There's a lot that's remarkable about the Darksiders series. It's a first from a new developer, Vigil Games. It's a new IP from a struggling publisher, THQ. It sports high production values across the board with a unified art direction, strong level design, and solid combat.
And yet, why am I so bored?While Darksiders was about the Horseman of the Apocalypse named War, Darksiders 2 is the story of Death and takes place before the first. War, having been sent to Earth under false pretenses to initiate the apocalypse, was imprisoned for a century. Death, during War's imprisonment, aims to save his wronged brother.
Shoulder pads. Shoulder pads everywhere.
Darksiders 2, like its predecessor, works off designs by comic artist Joe Madureira. Though he's not creative director this time around, his influence is still clear. I should be honest here; I'm not a fan of the art. I think it too closely resembles World of Warcraft and the 1990s X-Men comics Joe Madureira is famous for. Everything on two legs is built like a bunch of giant, meaty tree-trunks with huge shoulder pads that stand as an accent.
Even having said that, though, it's impossible not to admire how much art there is and how well it all fits together. More often than ever, parts of games are being farmed out to other studios and the disconnect is noticeable in the final product. Here, everything feels like a part of the post-apocalyptic universe the Darksiders games are assembling.
The music often complements that world very well. The soundtrack, composed by Jesper Kyd (Assassin's Creed II), ranges from classic fantasy music to some great synth work. While the fantasy tunes could be mistaken for the Skyrim soundtrack, the ethereal synth music that accompanies the dungeon delving is some of the best served up this year. Kyd captures the feeling of a world's last sunset; the end of life and beginning of death.
Stick and move.
If Darksiders is going to shine anywhere, though, it's in the mechanics. The combat has been called things like "God of War Lite," and it's easy to see why. Darksiders' lineage in combat is definitely that of God of War, Devil May Cry, and other tightly-balanced hack-and-slashers. The stick-and-move combat stays fun, and the sheer number of combos available allow depth for those who want it. Aside from a few weird difficulty spikes on my Normal playthrough, the combat had a good feel throughout.
The dungeons and puzzles, too, have been meticulously designed. Each of the main dungeons does a great job training the player with the newest tool and using that tool in clever, entertaining ways. One power, though, which allows Death to split into two separate entities leashed to a central point, quickly became irritating; a mistake would force a reset of the characters, and I would end up having to do work two, three times.The leveling and loot systems adapted from games like Diablo worked well in Darksiders 2. In an interview with GiantBomb, the lead designer of the first game mentioned that loot was something he'd had to cut. One concept with the loot that wasn't explored nearly enough was the idea of possessed weapons. A few times throughout the game, Death will pick up a possessed item to which he can feed other items to upgrade it.There was so much room here for an interesting mechanic. Instead of swapping weapons every 20 minutes, I should've been feeding pick-ups to my Grim Reaper scythes to add and remove powers and increase strength. Possessed scythes could've even been a way to add in an interesting character for Death to work off, another personality for him to interact with, argue and conflict with. The idea is practically writing itself in my head.
Aside from a few weird difficulty spikes on my Normal playthrough, the combat had a good feel throughout.
Tell me if you've heard this one before…
That missed opportunity leads into the biggest problem with Darksiders 2: the writing. The story is bogged down by old-hat concepts like a Tree of Life, Nephilim, the City of the Dead and so on. It's unfortunate for Darksiders 2 to release as closely to Diablo III as it did. A comparison between the stories of the two is tough to avoid.
Further, there are very few characters of any interest anywhere in the story. The characters you, as Death, interact with are little more than quest hubs with good voice acting. The giants in the first area are too depressed to save themselves; the ghouls in the second are too self-important. The plot is hardly more than a series of quests to Find Three Things. One of these quests even has a sub-quest to Find Three More Things.
Death himself changes little throughout the story, staying focused on his goal with nothing to overcome but simple combat and puzzles. He never experiences any real conflict during the story and never seems to waver from his goal of saving his brother.
In a way, Darksiders 2 (and the original) makes me think of the monthly comics their creative director started on. There's very little at stake. Even as the main characters fight with existence itself in the balance, the writing characters aren't doing much to get players to care.
The work throughout is competent, but at the same time it's not remarkable. Getting from one section to the other brings with it more art, but it's not interesting art. Sure, it's hard to find something outright bad to say about Darksiders 2, but it's just as hard to find anything memorable.
We purchased a retail copy of Darksiders 2 for the Xbox 360 with company funds. We played the game's full campaign on normal difficulty, as well as completing a number of optional quests before and after completion.
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