Darksiders II (PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360 [previewed])
Developer: Vigil Games
Release: June 26, 2012
Players take on the role of the Horseman Death, whose hobbies include ripping monsters to pieces, donning haggard armor, wielding unreasonably large scythes, and long walks on the souls of your ancestors. After his brother, the Horseman War, is accused of conspiring to start the Apocalypse before its due time, Death embarks on a disobedient quest to prove his brother's innocence any way he can.
I suppose if you're a fan of the scary part of the Holy Bible, then DSII's narrative will probably appeal to you ... or it'll offend you, depending on how you look at it. I can't say I personally found the first game's story to be all that intriguing, but it does make the lore of the sequel a bit easier to absorb. I'll admit, it is nice to see developers utilizing tapping something other than Greek mythology for once.
As for the levels, Darksiders II has a very dungeon-based style of progression. Players will make their way from room to elaborately designed room, defeating waves of monsters, solving slightly challenging puzzles, and attaining keys to unlock other areas. Like I said before, the game feels a lot like Zelda, as backtracking is a common occurrence and treasure chests are numerous. No flamboyant men cavorting around in green unitards, fortunately.
I'll admit that some puzzles do throw you for a bit of a loop. Their solutions aren't always obvious (as they shouldn't be), and solving certain head-scratchers provides a real sense of accomplishment. At times, frustration might rear its fat, ugly head, but it's totally worth those moments when you slap your forehead and think, "Ah, of course!" I won't lie, though -- other moments may include your dropping the controller and saying to yourself, "Are you fuckin' serious? That's what I had to do?"
Combat is of the fast hack-'n-slash variety, with numerous combos and special moves to clear out several enemies at once. One move I utilized frequently was Death's ability to send a scythe spinning into an area in front of him, stunning and dealing steady damage to enemies in its proximity (bigger monsters didn't budge, though). Death's scythes prove to be very versatile weapons and could easily rival Kratos' Blades of Chaos as some of the most kickass game weapons around. Also, much like during the fights in God of War, a button prompt, which triggers a finishing move, appears above the heads of nearly defeated enemies. Wait until you see him change into his traditional Grim Reaper form as a result -- one of the game's finer "holy shit" moments.
For players who enjoy customization, Darksiders II features some pretty decent RPG elements. Monsters and treasure chests provide loot in the form of weapons, armor, and items, all which can be applied to Death for stat boosts. Every set of boots, greaves, or shoulder guards I slapped onto Death provided a different, more menacing look than the last. Even his scythes got a nice visual upgrade each time I found a better pair. By the end of the demo, my Death looked like something off of a heavy metal album cover -- how very appropriate that THQ decided to play Metallica during the event.
In regard to how cool Death looks, my favorite aspect of the game is definitely the art. The locales have a very otherworldly feel to them, but not so much that they are completely void of any practicality. Giant wood and steel mechanisms decorate larger areas, providing a sense of age and primitiveness to the setting, as though some ancient, ethereal civilization built everything you see, only to leave it to the ages and let it all rot.
At the end of the demo, I encountered one of the game's several bosses. I know I'm not the first to suggest this, but the giant, rock-like creature I battled (known as the "Guardian") reminded me a lot of Shadow of the Colossus. As I rode atop my mighty white steed, I was forced to time my hurdles and sprints in order to dodge its slow, powerful attacks. In order to defeat it, I had to target specific weak spots on its body after certain attacks. While the fight was certainly difficult -- I have horrible timing during these types of battles -- it was also very exhilarating, and a testament to the kind of variety that Darksiders II had.
Overall, Darksiders II carries all the elements of a strong sequel to a decent action title. Even with its very blatant inspiration, the game does offer some intriguing and unique creativity, which gives the narrative and its world just enough believability to pull you in. The story and characters are somewhat interesting, the combat is fast and fun, the RPG elements provide some nice depth and variety, and the visuals are pleasurable to gawk at.
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