Eventually released in January 2010, the original Darksiders videogame was in itself a sign that THQ wanted you to take this new franchise seriously. Delayed almost two years from it’s originally suggested release date it was clear that the publisher was eager to do things right, and that Darksiders: Wrath of War, as it was originally known, was not just going to be a one-off. This was the launch pad for a new Red Faction or Saints Row; a genre which offers room to improvise and a product that would please critics and the public alike. THQ wanted all of this, and Vigil Games delivered.
Two years later and the original Darksiders is commonly acknowledged as a welcome first attempt at recreating the magic that is The Legend of Zelda on high-definition (HD) platforms for a more mature audience. A darker world that plays host to more customisation options, Darksiders is by-the-book design make no mistake, but it was executed wonderfully. Darksiders II is every bit as well presented, but with the confidence of a successful first outing behind it, this is a much bolder videogame than its predecessor.
No longer does the player enter the shoes of War, blamed for the bringing of the apocalypse before due, instead the player fills the heavy boots of Death. In an attempt to free his horseman brother from the Charred Council’s imprisonment Death has vowed to resurrect mankind, but this will be no easy task. Death learns early on that must he secure the power of the Tree of Life, but doing so will lead him down a long and winding road where both allies and enemies place demands upon him.
Just as with the original videogame Darksiders II is an open world adventure videogame with all the hallmarks of a production inspired by The Legend of Zelda. The player has a hub from which benefits are offered, but rarely is there the demand to return to it bar safe refuge. The world map acts as a gateway to the many dungeons players will encounter, and in those dungeons will be a heady mix of logistical and platform challenges, switch puzzles and combat. Vigil Games has done well to make Darksiders II feel like a brand new experience despite the familiarity of each of it’s parts; just like the original title, Darksiders II borrows liberally and unashamedly from many of the genre-leading franchises of modern videogaming, and is all the better for it.
The opening hours of Darksiders II aren’t quite as successful as the original title. While Darksiders had the blessing (or shrewd design decision, depending on how you see it) of setting it’s introduction on the familiar city street of Earth, with humans, traffic and skyscrapers all offering a locale that all players of the videogame could relate to, Darksiders II throws you straight into a linear quest through a dank dungeon in an alternate realm. It gives you the briefest taste of the hub presented throughout the rest of the adventure, but demands you complete the most basic series of puzzles before even entertaining the thought of travelling to wherever the fancy takes you.
Once out into the real world things change considerably. As an alternative design to it’s most obvious inspiration Darksiders II features many distractions on it’s world map which have very little consequence; ruins hiding enemy ambushes, the occasional side mission rewarding the player only slightly for a hard endeavour and outposts which hold nothing more than a treasure chest and 100 gold. It’s simply another consideration taken into account to address the balance that the Darksiders franchise simply isn’t The Legend of Zelda, and if THQ want it to run for just as long as Nintendo’s flagship adventure series, they need to ensure it can stand on its own two feet.
The main areas in which Darksiders II differs from its predecessor are in the platform action and the stat heavy combat. Just as with the original title, Darksiders II has transplanted the combat system from God of War into a slower paced title to good effect, but while it’s much more fluid this time around you’ll quickly find that it’s very item heavy too. There are loads of weapon and armour types to find – all of which change Death’s appearance and potentially his combo structure – but in the same regard its imperative that you opt for the higher statistics. Remaining with a piece of armour you found several hours ago because you like the way it looks will more than likely impede your progress. The platforming action on the other hand is designed to do just that: if the overarching structure is borrowed from The Legend of Zelda and the combat liberated from God of War, then this time around the speed and agility of our protagonist is nothing short of Prince of Persia.
Other areas in which Darksiders II shows how it has benefited from listening to it’s audience largely relate to those easily ignorable touches; the replay of previous events when reloading an earlier save, refreshing you on your progress, the characters who evolve their relationships with you and the checkpointing system that shouts from the top of it’s lungs that this is a videogame to be played through to completion by anybody who picks up the pad. These are the areas in which Darksiders II makes a play for ‘groundbreaking,’ but instead ends-up being a welcomingly designed retread of familiar ground.
With all this renovation within the gameplay model, one would hope that the technical clout of Darksiders II has been given the same level of attention. Sadly, the Death character model appears significantly inferior in its presentation to that of War, and the environments, though larger in scale, frequently lack the finesse of those in the original title. Darksiders II arrives two years later, and yet for the best part of the adventure doesn’t offer the same striking visual quality of the 2010 release. The sound quality performs better, yet is still far from being a leading light for the industry. The voice acting is commendable in most instances, and the score is above average in its hauntingly gothic-gaming implementation.
It’s often the case that videogame franchises will start from somewhere completely unexpected and then fail to build upon that initial success. Vigil Games hasn’t been lazy with Darksiders II by any means – this sequel is a different experience in all corners – but the renovations to the formula seem to have stalled, creating a new world which is equally enjoyable as that of the first, but never surpasses it. Darksiders II may not be quite the landmark title that it’s original was, but any adventure gamer worth their salt will need little reason to get lost in the franchise for another fifteen hours.