Darksiders II The Forge

If you played the first Darksiders game, then you'll know that it was a lot more than just an action game.  Puzzle-filled dungeons which led to hard-fought boss battles were a large part of the game, and a large part of what made it such a great game.  Darksiders II will feature the same style of gameplay, but in a much bigger way.  I know this because I recently had the chance to spend some time in the Forge, one of the dungeons in Darksiders II. 

First, to put the Forge into perspective it's the final dungeon in the game's first of four zones.  Before you get to it you need to play through the first zone's overworld, its smaller dungeons, and optionally its side quest dungeons as well, and when you do finally reach the Forge it will take you three to four hours to unlock its secrets and vanquish its colossal boss, the Guardian.  Yea, Darksiders II is going to be significantly larger than its predecessor.  I spoke to one of the game's developers about the Forge and how it compared to the other major dungeons in the game, and he told me that it was the easiest dungeon because you do not have your full powerset available to you and so the puzzles aren't as hard as they are in later dungeons.  Given that the puzzles in The Forge aren't exactly gimmes, those later dungeons must be pretty devilish.

Before I delve in what the Forge was like, I should probably talk a bit about the star of Darksiders II, Death.  Death is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but this Death isn't the skeleton in a hoody that you're used to seeing.  This Death is a hulking, muscle-bound figure who just happens to have a purplish grey skin tone.  His iconic skeletal face is not his own; it's a mask that he chooses to wear as penance.  His and the other horsemen's role in the destruction of their own race to appease the Charred Council led him to don the mask to signify his shame, as well as talisman containing the souls of his dead brethren that he wears bound to his chest. 

Darksiders II screenshot 9

Meet Death

Darksiders II continues the saga of the first game, and in it Death is out to prove the innocence of his brother War who was falsely accused of unleashing the apocalypse on the world far ahead of schedule.  Although they are brother horsemen, Death is quite different than War.  While War prefers to stand his ground and fight enemies head on, Death would rather use his agility to gain an upper hand on a foe and to dodge attacks rather than block them.

Like War, Death wields both primary and secondary weapons.  Death's primary weapons are dual scythes, fast and agile weapons that can put down an enemy in a flurry of slashes.  They are also versatile weapons which can transform into a polearm or thrown weapons to attack foes at a distance.  The secondary weapon can take a number of forms, and you're free to equip whichever one best fits your style of play.  Some are lighter weapons such as claws or gauntlets which give you fast attacks for lighter damage, while heavier weapons such as axes and hammers pack a much greater punch but are slower and require a longer wind-up.  When I started out in The Forge, Death was packing heat in the form of a pistol.  This turned out to be a pretty useful weapon as I could soften up enemies before they closed to melee range or use them to take advantage of Death's mobility by circling slower enemies while peppering them with gunfire.

Each kill in the game will earn you experience points that accumulate to help you to reach higher experience levels.  When you reach a new level you'll earn a skill point which can be used to earn new abilities and attacks.  The skills are divided between two skill trees, the Harbinger Tree and the Necromancer Tree, which can be thought of as a warrior and a spellcaster track, respectively.  You can spend your skill points freely between the two tracks, but higher level abilities will require you to unlock the lower levels ones first and you'll only be able to reach the highest tier abilities if you focus your skill points into a single track.  The Harbinger skills will allow you to gain new melee attacks and combos, and the Necromancer skills will allow you to summon minions to aid you in battle.  Since my time in The Forge was best spent exploring both options, I unlocked teleport attacks from the Harbinger tree and the ability to summon ghouls and a swarm of crows from the Necromancer tree.  Although I split my skill points, this combination proved to be quite useful as I could stand back from enemies and let my ghouls and crows soften them up, blinking in and out of the action to unleash my own attacks while my enemies were occupied with the ghouls.

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Death is not above hitching a ride

Death's agility gives him abilities War never had, though, and he uses them extensively to traverse the game's environments.  Wall running allows him to move along vertical surfaces over short distances and the wall bounce allows him to leap between walls across a narrow gap.  These two maneuvers can be chained together to get Death down a narrow hallway or up through a narrow gap.  When the walls are too far apart, Death must rely on some of his other abilities such a mantling.  This ability can be used to grab posts jutting from walls to propel himself upwards or to chain wall runs together to cross greater distances.  These are other abilities such as the pillar climb and beam running add a bit of a platformer feel to the game, even invoking thoughts of the Prince of Persia games.  When I needed to chain a number of these abilities together to get through sections of the Forge, it really did feel like Death was supernaturally agile and the game's controls and animations made it all look and feel like it was second nature to Death.  About midway through the Forge you'll gain use of the Death Grip, a sort of grappling hook and chain that opens up even more options when scaling walls since it can be used to reach more distance posts and allow Death to mantle his way up enormous walls or down through twisting, lava-filled halls.  The emphasis on all of this traversal in the Forge made me wonder if all of Darksiders II would take on a platformer-inspired tone, but when I spoke with the game's developers they indicated that that was more of a characteristic of the Forge than of the game as a whole.

Darksiders II screenshot 10

Death's Death Grip

As I noted earlier, The Forge culminates in a battle against a titanic foe, the Guardian.  This battle takes place in a large outdoor area and you'll need the aid of a trusted ally to defeat the Guardian in this environment.  Since Death is one of the Four Horsemen, he does indeed have a horse of his own.  Pressing the bumper triggers will summon Despair, Death's personal steed.  Despair's speed - which can be increased in bursts by pressing the right bumper to make him charge - is critical in this final battle because you'll need it to avoid the Guardian's crushing blows.  The battle also plays out as an Apocalyptic Western, as you'll need to pepper the Guardian with gunfire before you can begin to weaken it enough to take it on by more direct attacks.  I won't spoil the surprise by revealing what it takes to destroy the Guardian, but suffice it to say that your victory will be a fitting end to the time and effort that you put in to complete the Forge.  And then there's another three quarters or so of the game still to go...