In Darksiders 2 you play as He-Mans nemesis, Skeletor. Ok, that’s a lie, but your character does offer a striking resemblance to the baby-blue skinned, camp, 80’s cartoon villain. Thats where the similarity ends though. You actually play as one of the most powerful fictional characters ever to pique our imagination. Death! And lets face it, if your school buddies said to you ‘Lets pretend play as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, which one do you want to be?’ you are going to choose Death every time. Because Death is the one that deals out the death, right?
D2’s plot runs alongside the first game’s story, where Death’s brother, War, is imprisoned by the Charred Council. War was accused of starting the Apocalypse early and in Darksiders 2 Death sets out to prove his brother’s innocence.
Travelling across large realms you seem to endlessly perform fetch quests for, often giant, NPCs. While fetching you are leaping from ledges, climbing vines and beams or hacking and slashing anything that looks at you funny. Your primary arsenal consists of wicked twin scythes that get better as you progress. As a back-up you wield a powerful, slower, two-handed weapon, that can be coordinated via button combos with your primary scythe attacks to deliver your own special brand of death.
The “RPG inspired level up system”, which has become something of a gaming standard nowadays, enables you to unlock special abilities or be able to use more powerful magical weapons and armour. Naturally this all happens as you kill and gain experience. The magical weapons and armour offer extra customisation to your character stats and are found as random drops from your dead enemies. Alternatively you can take Death to your local shopkeeper and sell or buy items from the regions equipment store. Armour drops and shopkeepers for Death? Surreal. Well actually it all fits in to the game just fine. If THQ can smoothly slot this approach into their RTS game, Dawn of War 2 then Darksiders 2 will accommodate it easily.
The story is suitably grand and supports the stature we expect from the Darksiders franchise and its top flight publishers, THQ. However, the large maps, reportedly twice as big as the original Darksiders, and the extended campaign, which is three times the length, actually feel like they negatively impact on the depth of gameplay offered this time around. You see, as you travel across these large regions on the back of Despair, your undead stead, the game feels a little bare and offers only the most basic of hack and slash gameplay to entertain you between plot quests. That said, the combat, although simple in design, will keep you entertained for the most part, as you rip through any who think to confront Death in a fight. If you wish to skip past these areas you can fast travel between known locations. Another by-product of larger maps is the repetitive terrain and scenery graphics. We would have seen a much richer game had the regions been smaller and more comprehensively structured.
While the D2 graphics engine is feeling long in tooth compared to other big blockbuster games, the imaginative animations and accompanying sound really sprinkle life [Editor - surely you mean death] to the game. The importance of good voice acting has been embraced by big budget games over these past few years and when you hear some of the NPCs interacting with Death it can make a really positive difference to your level of gaming emersion. Throw in the mighty Danish orchestral composer, Jesper Kyd, and you have an excellent audio accompaniment that sweeps you through the games moods at a controlled pace.
A real highlight in D2 are the boss fights. Rarely will you feel these encounters are anything but awe inspiring. Although some of them simply require you to attack, dodge, attack (repeat until opponent is dead) you still feel a real sense of accomplishment when the giant beasts are brought to heel. Darksiders 2 delivers an excellent sense of scale and as you would expect when playing as Death, you will unwaveringly face down mountain sized bosses. During combat the impact of various attacks feel solid, enabling you to intuitively know which attacks are likely to deal you or your opponent more damage.
The feeling that Darksiders 2 unashamedly plunders some great games for inspiration, is a hard one to shake off. This comes as both a positive and a negative to the game. On the one hand you can take to the game swiftly through borrowed familiarity and warm sense of nostalgia, while on the other hand you know it is not the franchise you maybe yearn for.
Key influencers include Zelda, God of War and Prince of Persia. While leaning on those mighty titles but wrapped in a deep, Darksiders story that takes you on a long journey between Heaven and Hell, controlling Death himself, does Darksiders 2 manage to reach beyond those other titles? Unfortunately not. It does well but unfortunately it falls just short. Putting aside comparisons to all time greats, D2 offers up a thoroughly enjoyable, big hitting, blockbuster title and with the THQ / Vigil pedigree running through its dark veins it makes it easy for me to recommend this action RPG. Death awaits all of us and you wont be disappointed!