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Hands-On Preview: Top 5 reasons why Darksiders II is (mostly) great

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on 23 March 2012


If you’ve been paying attention -- and you should be -- then you’d know that back in January we gave you our first impressions of THQ’s upcoming sequel to Darksiders. We introduced Death, the lead protagonist in Darksiders II, and outlined some new features and mechanics in the game. I walked away from the presentation rather pleased, looking forward to my next chance to check out the latest entry in the Darksiders series.

This time around, THQ and Vigil Games gave us hours of hands-on time with the game, allowing us to make our way through a quest found about 25% into the campaign; the demo took place inside the final dungeon of the Maker’s Realm, the first of four zones in Darksiders II.

Sent on a mission to revive an ancient golem named The Guardian, a colossal stone construct capable of banishing corruption, Death must explore a deep dungeon in search of three Heart Stones which can reanimate the giant. You’re followed by an AI-controlled NPC named Maker Karn who helps you solve puzzles; throw you across gaps, holds doors open, lugs the heavy stuff around for you and even fights with you.

After getting through to the end and fighting the final boss of zone 1, here are the top 5 things I took away from Darksiders IIthis is what you should care about:


1. The RPG-esque loot system will keep you hooked


Like we told you about in that first preview, Darksiders II sports a brand-new loot system, adding a touch of RPG to the mix. Upon defeat, enemies randomly drop loot that you can customize Death with. You can also find chests – some more hidden than others – that will reward you with sweet, sweet loot. This is a very good thing. Vigil knows that most players salivate over this kind of stuff, as you may too, once you see how captivating it can be to customize not only Death’s appearance, but his stats and play style.

I found myself checking my inventory about every thirty minutes to see if I picked up anything that would enhance my current build for Death. From piercing damage to bonus experience, there are plenty of stat modifiers that you can go nuts with. What’s more is that the items we were finding are most-probably early-game equipment; we can’t wait to see the late-game loot.


2. You won’t be getting bored of combat


Death has a surprising amount of versatility when it comes to combat in Darksiders II. Between the new and improved combat mechanics in the sequel, the plethora of weapons, skill tree customization and different spells / abilities, there are countless ways to approach combat however you want to.

Want to go all-out melee with your scythes and choice of secondary weapon? You can. Throwing in some abilities from your Harbinger and Necromancer skill trees, like raising the dead to fight your battles for you when needed, or mastering teleport attacks – yup, you are the Pale Rider, after all – add so many angles to combat that we see this being one of Darksiders II’s strongest points. Take into account that loot system we were talking about and you’ll be spec-ing your Death however you want to, adapting your own unique approach to combat accordingly.


3. There’s a huge sense of scale

Put this into perspective: it took roughly three hours to finish the last dungeon of what we were told is the first of four zones in Darksiders II. According to Vigil, that first zone is about the same size as all of Darksiders I. The game is going to be massive.

But we’re not just talking about map size, oh no. Some environments are so vast that we actually felt pretty daunted walking into them. In an action-adventure game like this, where you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny for hidden loot chests, you’ll need to take a look at your map quite often. Oh, and did I mention that “The Guardian” ends up being the last boss of zone 1? No? Well, I just did, and believe you me, I wasn’t kidding when I said it was colossal


4. Platforming / traversing environments can be fun, but will take getting used to


Death is more nimble than his brother War. This allows the player to perform wall-runs, and even zip line from point A to B with what is essentially a grappling hook, the Death Grip. This adds a very welcomed layer of diversity to gameplay; however, I feel like I need to make it clear that I must have failed most of my attempts at jumping, wall-running and grappling. You have to be really careful with the angle at which you jump onto a wall in order to successfully go the direction you intend to, making the platforming feel a little flimsy.

What’s more is that after connecting certain wall-runs and grapples, you must press the jump button at exactly the right time in order to retain momentum or jump at the end of your swing. This is a design decision that led to more than a few frustrating moments, as I literally found myself reattempting some obstacles 4-5 times, often not knowing what I did differently the time I actually succeeded.


5. It’s not done yet, but there were a little too many technical issues


Still having three months left in the oven, there’s still some time for Vigil to polish up Darksiders II. From what we were told, the build we were playing was a month old, meaning that the finished product would reflect 3+ months of work. However, we ran into an overabundance of technical issues with the game in just three hours of play time.

I have no doubt in my mind that Vigil will have fixed most to all of the missing audio, presentation issues, crashes and random glitches that some of us were encountering. However, I’m a little worried by the screen tearing, frame rate and camera difficulties that we were having. Things didn’t even have to get hectic for the frame rate to take a hit; it remained inconsistent throughout. The screen tearing was more than apparent, often defiling some of the gorgeous visuals the game has to offer. But what’s most bothersome is how the camera reacted in certain spots. By either zooming in too close, or too far from Death, I found myself having to stop for a few seconds and readjust my camera manually just to regain awareness of where I was, or where I was facing. This is especially prevalent in the grappling and underwater / swimming segments of the dungeon we were in. Even during the boss fight, I was forced to constantly hold my finger on the lock-on button just so I can keep an eye on the boss and what he was doing instead of just his feet.

Like I said, these might all be non-issues come day of release; I’m just expressing my concern. I’d love to remove this from the “top 5” and replace it with how visually pleasing and colorful the game is, but that entire visual competency goes to hell when the frame rate drops as often as it does. Again: I’m hopeful that between now and day of release, Vigil will have enough time to patch all this up.


All in all, I find myself more excited than ever to check out Darksiders II when it’s released on June 26. Most critics enjoyed the first game, and saying that this sequel is way more ambitious is an understatement. There’s so much to Darksiders II that if it all comes together properly, we may be looking at one of the best action games of 2012.