It seems for a group of guys created to bring about the end of the world, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse spend an awful lot of time trying to save it. Well, at least War and Death do anyway.
Darksiders II picks up after the events of the first game following Death as he tries to restore the good name of his brother War, who was framed for bringing about the Apocalypse on Earth. As War frantically travels around the rather nasty plain of existence he was banished to in an attempt to undo the damage he had been accused of doing Death sets about on a journey to get to the bottom of things and clear Wars good name.
Deaths journey is a like a more serious and ethereal version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with War playing the part of Roger. The most famous of the Four Horsemen (thats Death) picks up his scythe and embarks on a journey across several plains of existence to tidy up the fallout from what happened to War and hopefully find out who was behind it all and give them a sound thrashing.
Grandeur is very much the key word to use in talking about Darksiders II. Its very hard to top the end of the world in terms of scale but Vigils approach has been very effective in creating a game that outdoes its predecessor in almost every way. While the story is clearly a follow on from the first game the environments, weaponry and especially the boss battles have all gotten bigger by some way.
Increasing the scale does have its drawbacks however. The first game suffered from a slow pace due to the absence of a faster way to travel around the game world and with a bigger world the pace of Darksiders II could slow to a crawl. Darksiders II has addressed this in two ways. First of all, in the more open spaces Death can summon his trusty steed Despair, which gives him an edge in speed. This does come in handy when exploring the larger environments for the first time, speeding past lesser enemies on the way to a quest location and even dealing with larger bosses.
Secondly, Darksiders II features a fast-travel system that allows players to select locations already visited on the map and teleport quickly to them. There is also the option to return to the last place you were which is quite handy if you want to head back to a shop quickly to stock up on potions and maybe upgrade your weapons before entering a dungeon.
Darksiders took a fair bit of criticism when it came out and quite fairly so. For an action RPG of its size there was a distinct lack of variety in the weaponry until later on in the game (or if you received the scythe unlock code as a pre-order bonus) which made the game feel very one-dimensional. As a result Vigil Games has taken plenty of steps to remedy the situation.
The items and inventory system has been completely overhauled with a Diablo-esque feel to it. Items are filtered into slots by category separating out primary and secondary weapons, magic items, quest items and different parts of armour into their own sections to make them more convenient to examine and compare before equipping.
Unlike the first game where you had to buy new weaponry from merchants, gear items can now be found in chests and are even discarded by defeated enemies giving a bit of a gear-hunter feel to the game. Scythes are Deaths primary weapons of choice and there are multitudes of different types with different bonuses and additional effects like lightning of fire damage or strength bonuses. Secondary weapons come in two flavours heavy and dual wield. The dual wield weapons are generally in the form of daggers or bladed bracers and are usually much faster than the scythes. The only downside to using these is they cause slightly less damage than the scythes do. Then there are heavy weapons. These yield massive damage and come in the forms of two-handed axes and hammers. Their weakness is that they are exceptionally slow to wield, especially the hammers.
This new wealth of weaponry allows players to tailor Deaths loadout to suit their own play styles. The different armour pieces also come in a variety for flavours and with additional attack and defence bonuses giving players even more flexibility over how they want to fight. The really nice touch is the introduction of possessed weapons and armour. Possessed gear can be upgraded according to personal preference by sacrificing unwanted items to them to level them up. The more powerful the items that are sacrificed the quicker players get to levelling them up.
Death also has a fearsome array of added powers and magic tools that will aid him on his quest and they are all accessed at the touch of a button. This is where things can get a bit fiddly. Holding down R2 to target an enemy, then trying and use a magic power (hold down R1 and press the face button you mapped the power to) can prove a touch awkward in the heat of battle. It can also lead to pushing the wrong button, which can prove very frustrating. Another odd design choice is the decision to make the left thumbstick the only way to navigate menus. For anyone used to using the D-pad for scrolling through menus this feels more than a little bit unnatural. It doesnt take very long to get used to the eccentricities of Darksiders IIs control system though and they have very little negative effect on the overall experience.
With epic grandeur and some careful and telling refinements, Darksiders II proves to be everything youd want from a sequel. Minor control niggles aside Death looks and feels more like a natural hero. With Darksiders II, Vigil Games seems to have managed to find their stride and it makes you feel excited to see where they will take the series next.
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