Darksiders II Review
Darksiders II continues the story of Darksiders, but this time the star is one of the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death. This Death is probably nothing like what you're expecting, though. He's more than just bones, a mass of sinewy (albeit purplish blue) flesh and hulking muscles. His skull face is actually a mask he has donned as penance for slaying his own kind to prevent them from destroying the balance of the universe. And rather than a silent and patient watcher, this Death is a man, or rather Nephilim, of action, and one that's impatient, curt, and just a little condescending. He does, however, have a thing for scythes...
If you missed the first game, it told the story of Death's brother horseman War. War was deceived into unleashing the Apocalypse onto humanity before its time and blamed for the subsequent destruction of Earth. This story is touched upon in a recap at the opening of Darksiders II, but the gist of it is that Death is out to vindicate his brother and to undo the Apocalypse. To get the full picture you'll have no choice but to play the first game because the Darksiders saga is both richly detailed and rather complex, so much so that you need to really pay attention if you're going to keep all of it straight. Watching the story unfold is like losing yourself in the pages of a graphic novel - no accident given comic writer/artist Joe Madureira's creative involvement in the game.
The richness of the story is echoed in its art style as well. If I had to describe the look of Darksiders II in a word I would say that it is 'epic'. From the enormous fortresses of the titanic Founders' home world to the City of the Dead, Darksiders II is built on a massive scale that befits its saga. There will be more than one moment when you'll find yourself pausing to take in a view or marvel at the architecture. All of this makes it a particular shame that sometimes the game engine struggles to keep up with it all. Screen-tearing, getting stuck on or passing through objects in the environment, and game-freezing level load delays are issues throughout the game. These problems are not chronic enough to ruin the game experience but they certainly detract from the immersion and doubly so in a game with such a fascinating world.
Luckily the game engine's environmental issues don't extend to the game's battles - well, not entirely, it's possible to be blocked into a corner by a number of enemies and be forced to fight your way out blindly. Whereas War was all about head-on fights, dealing crushing blows and blocking enemy attacks, Death is an acrobatic fighter who prefers to dodge and roll when the enemy strikes and then quickly move in to unleash a fury of quick strikes, Death also wields a secondary heavy weapon, but this is best saved for a devastating strike when the opportunity presents itself, such as when an enemy has overcommitted to a strike that has missed its mark. These strike-and-fall-back tactics will be further emphasized if you choose to invest the skill points that you earn when leveling-up into the Necromancer skill tree rather than the offensive and damage-focused Harbinger tree. Necromancer skills allow Death to summon minions such as ghouls and flocks of crows to attack his enemies. You can then jump in and strike while an enemy's focus is on your ghouls, or stay back and pepper the enemy with gunfire from your pistol.
Death's preference for acrobatics extends to his time outside of battles as well. Darksiders II's dungeons require a significant amount of platformer style play to traverse, and with all of the wall-running and column-hopping the game has a slight Prince of Persia vibe to it. I wouldn't go so far as to call the game a puzzle-platformer as your route through the platform sections is always pretty obvious. Not that the dungeons are devoid of puzzles, they just take other forms. Those puzzles start out relatively easy, but they do gradually ramp-up in challenge. Still, I wouldn't put any of them in the devious or diabolical category so most experienced gamers will be able to work them out without too much difficulty.
There's a lot of gameplay packed into Darksiders II; you can easily spend a couple of hours in each of the larger dungeons. There are also optional side quests and entire side dungeons to tackle, as well as a Crucible survival mode in which you take on waves of increasingly tougher foes. Every five rounds that you survive you'll be offered a piece of loot. You can take the loot and leave, or try to go for another five rounds, but if you die you'll get nothing.
I enjoyed my time with Darksiders II, but there was something about it that left me feeling a little disappointed when compared to my experience with the first Darksiders game. Technical issues aside, I think that it comes down to a matter of pacing. The story is really enjoyable, but it is told at a very slow pace. Your entire time spent in the game's first world of the Forge Lands is focused on accomplishing just three tasks, but that involves hours of dungeon exploration punctuated with only a couple of story moments. The "story so far" recaps that play during the game's startup are more than a nice touch and another opportunity to enjoy more Joe Mad art, they're a necessity because it could well have been a couple of hours since your last encounter with a story point. I think that the overall experience would have been more enjoyable and immersive if the story was woven throughout the entire game. Still, even with that disappoint it's still easy to recommend Darksider's II as an enjoyable action game that delivers plenty of gameplay for your money.
Final Rating: 87%. Far bigger than Darksiders, but not necessarily better.