Anyone who talks favorite video games with me knows that the first Darksiders ranks high up on the list. The storyline was engaging, the main character a delightfully honorable and diplomatic breakaway from similar games' emo pretty-boys or angry no-necked killing machines, and the gameplay the perfect combination of brutal bloodshed, fast-and-furious strategizing, and mind-bending puzzles.
The sequel does not disappoint.
The second game is not a sequel as much as a "simulquel," occurring during the same time period as the first game but following an entirely different storyline. On Earth, the noble War works to end the fighting, free the earth from demonic tyranny, and clear his name by exposing the originators of the apocalypse. In other dimensions, however, the more cunning and acid-tongued Death fights to restore humanity and end the threat of Corruption, a sort of spiritual virus loosed into the realms that has been infesting everything.
First off, the game looks excellent. The characters are wonderfully stylized by masterful artists and give the entire universe its own feel. The architecture is amazing, much of it looking as though it could be from snapshots of ancient ruins, and the environments feel rich and inviting. Much like in the previous Darksiders, there is more to see than to explore, but that's forgivable. In a dungeon-crawling action series like this, a bit of linearity is expected. However, the first two worlds are vast and offer many opportunities for exploration to discover their secrets.
Second, the sound is amazing. From sound effects such as metal on stone to the ultra-realistic sounds of Death's horse Despair galloping through forests, all are top-notch. The music ranges from "fuck yeah!" awesome to heartbreakingly beautiful. To stand above a waterfall and listen to the music intermingle with the rush of the water, or to crest a cliff and stare into the misty abyss with the haunting score in the background, is a breathtaking experience.
Third, the gameplay remains top-notch. When the first Darksiders came out, I happily proclaimed it to be better than the God of War series, and the sequel has maintained that lofty standard of a carnage-based series. One of the things that struck me as brilliant in the first game was the seamless merging of God of War's rampant slaughter with Devil May Cry's flow-based gameplay. War could move like water through legions of enemies, cutting them down with an ease that would make Kratos blush and a fury that would turn Dante green with envy.
Darksiders II has Death, faster than War but also weaker, who fights with more acrobatics. He doesn't have as much reach as his big brother, but he can close distance more easily. If War moved like water, then Death moves like a dancer.
The second game has adopted a more RPG-style bent than its predecessor, adding in item merchants, potions, equipment management, fast travel and a hub area. The shift was risky but pays off for the most part, though it does lead to a couple of downgrades.
First off, it makes the game more about item management than I believe it needed to be, particularly in regards to health potions. You can recover Wrath, the power for your special attacks, by utilizing your scythes instead of secondary weapons, but you either need special weapons to recover health bit by bit or you need to keep a full stock of health potions. It just feels a bit like a crutch added in to boss battles as well as a detriment to make fights with normal enemies a bit more threatening. Artificial difficulty adjustment, is what I'm getting at.
Second, making the game more RPG-based seems to have sacrificed some of the amazingly creative set ideas that the developers implemented in the first game. One could argue that it's simply because the special abilities aren't as blatantly exploited as in the first game, but that exploitation was still fun. I miss the spider queen's boxlike chambers where you could see through the floors and ceilings to peep at other nasty critters you'd eventually have to fight. The portal puzzles in the Destroyer's massive spire are some of my favorite memories, even though they could be hair-pullingly frustrating.
That's the final downgrade: the puzzles aren't as difficult as they were in the first game. Now, I understand the reason for toning down the insanity. Puzzles of the caliber of Portal, especially in an action game, can lead to a full-stop in the gameplay and that's bad. I experienced that myself in the first Darksiders with many of the portal puzzles.
Despite its deviating from the original game and taking many risks, a few of which failed in my opinion, I would never call Darksiders II a disappointment. It held me engaged every step of the way and, as a continuity nut, I was on the edge of my seat to see how the vast conspiracy would further unfold. I was not disappointed. Darksiders fans, don't skip the credit roll at the end of the game. It includes a stinger that furthers the plot and confirms my suspicions from the end of the first installment.
So, with plenty that's good and nothing that's truly bad, Darksiders II comes with my seal of approval!