Genre: RPG – Platformer - Action & Adventure
Release Date: August 13th, 2012 (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Developer: Vigil Games
Retail: $49.99 (PC) $59.99 (Xbox 360 & PS3)
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Platform played on for review: I beat the game on PC
Jokes aside Darksiders II has its own personality. That’s not something that many people allowed the first game. They called it a Zelda clone, a Metroid type game, or something that was kind of like Castlevania. Yet all three of those games have borrowed from each other over the years. People went as far as to not play the first game because of this. I heard firsthand someone say, “Yeah, if I wanted to play a Zelda kind of game I’d just play Zelda.” I guess if you’ve played any FPS game then there’s no reason to play another, or a puzzle game, or anything else. Played Braid? Then you can skip every game with Mario in it. Liked Tetris? Cool, then you can pass on gems like Lumines too.
If you’ve already made up your mind about this game then there’s nothing I can do to change it, but I’m going to try because Darksiders II is better than its brother in every way and I loved the first game. Let me get this out of the way: Darksiders II is easily the best game I have played in the past five years. It tops Deus Ex: Human Revolution, both Witcher games, Metal Gear Solid 4, Skyrim, and Batman (both from Rocksteady). Darksiders II may very well be my favorite game of all time. No, I’m not kidding, but the game does have room for improvement.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
My first, ‘Whoa, that’s cool’ moment was just after I pressed Continue. I’d just come back from a crash (more on that later) that had taken place after an initial play session of about 6 hours and there was no load. Take a look at that picture above. Not the drawing, the in-game screenshot. When I pressed Continue the camera swung around to my back and I was in the game. No load. No pause. Instantly in the game. A very minor detail, but one that made me smile and something I felt about strongly enough to mention.
Darksiders II is not a “dark Zelda” game. The hero is nothing like Link and there is no princess needing to be saved. Without giving anything away, the story is thus: War, Death’s brother, has been falsely accused of starting the Apocalypse and killing all of mankind. Death will stop at nothing to clear his brother’s name and to do that he is forced to bring all of mankind back to life. An interesting task for the guy that tends to off folks. The story isn’t hugely important in a game like this, the gameplay is, and that’s where Darksiders II shines.
I’ve seen complaints saying that the game attempts to be too many things and excels at none. Yet Darksiders II is far more of a RPG than any Zelda game and has combat that’s miles ahead of the same. In the first game War didn’t progress as a character at all other than the few different tools you found. There were bracers that added some options to combat, a hookshot type of tool needed to get around some of the dungeons, and a gun. Death too has a gun and like the one War uses it belongs to their brother Strife.
Death, unlike War, does indeed become more than what he starts out as. When you’re level one at the start of the game the damage you see popping up over enemies heads is in the single and double digits. By the end of the game I was hitting enemies for over 2,500, and I was only level 21 of (I believe) a 40 cap. With each new level your stats increase (more of an RPG than FF XIII in that regard) and you’re given a point to put into a talent. Experience gains and level progression aside, there’s loot to be found. Like so many other games there’s the white, green, and purple color rarity system. The slightly orange colored items are called possessed and when fed other items they gain experience. The better the item fed to the possessed weapon the more experience it gains and at a level up (of which it can do five times) it gains a new trait. More crit chance, more crit damage, fire, shock, or frost damage on hit, and others. Darksiders II could have been made without any of this. You could have been given a static character to play like in the first game, but that wasn’t how Vigil went and it adds depth to things. Vigil has done a wonderful job with Death’s progression as a character both game wise and story wise.
The thing is, Darksiders II isn’t trying to be the next big RPG, the next Devil May Cry, or anything else. It is its own being. Are there talent trees like a RPG? Yes. Two of them. One focusing on combat and the other on your wrath abilities. In the first you’ll find things like added critical chance, a move that bumps your strength up, and in the other the means to summon ghouls and crows to your aid. I went straight combat, focusing on getting in my enemies faces and beating them to mush. I liked the options. I enjoyed looking over new gear and deciding if I wanted to equip something for the EXP gains or go with something that gave me life-drain. I, like most people, enjoy options. A lot of games don’t give you very many, Darksiders II gives you just the right amount.
People have complained that the combat is dull. Mash one button and win. I didn’t find that to be the case in the least. The two recent (and very good) Batman games required one button for every single attack and one to defend. That was it. Could you use your gizmos? I guess, but there was no need. In DS II I died a lot. Because I’m bad? Maybe so, but the game was a legitimate challenge and I went through on normal the first time (oh, and by the way, I beat the game before I started writing this; it took about 23 hours if you’re wondering). I found myself holding L (I used a 360 wired controller on my PC) to lock on the the enemy I was killing, dodging a lot with the right bumper, dodging into smaller enemies then tapping A to do a flip-kick that sent them into the air, follow that up with a barrage from my first weapons on Y, and then finishing them off on the ground with my scythes on X. That’s not even counting the times were I very commonly hit right-bumper + A to use my favorite wrath ability. One that sent me shooting through my target, landing me behind them, and sapping some life in the process. That’s a whole lot more than the Batman games that I’ve heard folks rave about (I liked them too, by the way).
So the story is good, it does its part, the combat is fun as all heck, there are RPG elements such as leveling up and putting points into talent trees, so… what about the rest? Exploration is one thing. I did a handful of sidequests, but there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t do. There’s still a chest in The Forge Lands I’ve not gotten because I assumed I’d get a double-jump or hover sort ability. That never happened, so I’m not real sure how I’m going to get to it. I recently heard someone say, “What’s the reason for open world games? There’s no point to them.” That’s not how I felt in DS II at all. The world is big, really big, and I very much enjoyed going back to spots I’d visited once I got a new piece of gear. I’d commonly be thinking, “How am I going to reach that one place?” get something new and think, “Oh nice! Now I can get there!”
The dungeons didn’t give me much trouble. I saw someone say that the puzzles were “cute” and I’ve got to agree. They might have been hard for a 12 year old me, but that was 16 years ago and probably close to 75,000 hours of video games in the rear. I had no trouble in any of the dungeons. Did I blaze through them? Not exactly, there was plenty of, ‘Huh… okay… soooo I need to get up there, but I– hmm, how am I going to– AHA! I see!’ As you go through the game you find more gear that allows you to get to places you couldn’t before. There’s something a bit like a hookshot (see the top right of the below picture) called Death’s Grip. The portal gun makes a return and gets a nifty upgrade used in the last dungeon. Both allow you to reach places on the map you couldn’t get to before, just like the first game.
Combat? Solid and fun. Very fun indeed. Story? It works. You meet interesting characters. Death’s voice is–next to Adam Jensen’s–one of my favorites in recent memory, Michael Wincott does a wonderful job. Exploration is fast, fluid, and very much enjoyable. Death moves a lot like I recall the prince in the PS2 gem Sands of Time.
I’ve said nothing about the graphics or the sound, so I’ll touch on both. As you can see from these pictures there are certainly games that look better. This is indeed a console port, but given that I absolutely love Joe Mad’s style I didn’t mind one bit. Indeed I love, completely love, how the game looks. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to a Battle Chasers game (if you’ve not read that very short loved series, 5 comics in total, do so). The music is so surprisingly good that I’ve been hitting up the few contacts I have to try and get an interview with Jesper Kyd. There were many times that I stopped and thought, ‘Oh. Wow. I did not expect that.’ Look up ‘The Lord of Black Stone’ and ‘Trouble in Eden’ for a taste of what I mean. Reportedly a certain three letter gaming site said that the music didn’t fit the game. Didn’t fit? I thought it fit perfectly in that it wasn’t what I expected at so many points. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I expected, but it wasn’t this, and that’s a very good thing.
So flaws. What are they? How many? How can we drop this game down a few pegs that I’ve been praising to high heavens? Well… it’s not such a great port. Maybe it runs like a dream on the 360 and PS3, I don’t know, I wanted it on my PC and for that I’ve had to deal with some hiccups. See my map in the above? That would happen from time-to-time after I’d come back from an alt+tab. The fix was simple, enter in-game menu, and leave. Map is back. But it shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place. The second, and far more major, issue is the memory leak problem. As I play Darksiders II I keep my task manager open and watch my ram. At start up it’ll hover around 2.12, but after some hours (3-5) it’ll be over 3.0 and that’s when I know a crash is about to happen. They also happen randomly. I’ll enter my menu, try to exit, and… the game will freeze. This has happened about a dozen times in the 20+ hours I’ve played it. I believe a patch would solve things, but it shouldn’t have been here in the first place. Sadly every major game seems to be released with issues these days so it’s kind of expected.
If you can’t tell and are still reading I’ll say it again, I loved Darksiders II. I really, really hope THQ doesn’t end up dying and is able to back Vigil for two more games. I very much want to play as Strife and Fury in those. If you like action games, adventure games, games about heaven and hell, games with angels and demons, or something that (I’m not even joking when I say this) is better than the latest couple of Zelda games in every way possible then you should grab this. It is well, well worth this $50 or $60 asking price.