Darksiders II Review
Usually, when you attempt to be a jack of all trades, you become a master of none and end up floundering in mediocrity. And while it may be true to say that Darksiders II isn’t the very best at any of its many gameplay facets (role-playing, action, platforming, puzzle-solving, etc.), it continues to excel throughout. In fact, the elements are blended so well together, and the final result is so solid and addictive, it’s hard to get annoyed at the little eccentricities. Basically, you’re looking at a very robust, extremely well designed package.
Those who appreciate art design should marvel at the game’s environments, character and enemy designs, special effects, and animations. Some might say the graphics are actually the weakest part of this sequel, but that’s only if you ignore the sheer amount of creativity…and why should we do that? It’s not the most polished or the most advanced in terms of realism. There are a few hitches and glitches here and there. But like the game itself, the overall presentation is what ultimately matters, and the amount of effort expended to create this engaging fantasy world is amazing.
Such effort never went unnoticed in my play time, and the same goes for the excellent soundtrack, voice performances, and crisp, invigorating effects. The music can be a bit repetitive, as many of the same tracks are recycled for different areas, but it’s just so well composed and implemented. Music should always be a great complement to the action and that’s exactly what we get in Darksiders II. I was also a little surprised to hear such fine voice acting, as most all the characters, from Death himself to the Makers with those heavy Scottish accents, are tremendously well voiced. The audio balancing is a big plus, too; everything works together in this category.
In some ways, it’s a crime to pigeonhole Darksiders II and say, “yes, it’s definitely a ‘insert genre name here.’” Technically, I suppose it’s an action/RPG, as it combines the real-time hack ‘n slash combat of a God of War with the fantastic depth of a Dragon Age. But there’s also platforming and puzzle-solving, traits that can be ascribed to various genres, including third-person shooters such as Uncharted. And let’s not forget the Zelda-esque elements, such as earning new tools and abilities that open up new sections of the map.
Death is out to clear the name of his brother, War, who is bound to be found guilty by the Council for condemning humanity. But Death is convinced that War is innocent and he must embark on a quest that involves the resurrection of humanity if he wants to free his comrade in arms. Death is a little smaller than his compatriot, but he’s also faster and more agile, and as this really is a full RPG in most every sense of the term, he will grow depending on the player’s preferences. There’s a skill tree (two, actually, one each for Harbinger and Necromancer), a ton of equipment ranging from boots to helms, and a primary and secondary weapon.
He gains experience and levels and his stats are affected by the equipment he puts on, which in my estimation is role-playing. The world isn’t as large and open as something like The Elder Scrolls, but there’s still plenty of exploring to be done. There are open outdoor environments ranging greatly in style and tone, there are dungeons and other indoor locales that may hold various secrets, and Tri-Stone is your first central hub. Exploration is a breeze, as you have both Dust (a crow that guides you) and Despair, your trusty horse that is available when traversing the larger open areas.
You can also fast travel almost as often as you wish, and that includes leaving your position deep within a dungeon so you can sell off all the equipment you’ve accumulated to buy better stuff. When finished, you can return to that exact spot in the dungeon because you automatically leave a waypoint behind. That’s sort of an ongoing trend in this game: It’s just never meant to be frustrating. It’s meant to be challenging, but that’s a very different thing. The potential for numerous irritations was high due to the sheer size and scope of the game, but Vigil avoided a ton of pitfalls.
For instance, there’s always plenty of room in your inventory, so you’re not always traveling back to town to sell off a bunch of crap. There’s no weight limitation so you’re not always struggling to remove what you can’t carry. At the same time, they don’t skimp on the depth as there can be level restrictions for certain pieces of equipment, and the Possessed weapons actually let you “feed” them by sacrificing other things in your inventory. Feed ‘em more and they get more powerful. Platforming is simple and streamlined, and combat is accessible but with the option of combo complexity for the more hardcore players.
The control is almost always on point and once again, to avoid vexation, they give you the option of locking on with the L2 button. This is great for bosses and other particularly problematic foes. The only downside is that the camera isn’t always cooperative, as it can get a little wacky in confined areas. In a way, I almost think a fixed camera (for only the interior sections) would’ve worked better, just because the combat is so fast and there are usually multiple enemies. Further, because the camera sits a little too close for my liking, you’re constantly spinning the camera about to ensure that something isn’t behind you.
While I’m on the subject of negatives, I’ll just finish the thought— This isn’t the most technically sound game in the world. I died instantly due to a couple of crazy glitches, and the game very nearly froze on me two or three times. Enemies can get lost inside walls (clipping and collision detection is an issue throughout), and occasionally I questioned the responsiveness of my evade command. But the latter could be due to my own mistake; screwing up in the heat of battle and being convinced I hit R1 in time when in fact, I didn’t. I have to acknowledge that possibility.
But aside from the technical misgivings, Darksiders II delivers on all fronts. The combat is easy to pick up but difficult to master, as there are combos, special abilities, and magic that can be utilized in a multitude of ways. The puzzles are never too hard but they do make you think, the platforming is well-incorporated, and the adventure elements (such as earning an extremely helpful grappling device) blend beautifully with the pacing of the quest. There are a few memorable boss encounters and you always emerge from a play session feeling satisfied and rewarded.
At first, I thought it was a mistake to not include a block feature. But the more I played, the more I realized that only having the possibility of evading kept the game moving at a fast pace, which fits the mold. It could’ve been an issue without the lock-on option, given that the camera can’t always keep up, but the developers didn’t forget. You’re always looking to find or purchase new equipment, you’re always trying to get every chest in every dungeon, and there are plenty of side-quests to keep you entertained for many more hours beyond the main campaign.
Then there’s the Crucible Mode, which really focuses on the combat aspect of the game; it’s a 100-level test that opens up gradually as you play through the story. If you step back and view the game from a bird’s-eye view, you start to gather in the full scope and size of the adventure. The number of different gameplay mechanics is actually quite impressive; I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many in one place before. Heck, there’s even a co-op mechanic as you’ll have a character join you at one point. RPG, action, adventure, platforming, puzzle…it’s all good and it’s all here, and that's a definite achievement.
Darksiders II is a special game. The combination of many different gameplay types melded into a cohesive style results in a heady experience, and one you don’t want to end. There are a few problems with the technical solidarity and I’m not all that impressed with the story, but everything else, from the art design to the music to the silly high fun factor surrounding the combat and exploration; it creates an undeniably appealing package. The best part is that despite using so many different systems and gameplay features, the game still manages to carve out its own niche, to be very much its own formidable beast.
And that right there is reason enough to highly recommend it.
The Good: Design and style is excellent. Music is stellar and voice acting is great. Solid, accessible control. Large, diverse world begging to be explored. Vigil paid attention to the little things. Unbelievable mix of multiple forms of gameplay, and they all work extremely well together.
The Bad: Prone to glitches and freezing. Camera can be problematic in tight spots. Story isn’t all that gripping.
The Ugly: “Monster in the wall…game doesn’t know I killed it…door might not open now…uh-oh…”
8/14/2012 Ben Dutka