Darksiders II starts out strong but whimpers in the end
There are some games that I want to like very badly, but actually have huge flaws that I end up overlooking until its too late. This is Darksiders II. Its a game that succeeds on my levels, especially during the first half, but then evidences a large lack of attention to development toward the second half. A disappointing outcome to one of my most anticipated games of the year.
Darksiders back in early 2010 originally had a lot going for it and I honestly loved every minute of the new IP from THQ. At first I viewed the game with a great deal of skepticism, just solely based on it being a totally unknown IP, but getting my hands on the controls really showed how the game could light-up: swift and tight platforming, awesome God of War-inspired fighting mechanics, and great finishing moves. But the real reason I fell in love was because of the Zelda-inspired gameplay. Dungeons were long and involved, they required you to find a special item that you needed to use to advance and fight the end boss. Great stuff. The story was cool and the visuals were unique and often breathtaking in scope. The Garden of Eden late in the game was a very memorable area for me at least.
The sequel takes a lot of new approaches to the formula. Let me start by saying I didn’t mind this in the least, it feels like Darksiders II found what worked about the original, went to the drawing board and came back with an even more refined approach. Instead of one sword that grows in power over the course of the game, you get Diablo-style loot everywhere. You’ll pick up new primary and secondary weapons complete with weapon damage stats and all sorts of modifiers. Its crazy to think that this huge addition to a Zelda-style game actually works in a lot of big ways. I think that in any other hands that approach probably wouldn’t work, but because we’re familiar with the last game and this one has an idea of what to do with itself, we’re treated to a pretty fun loot-drop dynamic.
Your primary, duel-wielded scythes can be a fairly common pick-up, but occasionally you’ll find a rare. Those rares can be fed other, lesser weapons to make it more powerful, taking a concept from the original game (the Deatheater) and basically making it way more awesome. It works….let’s just leave it at that, it works the nth degree. In addition you’ll be getting lots of different secondary weapons such as gauntlets, ridiculously large hammers and even wrist-blades. They all have their own moves and will let you stylize how you play in those large battles with handfuls of enemies. Since I was feeding my primary weapons so many other weapons I rarely ran into problems with being over-encumbered by the loot.
Let’s delve into one minor fault I had with the game while I’m on the subject of loot: There’s a lot of gold to pick-up in this game, but never really anything to buy with it. At first I found I could purchase various fighting moves, but eventually I bought all of those and I had to ask: “Is that it?”. What exactly is the point in buying new armor when better stuff drops so frequently? For a game that also only needs you to get to level 20 before the final boss, it seemed like a bit of a misnomer to pour over getting the very best armor and weapons for my playstyle. I simply looked for when most of the attributes went up by a lot and switched out accordingly.
When you’re not fighting and looting, you’re typically platforming in dungeons. This is one of the game’s strong points. Running, jumping and otherwise parkouring all over the place is so smooth you’ll probably do a double-take at Prince of Persia. I’m actually pretty interested in renting the 2008 title since I can’t remember which one played better. Its refreshing to play a wall-running obstacle-type game and not worry about how long it takes to get from one thing to the other. Getting up ledges and walls is a breeze and often way faster than just running around on the floor.
But dungeons eventually take a big hit. This game doesn’t rely so much on the Zelda creed of “find new item in dungeon, use new item to beat dungeon”. I can see where the developers were probably trying to break out of that mold, but they don’t bring in anything to replace it with. The early dungeons have some neat concepts like a giant stone golem that you need to ride around and use to solve puzzles, but later levels have very limited special item use.
I had a particular big problem with the “dungeon” set on planet Earth. Spoiler alert level 99 right here: This area is basically a huge Left 4 Dead-style zombie shoot-em-up that you will plod through for the better part of an hour. It is boring as all hell and never seems to let up. I just couldn’t believe the game even took this kind of a turn. Its also the point when I realized the level design was taking a dramatic dip in quality.
The last few dungeons have a few interesting puzzles (and some of the few “difficult” ones), but the boss battles end up being pretty uninspired. Most of them amounted to a lot of attack spamming which is pretty much a huge “no” when it comes to a Zelda-type of game. I was actually pretty distraught by the end of an 18+ hour game with an underwhelming final boss.
The story did a good job of “telling” me why it was important and interesting, but I had a hard time connecting to any of the events. Actually the only person I ever felt a good connection to was Death when he was talking to others. Something about his superfulous conversations and “I don’t give a shit about you” attitude worked on a lot of levels. Unless you have a direct family relationship to Death, odds are he doesn’t give a crap about you or your cause unless it furthers his own. Its good character. Death also isn’t an underdog, he knows he is a total badass and I love that. But despite the great characterizations, its not enough to make me care about the story at hand. The first game had a real sense of urgency and an epic flair to it. Death appears to be on some sort of drawn-out sidequest when compared to his brother War.
Darksiders II is regrettably not the home run I was hoping for. There are some minor problems I also have with the lack of graphical settings. Its still a great game in its own right, but it doesn’t do much to further the larger story from the first game and eventually falls apart with bad level and boss design. Where the game does succeed is in giving Darksiders its own personality in terms of characters and gameplay. It also expands on the universe greatly, leaving a lot of room to explore in future titles. I will recommend the title with a word of caution that it may leave a bad taste in your mouth toward the end, but up to that point is a very satisfying experience none-the-less.