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Darksiders II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, WiiU, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vigil Games
Release Date: Aug. 14, 2012 (US), Aug. 21, 2012 (EU)


PS3 Review - 'Darksiders II'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 14, 2012 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Darksiders II follows the exploits of Death, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, in a weaving tale that runs parallel to the events in the original Darksiders game.

Darksiders II begins roughly about the same time as the original game. The Apocalypse has occurred too early, and both Heaven and Hell are dumbfounded. The blame falls upon War, a horseman of the Apocalypse. While War struggles to prove his innocence, his brother Death is on a quest to revive humanity, undo the damage, and save War from punishment. To do this, he seeks the Tree of Life, a magical place that theoretically allows him to revive fallen humanity. Unfortunately, said world is overtaken by Corruption, a mysterious force that distorts and destroys everything it touches. To reach the Tree, Death needs to destroy the source of the Corruption.

Many people accused the original Darksiders of being overly similar to The Legend of Zelda, and that isn't going to change with Darksiders II. The new setting makes it feel even more like a trip to a dark future Hyrule, and that's meant in the kindest way. Darksiders II is an adventure game; it may not be a massive open world like Skyrim or Fallout, but it makes up for that by having a well-crafted world with something around every corner.

As such, the structure is extremely similar to that of a The Legend of Zelda game. You'll traveling from dungeon to dungeon, collecting new powers and defeating bosses along the way. Darksiders II manages to avoid feeling overly linear by including a hefty dose of optional side-quests. Not much of the map is wasted. If you see a big ruin or unusual path, you'll probably go there at some point or another. Early on, I found a side-quest that took me into a rather lengthy minidungeon, where I found a gigantic flaming phoenix that I had to fight to pry a new scythe from its stomach. It was just a bonus quest, but it sure felt like a full-fledged dungeon.

The items you get in Darksiders II are pretty similar to those from the The Legend of Zelda series, although somewhat more limited. Instead of a bow, you get a pistol. Instead of a hookshot, you get a spectral claw. The claw automatically equips when you're near a grappling point. The pistol has infinite ammo, but it needs time to recharge. There are several items that are extremely context-sensitive, such as a key to bring ancient golems to life so you can ride them. It is unfortunate that some items fall by the wayside as the game goes on, as they're fairly neat.

Darksiders II's most frustrating feature is how guided and limited it can be. Like The Legend of Zelda, you're expected to use certain gadgets in certain places, jump over certain cliffs, and generally do what the game expects, though the limitations are far more noticeable and strict. Death only climbs on to clearly marked ledges, and he won't even try any others. You can have a perfect square but are only able to climb one side of it, regardless of the fact that all four sides are the same height. Invisible walls are relatively common as well, preventing you from making jumps or leaps that you should be able to make. In <i Zelda, I could occasionally make a jump or pull off a tricky maneuver to save time.  In Darksiders, I'm beholden to the limitations of the game. It can also make some puzzles obtuse, but this is relatively rare once you learn the game's rules.

Darksiders II's combat system is quite different and significantly more in-depth than The Legend of Zelda. The combat is also a significant step up from the combat in the original game. It's extremely fast-paced and involves dodging attacks and waiting for the right moment to strike. Unlike the first game, combat feels like much less of a chore and more like a fun reward for finishing a puzzle or reaching the end of a dungeon. It's very simple to pick up, but the intricacies can take time to master.

You have two kinds of weapons: primary and secondary. Your primary weapon is a pair of scythes. The secondary weapons come in two types: fast and slow. Fast weapons are claws or gauntlets, which can strike faster than your scythes and are best for stun-locking single enemies or earning critical hits. Slow weapons are maces or hammers, which are incredibly powerful but difficult to wield. Each secondary weapon has a special charge attack. A glaive can be charged to perform a powerful rushing blow, while the gauntlets let you make a defensive barrier to counter an attack.

Combat is heavily focused on mixing up the use of primary and secondary weapons, and you'll be far less effective if you stick with just one. Slow weapons get faster if you combo them with a scythe attack. There are a lot of combos available, although like God of War, you'll probably stick with a handful of moves. There's some depth for those who like to set up long combos, but enemies are dangerous enough that you'll want to focus on staying safe.

Death is fast. Unlike his brother War, Death is a speed demon who moves across the environment like a Prince of Persia protagonist. He's as dodgy and nimble in combat as Ryu Hayabusa. This comes with a decrease in overall durability, though, so you'll have to spend a lot of time dodging attacks. Weaker enemies can't do too much to you, but they can slowly whittle down your health bar. Larger enemies can sometimes take most of your health with one attack, even on the Normal mode, and "large" doesn't always mean "slow." In this way, the combat is paced like Ninja Gaiden, with a focus on avoiding attacks and striking at the perfect movement. It is much less punishing than that brutal franchise.

Death has a number of special abilities at his disposal. Early on, you unlock the Reaper form, which is a temporary super mode that makes Death transform into a giant reaper and do tons of damage. While impressive, the Reaper form is probably the least useful of his abilities. Far more important are his special moves, which are powered by his "wrath" energy.

Every time you level up or complete certain side-quests, you get a Skill Point to spend in one of two trees: Harbinger or Necromancer, which roughly equate to "physical attacks" or "magic." Each has a variety of abilities, with new ones becoming available as you increase levels. Unlike many skill trees, these don't have a specific starting point. As long as you've reached the right level to have an ability, you can invest in it. Investing skill points unlocks modifiers for your abilities, so the more you invest in an ability, the more special attributes it gets. It's also very easy to respec your character; it costs 1,000 gold, which is equivalent to one health potion. You can switch your skill loadout for every dungeon if you desire.

Harbinger is focused in increasing the damage you do with your scythes or weapons. You begin with Teleport Slash, which lets Death instantly close the gap on an enemy and do damage. As you upgrade it, you can make it steal health from enemies, cause explosions around the enemy, set foes on fire, etc. Later moves in the Harbinger tree let you damage enemies around you or massively buff your damage and critical damage. You'll want to invest in these if you like getting close and are confident in your dodging skills to focus on offensive abilities.

The Necromancer tree is more about keeping the enemy distracted. Its defining ability is the power to summon ghouls who can swarm and distract your enemy. These ghouls don't do a lot of damage, but they keep the enemy away from Death while he pounds on them. They can be upgraded to explode, taunt the enemy, or be more durable and appear in greater numbers. You can also summon crows, which do more damage but don't last very long, or buff your defenses so that enemies do less damage or have the damage reflected back on them. This is the tree to focus on if you die too often.

Of course, you can mix and match the two to make Death an unstoppable killing machine for a brief period of time. You can invest in Teleport Slash and then have an army of ghouls at your disposal. The only limitation is that each skill takes up some of your Wrath bar, so you'll need to balance summoning armies of the undead with how much Wrath you're generating by attacking enemies. You regain some Wrath with every attack, so it isn't hard to use your abilities as often as you want.

There's even a Horde-like mode called "The Crucible," which allows you to test your combat abilities against increasingly difficult enemies. Finishing the first five waves can be challenging if you're not good at dodging, and there are up to 100 different waves of increasingly tough enemies. After every five waves or so, you're given the chance to quit the fight. Doing so ends your match right where it stands but earns you loot as a prize. This is ridiculously addictive, as one good piece of loot can drastically increase your odds of success in the Crucible, so you want to hop right back in and give it another go.

Loot is the name of the game in Darksiders II. Death is a customizable character, and most of that customization comes from the items you can find. In video game tradition, each item is color-coded with rarity and comes with a semi-randomized set of abilities and skills. You can find armor that increases your health and wrath, scythes that do elemental damage, or talismans that regenerate health when you're not taking damage. There are even "possessed" weapons that you can level up by feeding them other pieces of equipment. Finding good loot is incredibly fun, and Darksiders II isn't stingy. You'll find plenty in every dungeon, you can buy it from shops, and friends can even send you loot via the in-game e-mail system.

Darksiders II is overall a solid game, but I did encounter a number of glitches. Occasionally, a quest would misfire or break. I had an optional boss fight end instantly, with the enemy thinking that I'd defeated him before I'd even hit him. I also had a few cases where a flag didn't trigger, leaving me trapped in a room until I restarted the game. Some jumps left me trapped in a wall. None of these were particularly egregious, but they were frustrating. Loading times are extremely frequent and noticeable. You'll wait a few seconds every time you travel too far for the game to load. There were also a few frame rate drops in combat, but nothing that was severely noticeable. It's a credit to Darksiders II's quality that these bugs didn't detract from the game. When I got stuck in a wall, I was quick to restart instead of turning off the game in frustration.

Darksiders II is a very atmospheric game. The game looks quite good, and the exaggerated character designs of Joe Madureira really give the game its own sense of style. It's sometimes odd to see the almost cartoony designs amid the dark and ruined surroundings. The environments are vast and distinctive, ranging from lush green fields to dark dank dungeons. You'll see the same roughly identical walls and statues in many places, and it's odd how every door in multiple dungeons contains an army of light-up skulls. The voice acting work is excellent. Each character feels distinctive, and Death's somewhat-bitter and usually smug attitude makes him a surprisingly likeable character for a bloodthirsty horseman of the Apocalypse. The soundtrack is top-notch, and some excellent songs usually come out during the boss battles.

Darksiders II is an improvement over the original in every way. The first game wasn't bad, but Darksiders II improves upon its flaws and builds upon its strengths. It is an adventure game through and through, and it manages to capture the feeling of fun and exploration in a way that few games can. There are a few annoying glitches and poor optimization as well as a few frustrating design decisions. For the most part, the game has something for almost everyone. If you like well-made action/adventure games, then you must play Darksiders II.

Score: 8.5/10

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