The original Darksiders took gamers by surprise in 2010, delivering a solid adventure from an unproven developer in the typically cold, barren month of January. It was essentially a blatant Legend of Zelda rip-off that separated itself with dark fantasy, a mature rating, and combat that vaguely resembled God of War. Perhaps it was a little rough around the edges, but it was still a fun experience with genuine potential as a franchise. With higher expectations and stakes for the sequel—including publisher THQ’s fate on the line—Vigil Games has stepped up to the plate and swung for the fences. While still derivative in nature, Darksiders II is nearly everything fans of the original could have hoped for in a sequel and in some respects more than we could have dared imagine.
Taking place during the events of the original Darksiders, the sequel follows the Horseman Death as he sets out to prove his brother War is not guilty of prematurely starting the apocalypse. The story serves as little more than a cool setting and excuse to get the action going, but I’m sure some will enjoy diving into the world and its mythology. I personally didn’t find it very engaging, but I also didn’t care about the story in games like God of War or any of the Legend of Zelda titles. For me to truly be drawn into a video game story, it has to be the centerpiece of the game, such as in L.A. Noire or The Walking Dead. Most plot points in Darksiders II are thinly veiled excuses to fetch another item for some vague purpose tangentially related to the main plot, but that said, the writing, voice acting, and music are generally above average. Many will love Death’s journey as much as the gameplay itself, where the Darksiders II truly shines.
At its core, Darksiders II is still a Zelda game, but it also borrows from enough other great games to feel like a slightly fresh take on the classic formula. It does things you wish Nintendo had the guts to attempt with Zelda. Death not only explores dungeons, solves puzzles, and battles epic bosses, but he can also platform around the environment in a fashion reminiscent of Prince of Persia. He can shoot guns. Death can speak. Best of all, action RPG elements such as loot and a skill tree have been added to the game. As a result, the combat is deeper and more challenging and satisfying than ever before. Somewhere, Link weeps over the fact that Nintendo has been unwilling to take such risks but completely willing to introduce drastic, unnecessary new control schemes in foolish attempts to reinvent the wheel. The skill tree could be more complex, with more options for upgrading Death, but it’s a very welcome addition.
Vigil Games doesn’t seem ashamed of the fact that it’s cobbling together ideas from countless other games. Instead, they seem proud that they have good taste in games and know the ingredients to make a very satisfying stew. At one point, they throw in a boss fight that feels ripped directly from Shadow of the Colossus, likely because they are just fans of the game and thought it would be cool. Later on, they throw in a sequence that feels a bit like Gears of War’s horde mode. If that’s not enough for you, have some portal puzzles. Vigil is having fun playing gaming’s greatest hits, and as result, you will have fun.
While Darksiders II rarely feels as clever or inspired as the franchises that it borrows from, some of the puzzles and dungeons are brilliant. And there are tons of them, way more than you get in your usual Zelda adventure. One particularly long dungeon, The City of the Dead, in which you must often split Death into multiple entities and solve puzzles between them, stands out. The dungeons also tend to build on the powers you gain, and force you to use everything you’ve learned along the way.
And the best part: there is no filler. Plenty of sidequests are packed into the adventure, but you’re never forced to do any of them. My playtime was roughly 20 hours, and it consisted of me playing through dungeons, going back to town to sell loot and buy potions, and then getting my next mission, which was always another dungeon. Skyward Sword took me 50 hours and it only contained seven dungeons, because it forced me to engage in long, boring fetch quests in between its levels. I’ll take more dungeons any day.
Quite simply, the game wears its influences on its sleeve and bursts with content, and yet it also manages to feel more polished than the original. The controls are great, and Death, with his evade move and platforming skills, is a more nimble character than War. The graphics fail to impress, but the art style and landscapes make up for it. From a technical standpoint, my biggest nitpick is that the game pauses and a loading icon pops up every so often as you traverse Darksiders II’s massive world. There are some reports that mention glitches, but the only problem I encountered was the game completely freezing up on me in the final dungeon.
Little touches go a long way, such as being able to compare and equip loot while it’s on the ground, without going into your inventory. Every time you start the game up, it gives you a little recap of what’s going on in the story. If you get lost or disoriented, you can click on the left thumbstick, and a crow will fly in the direction of your next objective. You can even trade items with friends via PSN or Xbox Live. None of this takes away from the experience. It makes it smoother.
There is something disposable about Darksiders II, in that it liberally borrows from greater franchises, and yet there is also something special about it, in that it’s rare to get a big, meaty single player adventure these days. That a publisher would pin its final hopes on a game of this nature gives me hope. I couldn’t ask for a better kick-off for the fall gaming season, with an adventure that reminds us why games are great in the first place.
- A satisfying stew of great games with a Zelda clone at its core
- A lengthy adventure with plenty of content and yet no filler
- Small innovations to a proven formula
- Better and more polished than the original
- Atmospheric world with a great art style
- Loading times in the middle of gameplay
- Unimpressive graphics
- Occasional glitches
- Skill tree could be deeper
- Rarely as clever or charming as the games it imitates
Note: This review was done using the Xbox 360 version of the game. It is also available on the Playstation 3 and PC.