War stands accused of touching off the apocalypse ahead of schedule and thus causing the extinction of humanity. Death (not to be confused with Azrael, the angel of death, encountered in the first Darksiders game,) sets out to absolve his brother rider of his alleged crimes. Darksiders II takes place concurrent to the events of Darksiders, and gives the player a nice summary of the plot and setting established in the first.
Gameplay in Darksiders II has a maturity of design that was lacking in the original. Darksiders could be described charitably as a collection of homages, and though Darksiders II still borrows heavily from other games, these elements are woven together in a much more thoughtful and cohesive style. 90% of what I didn’t like about the original is gone, and the new features and mechanics that they have added make the game much more fun. Best change in my opinion? Dodging. When you press the dodge button Death gets out of the way. You can dodge three times in rapid succession, and dodging cancels out of combos. The result is that combat feels much faster and more intense. It’s a massive improvement on the system.
The second major improvement is the reduction in walking. Environments are still expansive, but are generally more intelligently designed so you rarely need to backtrack. There’s also far less confused wandering as a result of having no idea where to go. Death is accompanied by Dust, a magical crow who will perch on your next objective to help point the way. Outside of the game’s many dungeons, Death can ride his skeletal steed Despair, and you have him at the start of the game too. (After all, what’s a rider of the apocalypse without a steed? Not much of a rider at all, really.) Players are welcome to explore, but the way forward is always clear.
There’s also more loot! Death has his standby weapons, his scythes, and secondary weapon options as well, which include light (claws, arm blades, and fists) and heavy weapons (hammers, glaives, and axes). Enemies drop weapons and armour items with varying stats and abilities based on both rarity and character level. This means more character customization and less wait between getting new stuff to play with, which helps break up long dungeon crawls. (Plus the obvious benefit of more stuff.)
The PC control layout is admittedly pretty bad, and seems to have been designed by someone with seven fingers on their left hand. Fortunately you can change it, though the option to do so is confusingly found in the character menu, rather than the options menu. (I spent several minutes incredulously checking and re-checking the options menu, disbelieving that they could omit such a critical aspect. I found it later, completely by accident, and was greatly relieved, mostly in my left hand.) There are a few places in which the controls and gameplay seem to conspire against the player, namely a certain bridge fight over lava. If you try to dodge, you fall off the bridge, and if you try to quickly grab one of the ledges on the sides of the bridge to escape, you usually fall too, because they aren’t sticky enough. It took some getting used to the idea that Death would only grab onto certain very specific ledge types, no matter how nice and accessible they looked. But even taken together, these issues really only amount to minor annoyances.
Darksiders II is rendered in a rich comic book style which permeates both the game’s graphics and plot. Without giving anything away, the game expands upon the Balance and the origins of the Four Horsemen, deepening the setting and giving weight to events in the game. At one point, I thought that I was reaching the end of the game, having just fought a big boss, but was instead transported to a completely new world, with the implication that there were yet others to come! This provided the developers and writers with a huge array of of options for locations, which they have taken full advantage of. I thought that this was one aspect where the original fell short, so it was great to see how much it had been improved in the sequel. Character voices and scripting are all top-notch as well, and they feel real and alive.
Combat and puzzle difficulty are right on the mark. Puzzles take some thought, but the solution is typically readily apparent. The more complex puzzles are typically reserved for side quests and bonus treasures, so if you can’t solve them, it’s easy to move on with the rest of the game. Combat works much the same way: if you can’t get through a fight, usually it’s possible to leave the dungeon, level up, and tackle it again when you’re more powerful. The dodge controls, however, make it possible for skilled players to take on fights well above the intended level. Great for those looking for a challenge. It’s a system very thoughtfully balanced between casual and serious play, and it demonstrates the careful consideration that has gone into the game’s design.
Darksiders II builds on the success of the original, and is a much more deliberately designed game. Unpopular elements of Darksiders have been adjusted and improved as well, which demonstrates that the developers are listening to their fans. It’s a refreshing change from many other franchises, which seem to wander farther and farther away from what people were hoping for from them. Darksiders II delivers fast, intense action in a vibrant and beautifully rendered world.