Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Darksiders 2

I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death.
I'd originally planned for this review to go out the week of Darksiders 2's release but I found myself too engrossed in the game to do more than take a couple notes on the game. I guess that says a lot about what I think about the game, in and of itself. I went into the game with high expectations after the first game wowed me with a unique take on a fairly familiar theme: angels, demons, Armageddon, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first game was a comfortable mix of Legend of Zelda and God of War with a dash of Prince of Persia and Darksiders 2 is a terrific continuation and evolution of it. Spoiler free details after the page break:

The biggest visual change to Darksiders 2 from its predecessor was the change in environments, moving from the wrecked and ruined post-apocalyptic Earth to other worlds like the Maker's Realm, the Kingdom of the Dead, and outposts for angels and demons. The art department got a chance to get very creative compared to the grey ash-covered Earth. The Maker's Realm looked much like a high fantasy world you might expect with lush green grass, stoney crags, and fairly bright color while the Kingdom of Dead obviously played up the skeleton motif with blasted stone, sharp edges, and a feeling of floating in a swirling netherworld. The big shine for art direction was the dungeons within the different worlds, having their own feeling and theme within their own world.

Not a boss, just giant snake things that pulls the Eternal Throne of the Lord of Bones.

The dungeons played to the typical puzzle and monster killing that you'd expect from the action-adventure genre but Darksiders 2 really amped up the exploration and interaction with the environment. The controls for running on walls, hopping from wall-to-wall, or leaping from wood pillars were simple and probably the easiest I've seen in a while, they could get to be a little finicky when you were trying to do things quickly. This shows the most in a couple of the 'climb out of the pit as it fills with lava' type puzzles; the puzzle is easy enough to figure out, follow the path up the wall and you'll be fine. Accidentally trying to scramble up a wall instead of running along to the side is  basically going to kill you in one of those puzzles but if you slip up while just exploring Death turns into his Reaper Form for a moment, flashing back to the last safe place you were standing without a noticeable health penalty.

Expect lots of wall-running. Just not from this camera angle.
The puzzles aren't the most unique and innovative but some will have you tugging at your hair a minute or two until you have that 'EUREKA!' moment. Most of them revolve around actually traversing  areas instead of 'put the random heavy object on a pressure plate', which I actually appreciated. When that type of puzzle is brought up, there's actually a couple different abilities Death  is introduced to that actually freshen up a slightly dated concept. The 'hookshot' mechanic returns as does the 'portal' mechanic and both are required to complete all of the 'micro-dungeons' that dot the landscape of the worlds.

These dungeons are not required to complete the game but are hiding some different unique treasures or just a good old-fashioned treasure chest. The random-generated loot from chests are always generated based on your level so waiting toward the end of the game to do them still has some purpose as well. This loot is set up with the industry standard color scheme of green, blue, and purple quality items with some gold unique items and the super-rare red possessed weapons. While the green, blue, and purple items have randomly generated attributes, the gold ones have some kind of unique passive ability like the scythe with "Midas Touch" that gave you 'gilt' when you do damage. The possessed weapons, however, are the real prizes. You have the ability to upgrade them by sacrificing other magic items to the possessed one. When you reach a certain threshold on the item's 'experience' meter, it levels up and the stats increase and you can add an additional attribute (up to 3 or 4 when it's full leveled) based on the bonuses of the items that you fed the possessed weapon. Combine this mechanic with several different weapon skins, secondary weapon types, and the ability to also name the weapon, you can really make the weapon that you want, depending on how much planning you put into it.

You won't level enough to max out all the abilities with your first playthrough
Death himself plays differently than War in combat, feeling much faster and more active. With two skill trees to select from with a new leveling system, you have a lot more control over how he plays as well. With the Harbinger tree, it's all about dashing around, cutting stuff up, high crits and frantic action. The Necromancer tree is more spell casting oriented with the ability to summon some ghouls to help add some meat-tanks between you and the bad men. The combo system is very simple and with the choice between slow two-handed weapons or faster claw/gauntlet type weapons, you have more options that War ever did. Within about an hour or two of playing, you'll have a different looking Death than I did because even the armor has different models, and I'll admit it, on occasion I decided to go with one item over another just because of the looks.

Numerous model types for armor can give you a very unique look.
Last but perhaps most important, the story for Darksiders 2 is worth listening to. The guys at Vigil Games put a lot of time and effort into fleshing out the world of Darksiders in the sequel: Introducing the origin of the nephilim, explaining where the other nephilim went, and more information on what happened in the intervening years between War arriving on Earth at the start of the first Darksiders and the rest of the events of that game. I'm definitely excited for a sequel, eager to see the last of the Horsemen; Fury and Strife, and I want to see what happens after the first Darksiders!

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