I have become like Death, destroyer of worlds.
The original Darksiders is best remembered for being something of a mash up of elements from several games. You could have labeled it a Zelda game—the first weapon you get is unapologetically the boomerang from Wind Waker (though heavily modified). The combat is reminiscent of God of War or perhaps Devil May Cry. You eventually find a gun that shoots portals. Despite its minor identity crisis, Darksiders was a fantastic game with great art direction, an interesting story, and genuinely challenging dungeons.
Darksiders II builds upon its predecessor’s penchant for gathering gameplay ideas but manages to feel like its own beast. You played as War in Darksiders, but as his brother, Death, in this game. The story takes place more or less concurrently with the original, though where War wandered a post-apocalypse Earth, Death travels to a variety of more mystic places. While basically similar to the first game, Darksiders II expands into other territories that make it a more complex, engaging experience.
Many elements from the original game remain: buying new attacks, finding doodads, traversing environments, and seamless integration of a second weapon type in combat. Like War, Death has magic abilities and a powerful alternate form. He doesn’t find Zelda-esque weapons nearly as often, though there are just as many in total—they’re just spread out over a much longer game. The biggest departure is that Death loves collecting loot. Loot is dropped from every chest you open and most enemies you defeat. Bosses drop rare loot. Loot is divided into equipment classes and broad types like “Enchanted” and “Possessed.” Possessed weapons are particularly cool—you “sacrifice” other loot to power them up.
Each piece of loot has a level and a stat bonus, and it’s up to you find the combination you like most. With each level you gain, you get a skill point you can use to upgrade Death’s Wrath powers or activate new powers from a skill tree. You can even choose to go on quests, finding items for characters and receiving handsome rewards for doing so. Darksiders II has a lot of game to it, which often comes at the expense of the plot. Hours and hours in, and I’m still not sure what’s going on. I can say too many artificial barriers come between Death and his ultimate goal. Well, you can’t activate these stone sentinels until you fix these forges, and you can’t awaken this giant sentinel until you destroy it first, and you can’t go to the Tree of Life without talking to this one guy in the Land of the Dead, who wants some things from Heaven and Hell. Death does a lot of errands for people. It’s that whole “the world is ending, but would you do my laundry?” trope that irritates me in so many video games. Thankfully, fast travel is almost always available from your map screen, which reduces some of the tedium.
Darksiders II was also a good test run for my GamePad. The GamePad displays your equipment menu at all times, in real time, so you don’t have to pause the game to equip new stuff or cycle through broader menu categories. From a practical standpoint, you’re pausing the game anyway since Death is still just standing there on your TV while you make minor GamePad adjustments, so you can’t really change up his equipment in the middle of a fight or in an area that might spawn new enemies (who brutally slay Death while you’re equipping a new Talisman). The GamePad also duplicates any cinema scene shown on TV. The game is also playable on the GamePad by itself, at which point you will have to pause the action to get to your equipment screen.
But the GamePad has its share of unique problems. For one, the game’s intense combat doesn’t feel great on its button layout. I was constantly pressing the wrong face button after adjusting the camera, and the big space between the L and ZL buttons is noticeable and annoying. While on the GamePad, swimming and riding is mapped to the gyroscope, which feels ridiculous and is anything but intuitive. I had a problem mapping Wrath powers to buttons—if there’s a way to do that, the game doesn’t tell you. Instead, I was being forced to tap an icon on the GamePad screen in the middle of combat to activate a magic attack. I always felt like I was just getting by, tolerating the GamePad’s charms. But then I bought a Pro controller and the entire game felt better. Radically better. So much better that I’d suggest playing the game exclusively with a Pro controller. When you use a Pro controller, the game shows the Wrath powers’ button assignments on the screen.
The game also just looks better on a bigger screen. It’s not like it looks bad on the GamePad, but Vigil has created an epic world so full of life and detail that you’ll want to soak it all in. Overworld areas are vast, and dungeons incorporate a number of interesting motifs. The music is also wonderful in its subtlety; there’s a Celtic thread throughout the game’s first third that’s just lovely.
All the DLC released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions is included on the disc here, and there’s a bunch of free bonus equipment left in the main area. I do wonder if the bonus equipment conforms to your level, because it all looked pretty awesome when I picked it up, but was quickly outmoded by equipment I found in the field. Supposedly there’s also Wii U-specific content, but I honestly don’t know if I’ve run into any of it.
Darksiders II’s points of irritation come in its plot and pacing. The game stretches too long, especially given how artificial some of the barriers seem, and it seems like Death is the only one in the entire world who can get anything done. The plot’s central pillar—that “Corruption” is invading the realm—is a tired contrivance, and from what I’ve seen, it may not have a satisfying conclusion. From a gameplay standpoint, the loot system probably works on some primal level for a lot of RPG and World of Warcraft players, but it’s a little too distracting for me. I feel like I spend too much time experimenting with different equipment combinations and feeding Possessed Weapons and selling loot I clearly don’t need. The game also tasks you with keeping track of a lot of questing and shopping. Darksiders II has you visiting different merchants all the time, and although enemies drop gold like rain, you never seem to have a comfortable amount. I bought a Talisman that all but wiped out my funds, and that was after selling a bunch of useless gear.
Despite these problems, Darksiders II is an excellent, lovingly crafted game I wholeheartedly recommend, especially if you liked the first. From a production value perspective, it’s at the top of its class, and my problems with the game are largely personal preference quibbles. Just like the first, Darksiders II is the Zelda game we never got.