"Exact execution of priorities."
Developer: Vigil Games
Platform(s): PC, X360, PS3 [reviewed]
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: August 14, 2012
When a lot is riding on the success of one game, it puts additional pressure on it and therefore it will get scrutinized more. The Darksiders II release falls in such times where its publisher is met with a lot of hardships and has only one saving grace. Ironically, this action adventure revolves around Death and the apocalypse. However, despite minor issues and a few borrowed instances, this game exceeds its expectations, even when put under the magnifying glass.
The world where Death roams is a bleak environment of decaying structures and plains void of existence, offset by a few chunks of more verdant fields, but even here there’s a somber aspect; a dark side if you will. While the lack of color does fit the end of times theme, it does lack color or even feels ugly after an elongated period. Luckily, effects of spells, lights and attacks will splash contrast onto the crumbling walls with bright colors, along with an ingenious cleansing thematic in the game. However, be prepared to see a ton of gray tones. A redeeming factor is strung together by orchestrated pieces that fit the dreadful undertone perfectly with chilling accents. More audible excellence is set in the voice acting, which drives the narrative more than the actual storyline and supposed climaxes. While the overall goal is noble enough, Death is often treated like a delivery boy, but he makes up for it with a snarky tone; just a bit sarcastic, but just enough so he becomes even more likable because of it.
The game’s presentation is enough to see that this game was made with care, but the rabbit hole goes much deeper than that. One of the ways it excels the most is through an exemplary world design. Darksiders II relives the best days of The Legend of Zelda, even if its similarities sometimes come off as mimicked. Death rides through the lands on a fierce horse as he passes great locales, angered foes and so on. The world opens up enough to get a choice of the next destination, after which it’s time to dive into some dungeons filled with cleverly implemented obstacles.
Breakdancing Death is definitely a favorite.
There is more than just one facet to the dirty work in this adventure. Dungeons offer multiple routes, which encourages players to explore far and wide and visit all tiers for secret caches. More so, each room has a particular flow that is left within peripheral vision of almost all areas. This exact construction promotes both adept perception as well as critical and puzzling thinking before acting. Seeing edges Death can grasp, players can move in their mind to the next stage, where they can jump back and grasp a beam, turn around on it and run up on the wall behind it to reach for another level where a treasure sits. This can all be done before actually doing it. The sky’s the limit and it doesn’t even stop there. As the game progresses, more options are added, like finding tools in Zelda. With this in mind, Darksiders II creates a yummy layer cake of adventuring that anyone will enjoy.
This idea is further constructed in the game’s combat. Based on a simple bashing mechanism like God of War, Death uses a few simple buttons to string together attacks. Along the way, he’ll get access to an arsenal of other possibilities that add to the fighting experience. While there is monotony to be found in the attacks, the additional flourishes and ramping difficulty also keep refreshing the mechanic, balancing it perfectly between the ease of being the Grim reaper and decimating foes. Even mid-game, large attacking hordes don’t lose a sense of excitement and become just a routine job. Rather, this field becomes a massacre where scythes fly and new skills liven up the screen.
RPG elements are sprinkled, not splattered.
Exact execution of priorities is the true strength of Darksiders II. The adventure offers something basic, but well-funded, only to add more and more as the game progresses. All of it gets added organically, right on cue, without overshooting itself either. Death doesn’t find a dozen tools to manipulate dungeons in even more intricate ways. He has a few more tricks and that changes the dynamic enough to feel like new. The same goes for combat where basic combat is fulfilling, but once the repetition sinks in, there are new ways and tougher challenges that wipe the slate clean. Making the controls match that with an easy setup and decent response results in a satisfying payoff. It helps that the combat is more reliant on timing attacks than it is mashing and dodging. By applying a pause during a string of attacks, Death will unleash a different combo dependent on the situation.
It isn’t spotless however, as crowded spaces are plagued with the known odd camera angles and even in puzzles, these strange turns can definitely be upsetting. In particular, evading becomes increasingly more difficult as time goes along, so either banking everything in power or in lesser extent in defense will be a wise choice. Decimating large crowds with skills that summon additional brawlers on the field will make sure to distract enemies and look like necromantic gold in the process.
Another touchy subject is the game’s loading times, which aren’t excessive in duration, but rather in frequency. Often enough, the game will freeze for a few seconds to load the next portion, which kicks the player out of the captivating atmosphere the game otherwise builds.
Yes, Darksiders II may take a few notable pages on how to create a memorable adventure from Legend of Zelda times, but how bad is that really? In fact, with so many games doing the same and so little pulling it off, it’s remarkable that THQ’s saving gravedigger does so well and distinguishes itself from all other titles it mimics. Creating an engaging and gratifying tale that stays entertaining for dozens of hours is more than enough to make it overcome other discretions. This game is one for the ages.