When the original Darksiders came out roughly two years ago, it was succinctly described as a mash-up of elements from other action games. Taking the combat cues of games like God of War and Devil May Cry with the puzzle-solving elements of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it carved out its own identity and was a very good game. The sequel was released to pretty much the same praise. To help bolster the launch of the new Wii U console, Nintendo asked THQ to bring this as a launch title, presumably to show that the console can handle games playing on current-generation consoles and to further dispel the belief that Mature-rated games don't belong on Nintendo's system. To that end, Darksiders II delivers.
The plot takes place parallel to the events in the first game. After being duped into starting the Apocalypse too early, War is sent before the Charred Council to answer for his crimes. Knowing of his innocence, his brother Death tries to clear War's name by resurrecting, instead of killing off, the human race. To do so, he must clear out all of the corruption in a land older than Earth and seek out the Tree of Life.
Like the first game, this entry feels heavily influenced by a number of other titles. The combat feels like God of War due to the gore and ease with which to hack and slash enemies in a 3-D environment. With no lock-on needed, moving from target to target while inflicting massive amounts of damage feels just as comfortable as intuitive as Kratos' outings. At the same time, there's a heavy amount of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time influence due to things like the lock-on system for combat and placement of puzzles in dungeon environments. The fact that you get to traverse a large plot of land with a horse in tow really puts that emphasis at the forefront. Despite the obvious influences, it feels just right, almost as if gamers are getting a much more mature version of Link's adventure. From a gameplay perspective, the influential factors fit in well with the game, and you don't feel like they're doing those titles an injustice.
With Death being a new character to control, the developers fleshed out his abilities more. The combat, for example, is amplified with Death's agility. It leans more toward Devil May Cry than God of War, as moves are executed faster and with a bit more fluidity and flair. Secondary melee weapons come into play, which strengthens the comparison and opens up the number of combos. Death can climb up walls, jump great distances, and do other acrobatics like a certain prince or assassin, giving the game a third focus in platforming. The game also features an XP system that doesn't make you stronger in RPG terms but gives you the ability to open up a skill tree with an emphasis on either solo combat or assisted combat, with spirits you can call upon for a short while.
On top of that, the designers threw in a loot mechanic. Just like Borderlands or Diablo, enemies you encounter have the ability to drop a random item on the field for you to collect, whether it's a piece of armor or a new weapon. With the ability to hold a rather large collection of boots, braces and hammers, you'll try to kill everything in your path to see if they drop something better than what you have. To add more depth, the developers threw in special "possessed" items that are completely upgradeable depending on the items you feed it. Thus, you'll care about even the weakest items because they can be used to upgrade possessed items. It's a great mechanic that solves the issue of amassing tons of useless items that often plague loot grabs.
For the most part, the blending of different game mechanics works well enough. The pacing of combat, puzzles and exploration is balanced to the point where you don't feel like you're doing too much of one thing at any time. There's also no clear definition of where dungeons begin or where boss fights should go, giving the game a more spontaneous and natural feel. The individual parts also work nicely. Puzzles in dungeons aren't overly simple or complicated. Each is solvable without a guide, though they will confound you at first. Combat is fluid but really shines during boss fights, where you'll mostly fight against some giant creatures that are sure to elicit some awe. Even the platforming doesn't feel too complicated, though there are a few tricky jumps.
There are a handful of issues. Money feels useless to collect since there aren't too many things to spend it on. When you encounter shops and places to spend said money, skill points are the only things you should buy, as the loot pales in comparison to the stuff you've gained from combat. A number of quests are essentially fetch quests. Many people you meet ask for a specific number of certain items that are located all over the large world. Considering the plot, the mechanic is fine, but players who don't want to hunt for one obscure item at a time have been warned.
As an added bonus, a number of DLC packs that were released after the title's initial launch in August are included in the Wii U disc. The Deadly Despair pack gives your horse a permanent speed boost from the beginning while both the Angel of Death and Shadow of Death packs give you unique armor and scythes with very favorable stats. The Death Rides pack adds a few more side-quests while the Argul's Tomb pack gives you a lengthy dungeon to conquer. The dungeon is available from the main menu from the outset, and it takes your current stats and gives temporary augments necessary to complete the quest. The save file for the quest is also separate from the main game, so you don't have to worry about whether your progress here ruins your progress in the main quest and vice versa. While the additional items were fine as DLC, the fact that they're included here on the disc at no extra charge increases the game's value over the previous retail versions.
Though the Wii U version packs a good chunk of the released DLC on the disc, it isn't clear whether it will get future DLC. A little before the system's release and shortly after that, the game has already seen two significant chunks of DLC come through: Abyssal Forge and The Demon Lord Belial. Like the Argus' Tomb and Death Rides packs, these two add a good amount of content to the base game, and while both PC and other console owners already have access to these packs, there's no word on if or when the Wii U version will get them. For those looking for a complete Darksiders II experience, that is something to keep in mind.
The controls feel good when you're using the GamePad. It is rather comfortable to hold it for long periods of time, and since the control layout is mostly similar to that of other platforms, it doesn't feel awkward. The inclusion of the screen on the GamePad allows for fast switching of items without having to go to a menu — something that comes in handy with this loot-focused game. It can also become a map, complete with treasure locations and markers for important places and characters, and the functionality works well if you can get used to treating it like a much larger Nintendo DS. While these additions are welcome, the included motion controls aren't. Shaking the controller while locking on to an enemy, for example, can execute a dodge. It works well enough, but unless you're playing the game exclusively on the GamePad, it brings back memories of when developers tried to employ motion controls on the PS3 SixAxis controller. Luckily, the motion controls are optional, so you'll never have to move the controller if you don't want to. For those who still feel uncomfortable using the large GamePad, the game is also compatible with the Classic Controller Pro, making the experience even closer to that on the other consoles.
Graphically, the game is mostly on par with its Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 siblings. The character models look great thanks to the designs of Joe Madureira. The animations are crisp, and the environments are alive with color and detail. The frame rate holds rather well in all but the busiest of scenes, and the particle effects are rendered nicely. It looks like the other consoles on this front. However, in the time between this version and the previous ones, some of the graphical issues that were present before haven't been addressed. The amount of screen tearing is the same as before, and there are still a few pauses in gameplay when traversing the environment. In some cases, the textures don't appear as sharply as the other console versions, a sign that there was a little bit of a rush to get this ready for launch. With this Nintendo console being capable of receiving patches, here's hoping that the developers take advantage of that to address the lingering graphical issues.
The sound is top-notch. The music is appropriately moody and epic, a big plus given the more open nature of the game. There are some good set pieces that help convey the scope of the game. The effects are well done, as are the voices, which fit the characters perfectly. There's also a nice audio trick the game does where you can have your effects and Death's voice come from the GamePad while everything else comes through the other speakers. It isn't that immersive, but it isn't a bad way to use the hardware, either. One thing the game doesn't seem to do well, however, is downscale the sound for those who picked the wrong system option. For those not in the know, the console doesn't have Dolby Digital or DTS, opting instead for LPCM sound. If you have a receiver that supports this, you'll be fine, but if you don't, you'll suddenly miss out on the voice work unless you upgrade your receiver or downgrade the system to Stereo. For this game, picking the wrong options means not hearing a majority of the effects and having the voices pretty much disappear. It's a bad trade-off for those who didn't know about this issue until now.
In the end, the Wii U version of Darksiders II is almost exactly like the other console versions. The added control options are nice but don't give Wii U owners a large advantage over their brethren. The presentation, while not as good as the other consoles in some areas, takes advantage of the system's screen transfer option. As for the game, it gives new console owners a solid adventure game provided they don't already own it on another console. The question remains as to whether Wii U owners will get the bonus content, but if you don't mind missing out on a few dungeons, you'll be more than satisfied with this adventure on the Wii U.
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