Full disclosure: at the time of writing this preview, I’ve yet to finish Darksiders. Having spent a few hours with the game, I found myself unable to see it through to the end. It’s not because it was a particularly bad game, but there was just nothing there to keep me coming back. I was worried that Vigil Game’s sequel would have the same effect on me; however, from what I saw, I’m glad to say that Darksiders II--and Death--have laid my worries to rest.
First off, Death as a character is far more compelling to me than War was in the first game. Excluding the crash course we were given by THQ teaching us all about Death throughout the ages, the Reaper of Souls is just more iconic than his brother War. It’s the long black hair and a the skull mask--very reminiscent of Casey Jones from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--as well as his scythe that set Death apart from his brother War in terms of visual aesthetic. I could do without the bulking muscle mass, but that’s a larger issue with video game protagonists that we don’t need to get into now. Everyone knows the Grim Reaper; everyone thinks he’s cool. Why not simply play as him?
A fresh protagonist isn’t the only new thing about Darksiders II, as plenty of gameplay mechanics have been refined, added, and improved. Headlining the pack of changes is the ability to “create your own Death.” Some players--like me--will find joy in knowing that Darksiders II adds a strong yet traditional RPG element to the mix. This time around, your horseman will reflect the changes you make to him with the newly added customizable loot system and skill trees. You’ll be able to mix and match different armor sets (e.g. Necromancer, Slayer, and Wanderer armor) as well as choose which weapons suit your combat style (e.g. dual scythes, claws, hammers, and guns) as you seamlessly chain them together in combat. To me, that’s the single most promising layer of content that looks to make Darksiders II a more engaging experience throughout.
Another rather large improvement is the way Death traverses the environment around him. Much unlike War, Death is made out to be a very nimble character when it comes to getting around. Players can now wall run--think Prince of Persia--climb thin pillars/columns, run along ropes and beams, as well as pull themselves to specific attachments throughout the environment with Death’s new Ghost Hand, which seems to replace the grappling hook from the first game. The Ghost Hand can also be used in combat to--you guessed it--pull Death towards his enemies or vice versa (depending on the size of the enemy), helping the new combat system be more fluent than ever. Between the new variety of weapons, spells/abilities, Ghost Hand, and acrobatic tricks up the Pale Rider’s sleeve, the combat in Darksiders II seems way more engaging, and far less button-mashy.
Darksiders II promises over 20 hours of gameplay complete with a leveling system, non-linear progression, and unique side-quests to keep players coming back. In fact, the whole demo we were shown was from a side-quest, not the main story. That just goes to show that there seems to be a certain level of quality and care given to the design of side-quests, meaning they don’t seem to be throwaway additions to the main game. Oh, and did I mention that there’ll be a new game plus mode for those who want to play through the game again trying out new skill trees, armor sets, and weapon customizations? Well, there will be.
With the improvements in mind, the game still looks like Darksiders. If you like the art style brought forth by comic book icon Joe Madureira, then just like the first game, you’ll most probably like the visual aesthetic in Darksiders II. While the graphics weren’t necessarily the highlight of the demo, they seemed decent and colorful enough to keep things attention-grabbing throughout. However, Darksiders II may or may not attempt to make up for that with a huge sense of scale. The end of the demo was a tease of an in-game boss; we didn’t get to see the fight, just what the boss looked like. The boss was a massive, and I mean massive, hammer. Yup, it was a hammer. Sound confusing? It was. However, I have to admit that I’d love to see how this Shadow of the Colossus-esque boss battle scale fares with Darksiders II’s combat system.
We’ll have to wait and see just how much Darksiders II rides above and beyond the first game on its pale horse of Death when it hits store shelves sometime this summer.