Vigil Games surprised and pleased fans of the Action/Adventure genre in 2010 with Darksiders, its take on the Riders of the Apocalypse. The game earned high praises, fully merited, and like that the genre had just found a new ambassador in its protagonist, War. This time we are introduced to a second Rider, Death a brother of War. Darksiders 2 uses the solid base left by its predecessor, while introducing new features borrowed from other genres. This new melting-pot is riskier than the previous one, but it could end up being even more rewarding.
As half the charm from the franchise comes from its ambience and story, a small recap is needed, without spoiling anything in the chance some of you wish to give Darksiders a try before receiving its sequel. In the lore of Darksiders, there exist the kingdom of Heaven, Hell and Man. Heaven and Hell are locked in an eternal war, until a neutral power, The Charred Council and its enforcers the four Riders of the Apocalypse, force them into a truce until the kingdom of Man is strong enough to enter the fray in a massive three-way of destruction and obliteration between the three kingdoms. So everyone knows when the hostilities begin, the Council creates 7 seals to be broken when the kingdom of Man is ready to fight on equal foot with Heaven and Hell. This failsafe fails however, since Heaven and Hell invade Earth and wipe out mankind, Hell being the victor occupies the Earth. You are War, wrongly accused of starting the Apocalypse too soon and are sent back on Earth to prove your innocence by finding the real culprit. Your methods include slashing, stabbing, gutting, beheading and all around means of slaying your oversized sword alloys you. The art style of the game just adds to the atmosphere and makes immersion all the more satisfying. The environments in both games look amazing and the characters all look and feel unique.
Darksiders 2 is not a sequel to the first game in the exact sense of the term, you play the parallel story of Death, trying to prove the innocence of his brother War, while trying to save the human race and preserve the balance. Where War walked in the ruins of Earth, you will wander in the Overworld, home of creatures just as intent in slaying you than they were in the first opus. The game pertaining to the Adventure genre, you will explore numerous dungeons filled with puzzles to solve until you unlock the final boss and brutally end its life, obtaining new useful items along the way. The sense of adventure is however expanded, where War only had access to dungeons that allowed only the furthering of the main plot, Death has access to additional completely optional dungeons, which are just, if not even more massive than the ones in Darksiders the first. The world is therefore huge and to aid you in these travels you will need different means of transportation. Being Riders, War and Death have access to their steeds, Ruin and Despair respectively. Where War only gained access to his mount further into the game, as Death you get this opportunity very early into the game. Add to it multiple teleport beacons throughout the map to be discovered and the daunting world is much easier to wander in.
The Darksiders franchise is not just that of Adventure, but of Action as well. The brutal combat of the first game is at the forefront in the second installment. Where War used mainly his massive sword ChaosEater to prove his point in a rather forceful and forceful manner, Death uses twin scythes. The change in weaponry changes the fighting style as well, compared to his burlier brother, Death is nimble and constantly jumps around the battlefield from an enemy to the next. The combat is relatable to the God of War franchise, a button is used for weak but fast attacks, while another is dedicated to slow but strong attacks. The combat also focuses on dodging and quickly re-entering combat flanking your enemies in the process. This setup allows for an easy use of combos without interruption when mastered. As if your arsenal is not deadly enough, you have access to spells which can aid you greatly in the thick of battle. As an example, “Murder” summons a flock of crows to attack your enemies, distracting them long enough for you to carve them up or move to safety. Everything of course can be upgraded, as you go around the world, you gather souls which you spend to learn new moves, increase your health or wrath (mana), or upgrade your spells. In this fashion, “Murder” can be upgraded to not only damage your foes, but also leech health from them.
All this in itself bottles down to a truly grand experience, and would be sufficient for many a gamer. Vigil Games thought otherwise and decided to add a new mechanic which influences significantly the gameplay. Where for War enemies were simply bags of souls to burst open, to Death enemies are loot piñatas. When a foe dies, it has a chance to drop loot and souls, and loot you will find galore. Everything Death uses can be replaced by a color-coded upgrade, his basic scythes will soon be replaced by a new pair that could give +10 to strength and +12 fire damage, or would you fancy the oversized two-handed hammer as a secondary weapon with +20 to damage, or rather the lighting fast claws instead with +5 ice damage? Death is not a static character, depending on what armor you wear his appearance will change accordingly, making your Death different from other Death’s around the world. I personally have a fancy for the Wanderer set, which adds to Death’s somber appearance, the stats aren’t so bad either.
This isn’t the only thing the franchise borrowed from the RPG genre, with equipment comes level requirements, and with level requirements comes experience. As he goes adventuring around in dungeons, Death will earn experience which in turn increase his stats and allows him to equip armor that he was previously denied. Evidently, levels are not just a barrier that stops you from wearing those epic purple boots, for with levels come talent trees. Death has access to two talent trees, the Necromancer and the Harbinger tree. Where the former focuses on spell and invocations, the latter is meant to boost his already formidable combat prowess. Both trees offer defensive and offensive options, the Necromancer being a bit more defensive since you are mostly in range, while the Harbinger tree is a bit riskier having you be in the middle of the fray and danger. Nonetheless both trees are different enough so that your playstyle can differ greatly from that of your friend who decided to go deep in the opposite tree.
If all those early Christmas (or whatever other happy gift-giving holiday) gifts were not enough, Darksiders 2 has added a new feature which could answer one of the issues of the first Darksiders, it’s replay value. The first Darksiders was great but albeit short, after completing the game once there was no real incentive to play it again. While the vastness of the world, coupled with the randomness of the loot are beginning of solutions, the addition of an arena could greatly enhance the replay value of the game. The Crucible, as is its name, is a 100 wave gauntlet in a circular arena where Death must overcome his foes in the hopes of sweet, shiny loot. Every five waves you are asked whether you wish to go on and face the next five waves, or simply stop there and receive your reward. Obviously, the more waves you complete, the better the loot, the kicker however is death (the small “d” kind) will result in your automatic failure and leaving the arena ashamed and empty-handed. Reaching the harder waves is of course easier with better gear, level 10 gear will most likely get you slaughtered in the later waves, but level 25 gear will most probably get you much further.
Darksiders 2 is a direct upgrade of Darksiders, taking a combination of genres that worked very well and adding even more to it. Each feature in the game interacts masterfully with the others, giving a franchise which we can only hope will receive the praise it deserves. The gamble of mixing so many aspects of different genres together is a daunting task and we can only be impressed by how well it has been done. Darksiders 2 looks like a hell of a game, and yours truly is excited to get his hands on it. The game has already released in North America, here’s to hoping it gets to our part of the world soon.
This review was written and contributed by Raed Khalil