Darksiders 2 is an action RPG developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ in 2012 on PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. It also recieved a (rather shoddy) rerelease on PC, PS4 and XONE in 2015 developed by Gunfire Games and published by THQ Nordic. The story is parallell to the first game, as it revolves around the Horseman Death who sets out on a quest to revive mankind following the apocalypse. And by doing so, hopefully freeing his brother War from his unjust imprisonment due to said apocalypse.
Let's begin with our pale lead, Death.
Unlike his brother War, Death wasn't raised on gravel-based cereal and angry looks. As such, he has an emotional range. This is an considerable improvement and makes him a much more enjoyable protagonist. He can even tell jokes to some degree!
And on a more personal note, I appreciate how much his design seems to draw from Raziel from the Legacy of Kain franchise. Which is kinda apt, since this is about as close as we'll ever get to the cancelled Dead Sun game. Especially with the voice of Kain (Simon Templeman) being one of the supporting characters and the game being full of ancient puzzles, some of which involve switching the current area between two distinct states. Almost seems deliberate, really. Something tells me I made a designer of Darksiders 2 (with good taste in video games) happy by pointing that out.
Sadly, I cannot extend such warm words towards the narrative as a whole, as they forgot to take the best part of LoK. That part being its excellent drama. Which is a bummer, since they have some good fundamental parts.
As I mentioned before, Death is a good lead. He is driven by kindness for War, which is a nice subversion for someone who looks like he belongs on the front of a Black Metal album. He does manage to channel his brother's angry stares from time to time, but only when the situation calls for it. But as much as I like him, there's barely an arc present.
And that has to do with the game's major issue, the plot. Death wants to revive mankind. And that's it. There's a bit of interesting side stuff and a lot of lore about the cosmology, but the main story beats are pitiful and padded to hell and back.
It's so bad, that you could totally axe the first part of the game (which details the Maker race and their plight with Corruption) and not lose ANYTHING, since the plot just doesn't progress in it. The next part progresses slightly, but the fetchquesting that keeps you from just walking where you need to go is ridiculous. It's only at the end where things really happen, and even then, there isn't much.
Setting aside the need for the plot to twist and turn, I find it a crying shame that the game doesn't utilize something it seemingly sets up. The souls of the Nephilim (the Horseman race) Death murdered in the past get fused to his chest at the start of the game. Their voices drove the previous owner close to madness, yet they do not speak a word to Death.
Seeing as the game builds up to the choice Death has between reviving the Nephilim or mankind, I find this a really poor decision. The genocide Death performed haunts him, but since it only comes up in the story like once, we miss out on a bunch of juicy drama that could potentially justify two endings. If he talked to the souls of his dead brethren, Death would have a chance to showcase more of his character and undergo an arc. Hell, they could've even aped after LoK a bit more and have had the souls influence Death so he creates a tragedy and derive drama from that!
Instead, we get rudimentary dialogue trees (and consequently, less proper cutscenes) full of lore and details that don't really matter. Makes me almost glad that the PC version of Deathinitive Edition has a bug that keeps the game from loading dialogue data until you reset it.
Continuing its predecessor's thieving streak, Darksiders 2 has implemented the parkour platforming system from Prince of Persia instead of the more standard platforming in the original.
While it's very lovely to run along walls to get around, the game is rather light on platforming challenge. This kind of parkour strips away a good deal of positioning from platforming thanks to the automation. The PoP games dealt with this by making use of more timing-based challenges to balance things out.
But in Darksiders 2, there aren't many obstacles to be found of that nature, especially at the start. Later on though, when you get your Devil Bringer Deathgrip ability, the game adds its own spin on the mechanics by having you combine parkour with timed telescopic grappling, which is awesome. Still, I'd be down for just a bit more complexity. Or even faster movement so that you could get some Mirror's Edge levels of flow.
The game is essentially structured around two overworlds, each filled with dungeons to explore at the beck and call of the plot, save for a few optional ones.
What is apparent only a little bit into the game is that the overworld is incredibly lame. It's flat, huge, scarcely populated and Death's horse isn't very fast. There are tiny side areas and the odd NPC scattered about, but they do nothing to reduce the tedium of traversal, which is probably why you unlock fast-travel even faster than in the first game.
Once you get to a dungeon, it's almost business as usual. There are more dungeons in Darksiders 2, making it longer than the first game. Naturally, this means that you don't get a new item or ability in each one. It seems they wanted to move away from the Zelda comparisons ever so slightly. (Of course, the PoP platforming and Shadow of the Colossus boss kinda make the effort moot.)
Dungeons in the same overworld map share a lot of elements, both aesthetics-wise and mechanics-wise. So much so that I find many of them very difficult to tell apart from memory. Even with that in mind, I still consider them pretty successful. In fact, exploring dungeons and solving puzzles is the best part of Darksiders 2.
I joked about the Deathgrip, but aside from that, Strife's OTHER gun and the reworked portal gun, the abilities you get to play around with to solve puzzles are much more creative this time around. Also, I've been disappointed in Zelda items whenever they aren't used enough, so I'm glad to see that Darksiders 2 really gets use out of your ”portable” abilities, even if they are few. The ”regional” ones aren't afforded as much screentime, but I can accept that.
What's more, abilities combine in really good ways. Special mention goes to the soul splitting ability, as it lets two instances of Death use ALL your other abilities. So you might need to stand on switches, toss bombs or manipulate portals and cranks as both of them to progress. It's really good stuff and I wish the game went just a bit further with the puzzles at endgame. Sadly, not even the DLC provides a super dungeon that demands use of all your powers.
While I've gotten stuck to due bad tutorializing (turns out you can move Death's petrified body during a soul split), I can't help but appreciate the many times where I got stumped, only to then have my simplest idea turn out to be the solution. Not only does that feel good to figure out, such moments also reveal new applications for abilities ýou thought you had already mastered.
Solving your way through the main path is really good content. But since chests are revealed to you before you find the dungeon map and most of the collectibles are kinda shit, exploring side areas in dungeons or in the overworld isn't that rewarding.
While combat remains superficially similar to the first game, there are a few key changes made that gives it its own identity.
Since he isn't the walking piece of metal, stone and grit that his brother is, Death is a bit more acrobatic in combat. This translates to a chainable dodge that produces loads of end lag should you spam it 3 times, just like in Bayonetta. But to balance that, he can't naturally block. To do that, you need to equip one of the sub-weapons, namely a buckler of some fashion.
There are quite a few types of sub-weapons (I think there are 2 movesets among them in total, plus their unique charge attacks). Unlike in the first game, they can be combined with your main weapon (Death's dual scythes in this case) to produce new attacks and not just chain in and out of eachother's movesets.
The finishers have changed so that they trigger randomly depending on your execution chance instead of enemy health. Unless you spec for it, you'll barely get to use them. And just like War, Death has a super form you get to enter once enough stabbings have happened.
The Wrath powers are tied to the new leveling system, offering you one skill point per level. These are used to unlock new powers or to upgrade existing ones. There is decent variety, but picking how to level feels rather shallow. A level usually takes a while to get and the upgrades to a specific power are rather minimal after the base power of the ability is maxed. The issue I have is that picking one thing to upgrade over another won't really change how you use the power, just in what way it'll be a bit better. So aside from what abilities you unlock, builds aren't really a thing when leveling.
With the addition of more timing-based combos and a launcher that can be chained to from any move, the game manages to feel pretty good in battle. Even so, I'm not entirely happy with it. I've experienced som bad dodges during lock-on and I'm thinking that the game doesn't read directions like I want it to, YMMV on that one. It's still awkward to use both left shoulder buttons at the same time as well.
A bigger issue is how starved for enemy variety the game is in certain sections. There are a fair few amount of different enemies, but they aren't distributed properly. Some are used too much and I swear there was a ”medium-class” enemy that only showed up twice. And since enemies are often easy to plow through, it's easy to fall back to the same combo over and over again, just like in the first game. And with the awesome ranged destruction provided by the armblade weapons, how could you not?
It's all kinda sloppy still. One need only compare how sluggish it is to use the Deathgrip to pull enemies towards you versus how easy it is to use the Devilbringer to do the same thing in DMC4. As a combat system, it's fine, but I want more depth, especially in the RPG department.
For whatever reason, Darksiders 2 has implemented a randomized loot system. Naturally, that means that enemies and chests spew out more stuff than you'll know what do do with.
I've never really liked these kinds of systems, since they devalue each piece of gear and make you go rummaging through menus to either optimize what you have equipped or sell stuff to make room for something actually useful. And since there are so many abilities something can have, it's next to impossible to focus on the stats you actually want, like say, frost damage and Wrath steal.
And since a good 85% of what you pick up is trash, there isn't much incentive to open every chest. Even the money you earn is barely useful. There are some combat moves to buy, but it's almost always a waste to buy equipment since you'll just pick up something better within the hour. And since everything is levelgated and many enemies level with you, you can't really get an advantage unless you use a possessed weapon.
These weapons are stupidly rare, but can be fed other items to level up and get new abilities. It's a nice system, but I'd like if you could just combine all items like that. Or better yet, break them down to their component abilities so you could slot things as you wish. It's just such a shame that you can level past the weapons with unique abilities, making them useless even if the ability itself is good.