The sweet embrace of Death.
When I think of Death, the most powerful of the four horsemen, I have two images in my mind. The first is of the Chicago Pizza loving all powerful being played by Julian Richings in the TV show Supernatural. The second is the unhappy with his job Death, as imagined by Terry Pratchett, and his mighty steed Binky. Neither of these really prepared me for the very cool, and somewhat arrogant, Prince of Persia-skilled visage of Death created by Vigil Games in Darksiders II.
The first Darksiders game saw fellow horseman War accused of prematurely starting the Appocalypse and bringing about the extinction of Humanity. Bad times. After spending 100 years incarcerated by the Charred Council, the all powerful keepers of universal balance, he was finally given the chance to clear his name, albeit with a mere fraction of his previous power. Good times, sort of. But what happened during his hundred year imprisonment? I bet it kept you awake at night wondering…
Sorry, but we may never know what War went through in these hundred years. However, in Darksiders II we will get to find out what his brother Death was up to. Turns out that, in an effort to save his brother, Death decided that bringing Humanity back from extinction would be a good use of his time. All he has to do is get to the Tree of Life – a picnic, surely. The problem is that everyone wants to stop him. Mister popular he is not.
So that is the journey set out for the player in this rather huge combat-based action adventure. That’s right, I said huge – not a word often used to describe this type of game. The origin of this hugeness comes directly from the RPG elements that have been woven into this game. The main game will take players the best part of 20 hours to work through, but taking on the RPG-like side-quests will comfortably double that time. Whilst the side-quests themselves may not be the most enthralling of quests, often revolving around finding something and returning it somewhere, there is one very big reason for taking these quests and exploring everything that the Darksiders II gameworld has to offer – Loot!
Death comes packing a pair of very sharp scythes (which seem quite small – but who am I to judge) and a horse. What more could he need? Probably not much. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be plenty of other stuff offered to him. Players will not only find gold, which can be used for various things such as purchasing cool stuff, and items of equipment around the world, but this stuff is even dropped by fallen enemies. Secondary weapons, armour, potions, all manner of magical doohickeys designed to make your Death even tougher. There is a lot to collect here, with perhaps the most interesting being the possessed weapons which will need other, lesser weapons sacrificed to them in order to level them up. With the choices offered by all of this lovely loot, it is easy for the player to customise their version of Death to suit whatever situation presents itself.
Furthering the customisation of Death, the player can also level up in an RPG fashion, acquiring points to spend on new skills. These skills come in two flavours; Harbinger and Necromancer. The Harbinger skills are more combat based, while the Necromancer skills allow for some very handy spells and summonings, the first of which brings forth ghouls to fight at your side. Wherever you choose to spend your points, the opportunity is available to re-assign these points if things are not working out how expected, so mistakes are easily rectified. There are also a few other skills that present themselves during the story, such as the grappling hook, but they are few and far between, making them feel very much secondary.
With all of these skills and epic weapons, Death is very much a force to be rekoned with in Darksiders II, unlike his brother in the first game. From a control point of view, everything is laid out very well with primary attack, secondary attack and dodge allowing for a huge variety of combos, more of which can be learnt through the course of the game. The controls feel very fluid and the pacing of the early game will have the controls learnt before things get too hairy. Death himself feels very light on his feet, something which is a necesity during the exploration, and can easily dance around most foes without too much trouble. There is an exception in an early boss battle which felt slightly out of place with its difficulty, but for the most part progression is smooth sailing. It would be important to note that button mashers may find themselves having trouble with even the lowly adversaries. It is worth taking the time to think about actions rather than mashing and hoping for the best.
All in all, combat in Darksiders II is very impressive, eclipsed only by the incredible worlds in which all of this fighting takes place. The worlds are simply breath taking at times, from the lush, green Forge World to the desert-like Land of the Dead. It is all very pleasing to the eye. There are places of interest and dungeons to explore strewn throughout these worlds, giving rise to another of Darksiders II’s impressive variety – platforming. Death, as already mentioned, has some very “Prince of Persia” like skills and will find himself leaping from platform to platform, wall running and bounding from pillar to post as he negotiates some of the locations. At times this ability to take the player in any direction can leave the way forward somewhat uncertain, but the fluidity of Death’s skills ensure that once the route is found, it is all very smooth and entertaining.
Darksiders II is a chunky game, perhaps a little too big at times (which is something you don’t hear very often). The original Darksiders pales in comparison with this sequel, with Darksiders II surpassing the original in every way. Darksiders II is simply an essential purchase. Buy it now and embrace Death.