventually, I found that if I played it after a few drinks, it was tolerably smooth. So I saved it for when I got home from the pub, which probably affected my competence with the puzzles and combat. All in all, it took me months from start to finish.

  15. H. Vetinari says:

    both games are my favorite button mashers.
    liked the first game better, but both were great fun.

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