Darksiders 2 Review: A Sequel Done Right

by Mike Bendel August 14, 2012 @ 9:00 am

The original Darksiders was a fun romp, though for those well acquainted with the action RPG genre, most will agree that it didn’t exactly break new ground gameplay-wise. Compared to its predecessor, Darksiders 2 is a much more ambitious experience that goes beyond a mere improvement. This is not your typical sequel. Sure – plenty of comparisons to Zelda can still be made on the surface, particularly in regards to level design. Beyond that, though, the title feels like it has an identity of its own. Darksiders 2 truly is an experience not to be missed. Read on to find out why.

In terms of sheer scale alone, Darksiders 2 dwarfs the original. There’s a copious amount of things to do and see. Completionists won’t find any shortage of content here: Darksiders 2 is filled to the brim with secrets, side-quests, and loot hoarding.  To get an idea of the massive scale, a full playthrough took me around 26 hours, practically double the length of the original. And that’s only with touching on a few of the side-quests. You might be able to trim a few hours off that number if you rush through, sure, but there’s no denying that the amount of content in Darksiders II is simply staggering.

One of the areas expanded upon is the game landscape. Worlds, or hubs, are structured in such a way to encourage exploration.  Players can interact with townsfolk to purchase skills, items, upgrades, and sometimes invoke secondary quests.  The towns are rich in detail and don’t feel as if they were tacked on simply for the sake of progression. Even if you’ve explored every nook and cranny, in addition to tackling quests prompted by dialogue sequences, there’s always reason to come back – trading in loot, for instance.

Where Darksiders 2 really excels is in its intricately crafted combat system. While the fluid combat in the first outing was a joy, THQ and Vigil Games have given it a shot in the arm for the sequel. Death feels more agile, more responsive to user input. The addictive formula of quickly switching back and forth between a scythe and secondary weapon has been expanded upon, as equipped loot can modify specific attributes. This allows players to personalize their character and quickly adapt against foes that may exhibit weakness to certain elements. Additionally, one of the more interesting pieces of the loot in the game are possessed weapons. A rare drop, these are upgradable — allowing players to sacrifice other weapons in their inventory. Once the sacrifice meter is filled, a level up screen will allow players to boost specific attributes, such as elemental damage, and piercing damage. Other modifiers are also thrown into the mix, covering areas such as defense, resistance, arcane, and strength. All of these affect the core attributes of the character when said weapon is equipped. It’s a nice addition that adds yet another layer of depth to the combat.

Another aspect of Darksiders 2 that ties into the combat system is the skill tree. There are two main skill trees, Harbinger and Necromancer. Players can choose to upgrade abilities from either tree at will, adding more choice as far as play style goes. Some abilities have prerequisites in regards to level, but aside from that, the upgrade paths are quite flexible. Find yourself not happy with a chosen skill? You can even purchase what is called a Respec later in the game to reassign skill points for a modest fee. Many of the skills unleash devastating attacks that come at the cost of Wrath — essentially magic. Your Wrath meter is fills when hitting foes with normal attacks.

The soundtrack is sublime and not to be missed. Darksiders 2 seems to hit all the right notes when it comes to setting the mood. A wide variety of genres are touched upon, mixing elements of rock and ambient styles. Some games these days fall victim to scores that sound epic, but at the same time, fail to capture the mood, intensity, and atmosphere of the scene depicted.  Darksiders 2, impressively, manages to avoid that pitfall with a very memorable score. When listening to the music in the background right now, it’s easy to imagine the darkness and decay that envelopes the world of Darksiders 2.

As in the first outing, dungeon segments are still the meat and potatoes of Darksiders 2. When not traversing the overworld or unloading loot in towns, players explore massive labyrinths filled with hideous foes and of course, puzzles. The dungeons are linear for the most part, there’s a set path that is often obvious. There’s a few branching paths here and there when tackling side quests, but nothing major.  However, I wouldn’t say this detracts from the fun of exploring them. There’s usually a key players will need to find to progress further, or a door unlocked by solving a puzzle. In the beginning to the game’s midpoint, the puzzles often involve pressing a switch that’s obstructed by some way, and you’ll usually need to use learned abilities to get at it. Near the end, the puzzles are much more varied. We’ll refrain from dropping any direct spoilers, but the style of some puzzles pay homage to a popular Valve title.

Visually, Darksiders 2 is stunning.  The art direction is phenomenal, there’s a real sense of decay and despair despite the game’s colorful palette. In particular, the particle effects observed in many of the game’s dungeons are some of the best I’ve seen on consoles. It’s hard to not stop and admire the sights at times. The dungeons are well-crafted in terms of design as well. No two rooms look alike, it’s obvious that a lot of care and attention went into the finer details.

Darksiders II doesn’t skimp on perks for the stat-obsessed gamer. The game keeps track of total kills, the worth of all loot you’ve amassed, and even the amount of blood spilled in gallons. Gruesome, right? That’s only scratching the surface, too. Additionally, those connected to PSN, Xbox Live, or Steam can compare stats with other players on a worldwide leaderboard. There’s definitely a wealth of replay value to be had for even the most die hard completionist. For those that purchase the game new, a DLC code to access Crucible mode. This is an endurance based arena-style challenge that pits players against constant waves of enemies, one after another. Upon clearing at least 5 waves in succession, players are given the choice of continuing or take an award. You can’t pick up where you left off, either. There’s actually an achievement for advancing through all Crucible challenges. I shudder at the thought, but surely, there will be folks dedicated enough.

While I mostly stuck to the main quest in order to have this review ready on the time, I did dabble with a few optional quests, and was extremely impressed with the amount of content the side-quests offer. Some of the quests pave way to dungeons that aren’t touched upon in the main quest. These dungeons can be fairly lengthy, too, one clocked in at close to 40 minutes. And, while there are some, not all of the side-quests entail simple fetch this item objectives – there’s more depth than that. While in many cases today we see content like this reserved for DLC add-on packs, Darksiders 2 offers a ton of value straight out of the box.  Honestly — I’m usually not one to explore every nook and cranny, but the world of Darksiders 2 is so compelling that it keeps you coming back for more.

Apart from a few minor quibbles, it’s really tough to knock Darksiders 2. For a sequel, it does so much right, improving on its predecessor in nearly every way. Most of the puzzles are quite simplistic, it would have been nice to see more thought put into these, but then again, they’re certainly enjoyable as-is. The game is also quite demanding on console hardware. The Xbox 360 version at least does suffer from occasional frame rate drops at times — down from a stable 30FPS, and what appears to be occasional tearing artifacts (almost as if VSync wasn’t on). It’s not enough to mar the overall experience, though — most of the time these drops do not occur during combat situations where precise timing is important. I haven’t seen the PS3 version in action so I can’t say whether the same issues are present on that side.  Obviously, assuming you’ve got capable hardware, the PC version is the way to go. Hitting 60 frames per second shouldn’t be out of reach on a modest rig, judging from the system requirements.

Darksiders 2 is a worthy sequel, and a worthy purchase for any action RPG fan. Of course, we’re crossing our fingers for a Darksiders 3.

Darksiders 2 was released on August 14 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. A copy was provided by THQ for reviewing purposes.

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