FEATURE: "Darksiders II" Review

...and there was a pale horse, and its rider was named Death. AND A REALLY KICKASS GAME FOLLOWED

I have something embarassing to admit: it was hard tearing myself away from Darksiders II long enough to write this review.


Through a combination of solid gameplay, an engrossing and interesting world, and a heaping helping of '90s grim-and-gritty comic book 'tude, Darksiders II sets itself apart as a fun and promising action-RPG that will keep you playing for a very long time--provided you can forgive its occasional screwup. This is, naturally, a follow-up to 2010's critically acclaimed Legend of Zelda clone Darksiders. I say "Zelda clone" in the nicest possible way, because Darksiders had a lot of familiar elements. Instead of going to the Water Dungeon to get a Hookshot which you'll use throughout the dungeon, you will instead descend into the Sunken Abattoir of the Sea-Damned where you will find an Abyssal Chain, which you will then use throughout the dungeon.


Darksiders II does not borrow as liberally from other games as its predecessor--while you still have a Hookshot-alike with the Deathgrip and the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device Voidwalker returns, the structure of the game feels like a smooth combination of the following things:










Instead of a direct sequel, Darksiders II takes place during the original game. In the first game, Armageddon is started prematurely, and War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is accused of starting the war that wipes humanity out of existence, upsetting the delicate balance between Heaven and Hell. War is then imprisoned for one hundred years before he's given a chance to clear his name in the original Darksiders--during that hundred-year sentence, his big brother Death goes on his own quest to save War in Darksiders II.




Instead of the blasted post-apocalyptic landscape of the first game, Darksiders II takes place in several distinct fantasy locations, from the lush, Azeroth-like Forge Lands to the eerie and unsettling Lands Beyond. Gameplay still works the same--you'll make your way through a series of dungeons, go through sections of combat, platforming, and puzzle-solving using every tool in Death's arsenal, and at the end of it all you'll take on a colossal boss and probably be rewarded with helpful items, experience, and loot.



I spend about as much time on this screen futzing with my gear as I do actually playing the game


Darksiders II really lives up to the "RPG" side of its gameplay--you get branching dialogue choices at times, although it really has no effect on the plot and it's just for flavor and world-building, or if you just want to hear Death be a total jerk to everybody in earshot. Enemies drop gold, armor, and weapons, which can either be sold or "sacrificed" to Possessed Weapons to level them up and add perks like higher Critical rates or elemental effects.




Combat is fast and flexible. Aside from Death's basic weapons--Scythes--you can choose from a variety of gauntlets, claws, and heavy weapons like axes and hammers, each one with different stats and effects. You can either save up your gold to buy a massive, varied arsenal, or just feed everything to your Possessed Weapons and run around with an empty inventory and crazy-powerful gear.




Like most RPGs, experience is awarded upon completing quests and killing enemies, and you're given points to level up your abilities. Death's skills can also be adjusted to your play style, and you're given the chance to re-spec for a small fee if you don't like your setup. Whether you like to summon undead minions to fight alongside you, buff Death's attack, defense and crit rate, or siphon your enemies' HP and MP to keep yourself healthy, Death's array of skills leave plenty of room for experimentation.




Unfortunately, even with all these great additions to make playing Darksiders II feel natural, some important things slipped through the cracks. The game is plagued with constant graphical glitches such as the ground randomly disappearing, or game-breaking glitches in side quests. The roughly 20-hour main quest is polished and mostly irritation-free, but THQ and Vigil seem to have skimped when QAing the side quests--the bulk of the game. One puzzle revolved around dropping a ball (basically a key) down a chute, and opening gates to free it. Somehow in my game the puzzle glitched, and the ball was pinned between one of the gates and the ceiling--it was so frustrating at first that I skipped the side quest and moved on, then later spent 5-10 minutes just jumping up and down on a lever to free the damn thing.




The controls can also gum up at the absolute worst times--like in combat, or when you're trying to perform a tricky platforming section. While you can set hotkey combinations to your abilities, sometimes you'll have to hit a combination three or four times to get your ability to activate, and then once it does activate, you'll lose three or four times the amount of MP you expected. Thankfully, these kind of issues do get patched eventually, but it's frustrating and really takes away from an otherwise incredibly fun game.




A real high point to the game is its voice acting. Death is played dry and sarcastic by Michael Wincott, and while the rest of the cast goes kind of bonkers with their fake Scottish accents, it keeps up the "dark fantasy" feel. It's important to mention the sheer artistry of this game--I think the Darksiders games are the closest comic book fans are ever going to get to a Joe Madureira-designed cartoon. Everything reflects Madureira's heavily-stylized manga-feeling artwork, and for a longtime fan of the artist, it's heaven.




Of course, if I played this kind of game at the height of Joe Mad's popularity--when I was sixteen--I would have exploded from pure joy and would not be here telling you about it today. Death broods and growls, has incredibly metal jet-black hair and a horse named Despair. His platforming consists of insane parkour stunts, he fights with two scythes held in reverse grip, and can even use Wolverine-like claws in combat. In short, he's so freakin' eXtReMe it hurts, but in a way it's also kinda cool.


It's surprising to say, but Darksiders II is a real bright spot in gaming this year. While it may feel derivative in some aspects, it stands on its own as a solid action-RPG that provides a lot of asses to kick and treasure to find in a very memorable world that's fun to fight and explore in--even if it has a plot lifted straight out of a grim-and-gritty '90s comic book.



+ Gorgeous graphics and level design really bring life to Joe Madureira's designs

+ Flexible leveling system lets you fight and use abilities exactly the way you want

+ The system also encourages experimentation and replay for the full experience

+ While many of the objectives will feel familiar, the game keeps you on your toes and mixes things up often

+ For an action game, it's unexpectedly long--a 20-hour main quest and at least that much in side quests

+ Great voice acting, especially the gravelly-voiced main character

- Constant glitches and QA problems hamper an otherwise seamless experience

- Some o' the cheracters layin' on ther fake Sco'ish accents a li'l too theck

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