Darksiders 2 Review

By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Aug 14, 2012

The mix of ideas at play in Darksiders 2 could have turned out to be a disaster, but Vigil stitches it all together expertly. From the corrupted idyll of The Forge Lands, to the twilit expanses of The Land of the Dead, to the thin, broken line between Heaven and Hell, Death's grand adventure ranks among the best we've seen or will see in 2012.

The Pros
  • Huge, highly varied world to explore
  • Traversal and dungeon puzzles make excellent use of your tools
  • Fun combat links with a deep RPG
  • Memorable music and art design
  • Lots of replay value
The Cons
  • Occasionally uncooperative camera
  • Challenging gameplay will occasionally frustrate
  • Some RPG components and features could use better explanations

Darksiders 2 Review:

The first Darksiders was an unusual mash-up, embracing the core gameplay values of the Zelda series and infusing that framework with a more mature story and some RPG flavor. Vigil Games found success in that formula, enough to justify going even bigger in Darksiders 2. The Zelda vibe is miraculously left untouched while other elements that would seem to be at odds lock into place marvelously.

Darksiders 2 is a deftly woven quilt, embroidered with killer ideas that integrate and complement one another within the larger whole. You'll settle comfortably into its warm embrace too, wrapping yourself in its deep lore and rewarding gameplay for a good 20-30 hours before you come up for air and decide to dive back in for more.

 

 

Behold a Pale Horse

Death's grand adventure picks shortly after the events of Darksiders. Humanity is lost, Earth is in ruins, and War is to blame for the widespread destruction. Death believes that his brother is blameless, and he knows that the only way to reverse the judgment of The Charred Council -- mediators in the eternal struggle between Heaven and Hell -- is to restore humanity. And the only way to do that involves visiting the Tree of Life.

Unfortunately for Death, the Tree is deep within the Forge Lands, a realm that has been ravaged by a mysterious force known as the Corruption. It quickly becomes clear that War's fate, the lost human race, and this Corruption are all interrelated in some way, and you'll spend much of the game tugging on threads in a narrative tapestry that grows ever larger with each new strand you discover.

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Like Darksiders before it, Darksiders 2 delivers a successful telling of its somewhat convoluted tale thanks to its use of familiar iconography. We're all acquainted with the riders of the apocalypse, with the idea of the an afterlife and souls moving on, the war between Heaven and Hell. Even if you get mixed up on the fine details, the broad strokes are familiar enough to keep you excited about what's coming next.

Credit goes as well to the solid voice performances throughout. There isn't any real standout (though Death has more personality than you might expect), but then the narrative isn't exactly heavy on pathos. This is an epic blockbuster story, and the scale of everything is suitably grand. The voice performances fit into that perfectly; there may not be one that stands out, but that also means there's nothing that grates.

Since we're talking about the presentation, I'll also take a moment to nod vigorously toward both the music and the art design. Both do a commendable job of capturing the aforementioned grand scale, and both stick in your brain even when you're not playing.

Darksiders 2

Riding Hard

On the gameplay side, Darksiders 2 essentially carries over everything that was excellent about the first game -- mainly, the Zelda-inspired approach to tools and unlocking the open world -- while also added an elaborate yet accessible RPG progression mechanic.

Death earns XP as he fights and skill points as he levels up. The skill tree isn't vast, but it's large enough that you won't be able to unlock it all at max level. This requires a choice: do you spread out your points to become of Death-of-all-trades or do you specialize? If you specialize, are you more in favor of support-oriented abilities or would you rather go for direct damage? Smartly, Vigil made your decisions in this regard reversible, with the ability to spend a nominal amount of gold at a certain merchant on a respec.

There's also a constant flood of loot filling the screen, ranging from plain white for vanilla garbage that isn't even worth selling to the rare deep purple and the even rarer orange, a special "possessed" class of gear that you can upgrade by feeding it lesser gear. That's not even mentioning collectibles and other challenges, much of which is built around feeding you named unique items. If you're seeing shades of Diablo's lootfest appeal, then you're on the right track.

Darksiders 2

All of this wraps around a combat system which, while challenging from beginning to end even on the Normal difficulty setting, is also immensely enjoyable. The basic button combo-oriented brawling of Darksiders returns, though the feel couldn't be more different in this sequel.

Who would have thought that Death could be so lively? The scythe-wielding soul reaper is quicker on his feet than his lumbering bro. He can't block, but he can dodge to and fro as attacks come in from all sides. Learning combos and making generous use of the dodge function is key. Try to get by on mashing buttons alone and you will fail. Guaranteed.

The execution here isn't perfect. For starters, the fiddly camera will often move around of its own accord, often positioning itself at the most inconvenient of angles. This coupled with the fact that there's no "incoming attack" indicator means that you'll often find yourself taking damage from enemies that you can't even see.

Darksiders 2

The same is also true in the case of larger battles. It's easy to lose track of Death when the number of onscreen enemies rises into the double digits, and it does so frequently. For a game in which finesse is important, there a surprising amount of brute force design applied to the combat mechanics. It doesn't diminish the experience in any significant way, but it does lead to undeniable frustrations.

There's also not so much attention paid to educating players on what's what. Tutorial text will pop up every now and again, but a lot of the finer RPG concepts -- many of which are brand new to the series in Darksiders 2 -- just aren't explained very well. However, this is a game that rewards experimentation. There's very little you can do that will permanently affect your own build of Death, so it's basically impossible to paint yourself into a proverbial corner. If something's not working, trash it all and start from scratch.

There's value too in really learning the systems, since there's plenty of reason to come back once you've pushed through the 20 hour campaign (30+ if you pursue all of the side quests and collectibles). In addition to there being a New Game+ option -- with content that isn't accessible until your second playthrough -- you've also got 100 rounds of the game's Crucible arena to fight through, with its own unique rewards and super-gear that you can't get anywhere else.

Darksiders 2

An Appointment We All Have To Keep

It's frankly a stunning amount of content. Darksiders 2 feels like the sort of feature-packed RPG that gets marquee AAA treatment during the holiday season, and we're all blessed to have it now as a summer release. What better time to immerse yourself completely in fantasy world such as this one?

The mix of ideas at play in Darksiders 2 could have turned out to be a disaster, but Vigil stitches it all together expertly. From the corrupted idyll of The Forge Lands, to the twilit expanses of The Land of the Dead, to the thin, broken line between Heaven and Hell, Death's grand adventure ranks among the best we've seen or will see in 2012.

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Editor's Note: Darksiders 2 was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, we also played the PS3 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.