Have you ever wanted to create your own Death? That’s exactly what THQ and Vigil Studios want you to do in Darksiders 2. If you played the original Darksiders, then you know how War’s look didn’t change much throughout the game. But in the sequel, there’s a very robust loot system that will assure that everyone’s Death looks different. But there’s a lot more in store when the game launches this June. We finally got to spend some hands-on time with the game, so keep reading to find out what happens when you take this Horseman for a ride.
Set concurrently with the first game, Death sets out to prove that his brother is innocent of causing the Apocalypse, and journeys to the Nether Realms between heaven and hell in search of answers. As far as characters go, Death is at the opposite end of the spectrum from War. He’s nimble, agile, sports a wide range of Necromancer and Harbinger skills, and he can quickly evade attacks.
We were given the opportunity to play as Death through the Maker’s Realm, which is the first of four major zones in the game and is about six hours into the game. To put the scope of the sequel into perspective for you, the map for the Maker’s Realm is roughly equal to the entire map from Darksiders. If you played that game, you know that’s huge, especially given the large swaths of land you had to traverse on horseback. But don’t despair (or do), because where War had Ruin to ride, Death has Despair. Literally, that’s the name of his horse.
Death also comes equipped with Rust, a crow that he can summon to point out the path or give hints if you find yourself stuck. You’ll probably need to use it too, as we found ourselves dropping out into the map by hitting select, and using the minimap (which you can lock or have rotate to your orientation) often to find out where we were supposed to be going. When a game is this big, navigation is pretty important.
Luckily, you won’t always be alone. In our playthrough, we were paired up with Karn, the enormous smithy from the first game. He aids you through The Foundry, part of the Maker’s Realm, and can toss you up onto ledges, or hold up doors that slam shut after you let go of the lever that opened them. He’ll give you verbal clues (and insults) from time to time, and he’s also good at carrying large items around.
You’ll also encounter Maker Custodians throughout this realm, and they are large mechanical constructs that you’ll find in pieces. Death is able to reactivate them, and once assembled he can actually mount and ride them through the level. Their means of locomotion is a large sphere mounted where a pair of legs would normally be, which means you can’t go up or down stairs with them. However, you can attack with them, and they deal massive damage with their swipes and ground pounds. They can also destroy Corruption crystals that often block your way.
The Custodians also have the unique ability to target points and fire a chain at them, which Death can then run across. You can retract the chain when you’re mounted back on the Custodian, and you’ll find this useful for traveling through levels as well as for reaching hidden areas. These automatons are unfortunately unique to the Maker’s Realm, but we’re hoping that Vigil has plenty in store for the other zones in the game as well.
Death himself also has unique ways of traversing levels, and you’ll find yourself wall running, wall bouncing, and mantling your way across areas in ways that War would never be able to do. You’ll also gain the Deathgrip ability that shoots out a ghostly chain, which is useful for grabbing onto grapple points and swinging to continue your parkouring. Death can also use that ability to grapple monsters and pull them closer, or yank himself towards them if they outweigh him.
Skills are also a huge part of the game, and Death has two skill trees to choose from: Necromancer and Harbinger. At the simplest level, Harbinger provides warrior abilities like Teleport Slash, which teleports Death across the battlefield and does damage in its wake, while Harbinger is the spellcaster track with spells like Exhume, which summons bloodthirsty ghouls from the grave to fight alongside you. Each tree has special abilities that will unlock the more skill points you spend in them, and by spending six points, you’ll gain access to Death’s Reaper form, which will also upgrade at 12 and 18 skill points spent in the skill trees.
Death also has gear abilities that he’ll gain access to through the game, like Deathgrip. Other abilities include Voidwalk, which is the Portal-esque teleporting from the first game, Strife’s Pistol, the same sidearm War was able to use, and Life/Death Splitter which splits Death into two beings, and allows you to be in two places at the same time. Overwhelmed yet? Well grit your teeth and keep reading, because we haven’t told you about loot yet.
Loot whore players who have experienced games like Diablo, Torchlight, World of Warcraft, and plenty of others know that loot drops are a major part of the game. Juggling a constantly changing array of weapons and armor becomes as intrinsic to the gameplay as combat. Darksiders 2 wants to ride that same train, and there’s a huge loot system in the game complete with tiers and sets.
As you defeat enemies or encounter chests, you’ll come across loot ranging from weapons to pieces or armor to potions. These will be common, rare, or unique, and you can equip them as long as you meet the level requirements. In our build, since we were already six hours into the game, Death was outfitted with decent armor, so we concentrated on the weapons you can find, like axes, hammers, claws, maces, and more. These are all triggered with your secondary attack and deal more damage than your standard dual scythes attack.
But one thing they’ve added to the game is possessed weapons, which can be upgraded and leveled up by feeding other items to them. You can drastically alter an items stats by what you choose to feed it, bringing another tier to the loot system, and making you not feel the need to run back to a vendor every few moments to sell off the loot you don’t need. Needless to say, these items are rare, and much desirable. You’ll have to mix and match ingredient-wise to find out what to feed them to produce the results you’ll want most, but they will differ for everyone. All of the loot you equip will change the look of your Death on the fly as well, providing a different visual for him throughout the game.
While what we played was an early build, the game definitely looks like Darksiders. But, with the addition of loot and the extremely different playing style of Death, it feels like another game entirely. Yes, the Zelda-style puzzle solving is still there, and Vigil has always been quick to admit that Zelda was a big influence on the game. Not that it’s a bad thing.
There were a few visual bugs throughout, and I managed to crash my game twice, but those aren’t uncommon elements for seeing a game still under development. But the satisfying combat and the look and feel is all there, and we like what we’re seeing. Especially the fact that when Death “dies,” a ghostly version of himself claims his body, and you’ll reappear at your last checkpoint. Thankfully, the game saves often, so that’s never too far behind you.
Joe Madureira said they are working on a comic book series that will support the game, and with any luck, we’ll encounter some of the other Horsemen this time around. The rumored multiplayer element is not in the game because of technical limitations, and probably because they’d like Strife and Fury to have their own titles before that happens. Look for more on Darksiders 2 as we get ever closer to the June 26 release date.