September 11th, 2012


Review - Darksiders 2

Following in the wake of the Darksiders, the story chronicling the journey of War, Horseman of the Apocalypse, Darksiders 2 has us once again riding forth into battle. This time another Rider takes center stage, and his name is Death.

Set parallel to the events of the first game, War is in the custody of the Charred Council, the ruling body in charge of maintaining balance in the universe, awaiting punishment for the crime of starting the apocalypse early and wiping out humanity. Before the Council would make its fateful decision that would send War to Earth to redeem his good name, his elder brother Death has already set out on a quest of his own to prove his brother's innocence.

The first Darksiders achieved sleeper hit status for its successful blending of game styles. Some Devil May Cry mixed with liberal portions of The Legend of Zelda resulted in a satisfying brew that managed to be more than the sum of its parts. Darksiders 2 adds more elements to the pot, tossing in Prince of Persia platforming along with a Diablo loot system and RPG mechanics, including experience levels and skill trees. Death will scale walls with cat-like agility, collecting ever more powerful weapons and armor with which to slaughter the forces of darkness.

Where the first Darksiders focused primarily on the machinations of Heaven and Hell, Darksiders 2's narrative is more personal. Death is on a mission to redeem his brother, and along the way is faced with the specter of his own past deeds. Nearly all the major players from the first game are either absent or relegated to brief cameo appearances. Even Earth itself, where the original game took place, is mostly absent from Darksiders 2. Instead Death's journey will take him to otherworldly planes such as the world of the Makers and the realm of the dead. The environments are far more open this time around, with hub areas where you can talk to NPCs and buy and sell gear.

All of these things add up to an experience that is unlike the first game, but similar enough to be comfortable to fans of the original. This allows Darksiders 2 to feel like a fresh take on the series, rather than just more of the same. Where the first Darksiders fits snugly in the action-adventure genre, Darksiders 2 feels more at home among action-RPGs.

This game is not without its flaws, though, and its most glaring one is the storyline. As mentioned before, the plot of Darksiders 2 has little to do with the original. Death may be trying to save his brother, but that plot element barely comes up, and when it does it's mentioned in passing. War himself does not appear in this game, so there is no interaction between him and Death. We never get a sense of how they relate to each other as brothers, which saps the urgency from Death's mission.

Other plotlines, such as the restoration of humanity and Death dealing with the shadow of his past deeds, are so small as to be rendered irrelevant. Little happens in the way of plot advancement or character development. The plot of Darksiders 2 can be summed up thusly: you need to get somewhere, but there's something preventing you from doing so. In order to remove the obstruction you must complete several dungeons to gather the necessary components. Rinse, repeat. What was meant to be a thrilling tale of personal redemption and brotherly love instead feels like a giant hamster maze.

To be fair, the first Darksiders also did this, but at least then we were rewarded with more substantial plot advancement. In Darksiders 2 the payoff for all that dungeon crawling is much smaller, and I couldn't help but feel a little shortchanged.

Those who are in it for the action, though, will be too busy slicing and dicing the forces of darkness to care. Here is where the game truly shines. Combat is fast and fluid. Death leaps about the battlefield, cutting down his enemies with precision and grace. Depending on how you assign your skill points, you may instead opt to summon minions to fight on your behalf while you pick your opponents off from a distance. When it comes to combat, Darksiders 2 is by far superior to its predecessor. Action RPG fans will be thoroughly pleased with how this game plays.

Overall, this is a more than worthy continuation to the Darksiders series. My only gripe is its comparatively lackluster story. It seems to assume that the player has read the tie-in novel and thus does not explain key things, like who the Crowfather is, and fails to give entities such as Lilith and the Nephilim a proper introduction. Darksiders 2 is clearly trying to differentiate itself from its predecessor, but it goes a little too far at times, to the point where this feels more like an alternate reality story than a proper continuation of the first game's plot.
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