It’s doubtful that most of us need a refresher on the pervasiveness of Death, specifically its personified version. Yet at a recent gameplay unveiling of Darksiders 2, the folks at Vigil saw fit to give us a cultural refresher on the ever-present Grim Reaper via slideshow; suddenly an event space in San Francisco became a college lecture hall.
Among the slides, the medieval art and interpretations of Death have always been my favorite, the kind of images that made it hard for me to sleep as a child. This lengthy presentation was complemented by a trailer featuring Darksiders’ version of Death Photoshopped in various works of art accentuating how he’s never to far from human events. Still, we were here for actual gameplay and THQ subsequently presented a live hands-off demo, albeit an unnecessarily loud one.
You could not get a better backhanded complement in this gaming market than by being called the best derivative game of the year. Among many critics, this was the classification of the first Darksiders in 2010. Thirty seconds into this demo, I was pleased to see that this probably won’t be the case with the sequel. Of course, Darksiders II will be loaded with familiar level designs and gameplay mechanics, but the game appears to have carved out more of an identity for itself, not the least of which is the game’s take on Death, the game’s protagonist.
If THQ and developer Vigil are looking to capture that God of War audience, they’re on the right track. If they wanted to stand out amongst the visual lore of Death personified, they’re doing so by ditching the classic skeletal look and making him one heck of a beefcake. It certainly makes things easier to relate to for fans of God of War, and there are combat moves to match. Somehow Death manages to take things up a few notches by being a warrior who cannot be confined to a single skill set. Aside from having two skill trees (one for physical combat, another for magic) Darksiders 2 will accommodate multiple play styles, not all that different from the preset loadout features that have been very popular with first-person shooters these past several year.
Vigil is also not skimping on combos, although the player will have to earn the more complex moves as the game progresses. The double scythes make for a lethal starter weapon, which can actually be combined to make a two-handed weapon with longer range. Death’s arsenal also includes the obligatory secondary weapon; in the case of this demo, it was one of those hammers that packs a punch but requires precise timing.
You can wonder why someone as seemingly powerful as Death would even need these weapons to begin with. I mean, shouldn’t he be able to kill enemies with just a touch or a hand wave? I suppose that wouldn’t be as fun as a game. To that end, Vigil decided to also give Death pistols that he can carry on top of his scythes and hammer. Let’s just say he was more than equipped to handle the two demonic mini bosses that were showcased during this demo.
Despite the comparison, I do admire Vigil for having much more faith with its movable camera as opposed to the locked camera style of God of War. Not only does Darksiders 2 appear to be robust in platforming content, there won’t be any shortage of time-based platforming challenges. And it always helps to have a movable camera in such situations.
One sequence featured the classic scalable-column-descending-into-lava situation. Having had practice on it, the THQ representative on the controller navigated Death swiftly upward, but it still looked challenging enough for any consumer who will play this area for the first time. You can also expect puzzle elements integrated with the platforming, whether it's finding the proper order for hitting switches or that familiar visual of traversing across a giant chain to activate an object. If this demo is indicative of the content of the full game, DSII could have a whole lot more platforming than God of War, which can’t be a bad thing.
Clearly more previews are in store, as THQ teased us by putting off unveiling the game’s bosses and instead showing one of the boss’ weapons before the fade to black, a blade weapon that appeared to be 10 times the size of aforementioned mid-bosses. More power to Vigil if they’re looking to up the ante with Shadow of the Colossus/God of War-sized bosses. Now we’re wondering if these battles will simply be quick-time event sequences or will the player be able to utilize Death’s larger skillset? We’ll keep you posted as we move close to Darksiders II's release this June.