Darksiders II - Deathinitive Edition Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One
Since we last entered the world of Darksiders back in 2012, this Legend of Zelda clone with all the social graces of God of War has had somewhat of a bumpy ride. The liquidation of Vigil Games and their parent company THQ left the fate of the four horsemen up to the highest bidder. It didn’t take long before Nordic Games swooped in and took the reins, releasing Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition as somewhat of a litmus test to see where the series ranked amongst gamers.
For those who may have missed this surprisingly enjoyable series so far, the plot revolves around the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who in this particular incarnation are hybrids of demons and angels known as the Nephilim. While the first game saw the horseman of War being charged with bringing about the doomsday sooner than expected, Darksiders 2 focuses on Death. Convinced that his brother has been set up, Death sets out to procure War’s innocence, only to stumble upon an even greater threat. A powerful corruption has spread across the land of the Makers, threatening to poison the very essence of creation itself.
Despite some imaginative characters designs and an explosive intro sequence, the story becomes uninteresting and dull rather quickly. Death’s mission is somewhat prolonged by having to constantly assist the Makers in restoring order to their land. It extends the longevity of the game obviously, but the main storyline takes a while to get going, particularly if you're having to constantly do chores for the natives. Cut-scenes flesh out the world we're in, but with the usual good versus evil mumbo jumbo constantly on repeat, you'll be quick to skip them just to get on with the game. Both the allies and the villains you engage are rather two symmetrical, but what makes matters worse is that Death himself isn’t particularly likeable either. Dressed up in the guise of the anti-hero, he comes across quite simply as a bit of an arsehole, even when things finally start to go his way. Some strong vocal talent and colourful character models can’t save what is unfortunately a boring script and flat dialogue.
The gameplay on the other hand is much more enjoyable and it makes you wonder why on earth there aren’t more titles out there mimicking the structural legacy of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series. A sprawling and inviting world with plenty to explore, you’ll have to travel from one temple to next on horseback, that is if you’re not distracted by collecting the spoils and treasures that lie in wait within decaying ruins and musty old caves. Your horse Despair can be summoned by pressing the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time, giving Death his very own, much more badass, version of Epona. Mark that one down on your Zelda bingo cards and while we’re at it, filling in the role of Navi is Death’s pet Raven Dust, acting as your guide on this quest but nowhere near as annoying as his Hyrule counterpart.
Each temple will require a combination of brains and brawn if you’re to survive and complete your assigned mission. Spread out over a series of rooms, most of the time you’ll be examining your surroundings, looking for planks to climb, walls to run across and ledges to shimmy across. Traversing borrows quite heavily from the PlayStation 2 era Prince of Persia games which is no bad thing. If you’re going to borrow from one critically acclaimed video game series, why not borrow from another for good measure. Hard to reach alcoves hide chests filled with keys, loot and various other collectibles, but with some areas restricted until certain upgrades have been obtained, you’ll soon find yourself treading over old ground if you’re to obtain every secret the game has to offer. Even if you stick to the basics, Darksiders 2 offers some impressive and responsive platforming segments.
The puzzle element within each location helps fill the void between platforming and action. While not totally varied, there are a number of ways to unlock doors and open up blocked passages as you rummage around these temples looking for answers. Mucus-filled grenades will blow up corruption that stands in your way, while large boulders can be used to activate enchanted sockets that when activated, will open up previously restricted entrances and elevators. A bit of trial and error may be required during the latter stages, but generally you’ll instinctively be able to find your way through the labyrinth with little difficulty. That is of course if you can survive the various beasts and demons that lurk within.
Darksiders 2’s combat is fluid and enjoyable, so long as you can master the awkward controller mapping. Death’s skillset is borrows heavily from the “other” God of War, in which you’ll have to use a combination of both light and heavy attacks in order to whittle down your opponents’ health. Square will unleash your scythe attack while triangle will trigger a heavy attack which can be quick or slow, depending on the support weapon you have equipped at the time. Axes, gauntlets, staffs and maces are in abundance in this game so there’s plenty to work with, catering to both your favoured style of play and the effectiveness and attributes of the weapons themselves.
Your defense consists of using the R1 shoulder button to roll out of the way and while this works in a one-on-one situation, confronting a full wave of enemies is a trickier situation altogether. Other button bashers would have you use the circle button for dodging, so using the shoulder button in this instance feels a little awkward and can even throw you off at time. The L2 button can be used to lock onto individual baddies but at times, it doesn’t manage to highlight the immediate threat. Throw in a wobbly camera with a mind of its own and you’ll soon find yourself frantically trying to get out of harm's way as quickly as possible in order to regroup and strike back. While not completely off-putting, it can turn the tide of battle quickly against you, so be sure to get plenty of practice in against the grunts roaming around the map before venturing too deep into the traps of the temples.
Rounding off Death’s casket of goodies is a skill tree with plenty of unlockable special moves and extra abilities that shape the game’s RPG elements. Building experience will move you further up the tree and in turn provide death with some extra moves that can be mapped for quick use or alternatively be selected from the combat wheel. Again, you’re up against a fumbly control system, but in desperate times, a horde of undead ghouls or a quick piercing strike can be enough to save your skin and take down some of the game’s tougher enemies in an instant. It completes an already well-packaged combat system that once mastered, is perhaps the highlight of the game..
Aesthetically, Darksiders 2 still holds up on PlayStation 4. The comic book inspired graphics might not delve too deep too far into what the technology has to offer, but the game runs, looks and feels smooth to play. At thirty frames-per-second, some might wonder why we’re not seeing a slicker, faster version of the game but to be perfectly honest, it’s not distracting in the slightest. Polished and with a few hours extra content to boot, you’ll seamlessly work your way through over twenty-five hours of gameplay without so much as a stutter.
We’re still a long way off a new Zelda game and with Nintendo exclusivity keeping little Link locked away on Wii U, Darksiders 2 is a welcome alternative for anyone who prefers their consoles with a bit more under the bonnet. It may not be the remake the world was crying out for, but solid platforming and some hard hitting combat make up for a few false steps along the way. It’s certainly worth trying out if you missed it the first time around. In the right hands, a third instalment could be a game changer, so get across the river Styx while you still can - Death is waiting.