Stalagmite's Darksiders II Review
The combat flows fluidly and is a lot of fun. There are some creative puzzles and platforming segments throughout each dungeon. The Forge Lands is very well designed (the other words aren't too bad either). There are also some fantastic graphics (style-wise, anyway) and a hell of a soundtrack and voice cast. Death isn't a half bad character and the story has a decent enough idea behind it.
Compared to the first game, it feels stripped down, especially in terms of puzzle solving and dungeon crawling. The puzzles are insultingly easy throughout with a smaller amount of variety, and unlike Portal, it doesn't have writing to back it up because the story blows chunks. The dungeons are a wee bit too small and linear. This game also has some serious technical issues.
Released in 2012 by Vigil Games, Darksiders 2 is what happens when you try to reinvent your product when all it really needed were a few kinks readjusted and one section worked on... and make things a bit worse. The first Darksiders game was what happened if the Zelda series had more combat, more blood and voiced dialogue (something I dare say Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword sorely needed but that's just my opinion). It was, if nothing else, a rather interesting take on the Zelda series that was a lot better than Twilight Princess. Darksiders 2, on the other hand, ditches the Zelda style and adopts the Fable style, or at least an abridged style of it. That is to say, it revolves around exploring an open world to find and go through dungeons in order to complete quests and find some goodies while you're there. At least it doesn't suck hard like Fable does, but when all is said and done, Darksiders 2 could've been a lot better.
It's not as if Darksiders 1 was a work of Shakespeare, but at least it had a sense of progression with a couple of interesting moments every now and again, and having The Watcher (voiced by Mark Hamill) made things better. Darksiders 2 doesn't even do any of that. The idea is that Death is supposed to clear War's name as he either knows or is just damn sure that it wasn't him who prematurely started the apocalypse. Unfortunately, the means of getting there revolves around him being every NPC's errand boy, fetching ingredients and dead kings in exchange for nuggets of information. Said nuggets are more like McNuggets as they tend to have no value whatsoever, save for arbitrarily getting you closer to your goal. I say arbitrarily because the story never actually develops, nor do the characters besides Death matter one bit because you're never given much time with them and while you can make the argument that everything said and done is doomed by the events of the first game, eh, it doesn't mean you can't weave a little interesting sidestory or two!! Speaking of Death's character, there are snippets of him slaying his race of beings known as the Nephilim, which earns him the moniker of the Kinslayer, and he keeps an amulet with their souls with him. Interesting little thing, isn't it? Sadly, I learned more about Death's personality (which is that he's a cynical smartass) than I did about any personal dilemma he had regarding the... I suppose you could call it the Nephilim massacre. Look, I didn't have much of a problem with Death's personality because it's the only thing that keeps me interested whenever a cutscene plays, but everything else, in the end, felt like filler, especially the seemingly climactic ending. It may seem strange that I, of all people, am acting critical towards this game's story when I'm usually one to gloss over it or praise it for having more depth than "save the princess" whenever I review an older game - well, the thing is that stories have come a long way since Mario had to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong ever since Hideo Kojima and company released Metal Gear Solid on the PS1, and since they've become far more prominent than a few 1 minute long cutscenes every now and again, I have to hold them to the higher standard when reviewing modern games.
With that out of the way, Darksiders 2 is another instance of quantity > quality. That's not to say that the quality of the gameplay is bad because it's actually good, but it always feels like this game ate about five triple cheeseburgers in one sitting, followed by guzzling down two large servings of Coke. For one thing, you have a few sets of open worlds with many dungeons. Upon first impression, this is pretty cool because "oh man there's just so much to do, this will certainly be worth the $50 and three crappy games I paid for it", but eventually, it starts to wear on you. The worlds may have many many dungeons and fast travel makes it easy to backtrack to whoever gave you the quest so you can reap gold and experience points, but when it comes right down to it... they seem a bit empty. At first, it's not bad, because it's easy to lose yourself in the world. Shadow Of The Colossus's world was mostly empty and everybody regards that as one of the best games ever made. But what made that game shine was the fact that it was open enough for you to lose yourself in. Darksiders 2's first world, the Forge Lands, has the same thing going for it, with maybe some enemies here and there, but the other worlds you explore feel... smaller, as if they weren't given as much time to design them as they were for the Forge Lands. These aren't bad, but it becomes clearer that these worlds are empty than it is that the Forge Lands are due to the smaller size, more linear structure (the last world dangerously balances on the line between reasonably linear and Final Fantasy 13 linear), and the fact that there tends to be less to do in comparison. I suppose you could chalk it up to the Forge Lands being the first world and it needs to establish what you'll be doing for the rest of the game, but between that and the last world... it's just "fetch this, that and a bag of chips", and the only thing saving the last world from becoming like that is the ending. In short, I like the idea, but as these worlds slipped in quality, it became more of a bore than anything else.
The dungeons make a return, but instead of there being a handful of big dungeons, there are a few bucketloads of smaller dungeons. While it'd be easy for me to complain about how similar they start to feel after a while and how they don't even compare to the first game's dungeons, it's just easier for me to say that when given the circumstances, they are actually reasonably well designed. A lot of the puzzles are similar, tending to revolve around weighing down pressure switches, scaling up certain platforms, blowing up certain surfaces and rolling big marbles around to put them into holes, and difficulty clearly wasn't on their mind as the majority of them are rather easy. Each puzzle begins and ends in the same room and as they are really simple, many people will find them to be really easy. But the way in which they're laid out is actually fairly creative, especially towards the end of the game when they start integrating more sub items like Redemption (one of Strife's guns that you'll find), the Death Grip (a hookshot-esque item) and a bunch that you'll find a lot later on after finding the Death Grip. In fact, the Death Grip keeps platforming a bit more interesting than simply jumping up to a grabable ledge and jumping from one wall to another (either while vertically or horizontally scaling like a Prince Of Persia). If anything really stands out when it comes to platforming, it's that getting Death started is a bit tricky as his jumping isn't too deliberate, making it easy to traverse the wall wrongly. However, like the puzzles, they're well implemented into the dungeons.
Remember when I basically said that this game feels bloated? Well, the looting system is the best example of it. Throughout each dungeon, you'll find chests filled to the brim with weapons, armor and accessories, and while you may find something cool every now and again, a lot of what you'll find are useless. When you find something new, you'd instinctively want to check it out. You do so, and notice that your new scythe has about 1 attack point higher than the one that you've equipped. It's rare to find a new scythe or whatever that not only has significantly more points, but also have extra attributes like elements, absorption and the like. The only pro to all of this is that... at least you can sell the excess for a few pieces of gold so you can buy stuff that is actually worth a damn, like better weapons, armor, accessories and combos. What can be cool to find are To add onto this are the Skill Trees. It's nice that levelling up (via experience points) can also get you some new moves, but only a few... I guess leaves (?) are actually special attacks, with the rest essentially being their accessories. I think I counted the amount of special attacks on two hands with a few fingers left over. That's fine I guess, but it does make the Skill Tree seem a bit silly when you could simply have another NPC give these attacks to you for some gold or something else.
But what gives Darksiders 2 a strong leg to stand on is the combat. Death has access to scythes that can be split into two smaller scythes, a large assortment of combos that can be expanded on by training via finding trainers in the worlds, quick and light feet to quickly take down his enemies, and a wide array (and huuuuuge quantity - you'll be finding so much stuff that it's almost annoying) of sub weapons such as hammers, axes and bracers. Besides the latter, sub weapons are slower to attack, but they do more damage than the quicker, less powerful scythes and the even quicker, even less powerful bracers. The enemies aren't the smartest bunch of monsters, but when you're surrounded by a lot of them (particularly ones that don't stagger), that's when you may have some trouble as they can launch quick attacks that can do a fair bit of damage, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Ditto for most of the bosses, which tend to feel like bigger enemies with plenty more HP and power (though at least Vigil Games did include a few bosses who require you to use the environment against them, in case you missed them from the first game). Having said that, fun is the first thing I thought whenever I fought anything in this game. The flow of combat allows Death to easily take down enemies around him, and when you start getting the feel for the input for different combos and special attacks, combat can even get really exciting. So unlike the open world, combat gets better as the game progresses.
Now, if you're reading this review and think the following paragraph is inaccurate, then either you're a lucky person to get a copy that doesn't bugger up or it got patched since I reviewed it, but it needs to be pointed out... this game has some serious technical problems. It can vary from copy to copy or even console to console (PS3 or 360 is regardless, both are about as bad as one another in this regard), but at the very least, you'll notice some lag and a bit of screen tearing, and at the very worst, you'll run into some freezing, and right in between are some loooooong load times, but given the sheer size of the worlds, it... makes sense.
It's a shame, because Darksiders 2 can definitely boast some visual style. While the first game was darker due to it being set in the apocalypse, this one has a few different atmospheres depending on what world is vaguely established by its name and one dimensional characters. For example, the Forge Lands have some serene forests and a somewhat foreboding volcano, and yet, it's actually fairly colorful, giving you the feeling of being in a fantasy world. Meanwhile, the Land Of The Dead is what you'd expect - dull and dreary. If I had a bone to pick with the graphics though, it has to be the lack of textures. It looks like something from a last generation game, which wouldn't be so bad if the first game wasn't one of the better looking games from this generation, which really adds to my claim of this game feeling bloated.
On the other hand, the sound design is excellent. The soundtrack makes the game feel big, especially the more epic battles in the game. In general though, it fits in well with where they're played, with the dungeons having some low key music, fights having more thunderous orchestrations and cutscenes having whatever will establish the right mood. Unfortunately, like a lot of modern soundtracks, there are maybe a few songs that are kind of memorable, but otherwise, it really does go in one ear and out the other. Nothing beyond the ambience of those songs really sticks out. Their job is to just support what's going on on screen. The voice acting is fantastic, especially for a bunch of characters that don't really matter. The voices manage to go well with what they wanted the dialogue to be like, which is like that of a fantasy world, and Death's somewhat raspy voice is especially effective with his cynical smartass dialogue. Not much else can be said because, like I said, the characters just don't matter enough for the voice acting to just sound like anything more than what they wanted (but couldn't get).
In summation, Darksiders 2 is a very enjoyable action game, but that's about it. The first game was an epic (even if the story was so-so at best) while this feels more like said epic's tougher yet more braindead companion that could stand to lose a few pounds. It has a bunch of ideas that don't really seem to work out that well and sometimes actually hurts the game. It definitely has that quantity > quality feeling and in the end, it ranges from fun and exciting to kind of boring, though at the very least, it's not as bad as other games that go by this philosophy, like Donkey Kong 64.
Gameplay - 7/10 - The action segments are well executed while the puzzles teeter on the line between creative and too easy, and everything else just makes the game feel bloated.
Controls - 4/5 - It's easy enough to get Death moving and killing things, though platforming is a tad on the tough side to get started sometimes.
Story - 1/5 - It's got some good ideas, but the writing is complete rubbish and the characters are one dimensional (and are mostly uninteresting to boot).
Graphics - 3/5 - It's definitely got style, but not the technical stuff.
Sound - 5/5 - It's got a big soundtrack that compliments everything very well and the excellent voice acting does its best to get you into the story.
Overall - 7/10 - While it has a fantastic soundtrack, exciting combat and creative puzzles, they aren't a good enough laxative for this game.
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