C oming two years after the original Darksiders, which managed to blend conventions from other game series like Zelda and God of War into a surprisingly kick-ass package, Darksiders II introduces more RPG elements and a new protagonist while increasing on the size of the first game roughly twofold. The result is an enjoyably frenetic, if somewhat flawed, dungeon-crawling action-adventure game that should keep players slaying demons, solving puzzles and destroying crates for up to 30 hours of playtime.
Darksiders II puts players in control of Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, as he sets out to clear the name of his brother and fellow rider War. The story pans out pretty quickly, and it's pretty easy to lose track of exactly what is going on...and the game doesn't often pause to clarify things. It makes the assumption that you've played the first game and are all caught up to speed story-wise.
Following a brief tutorial in a frozen cavern that has Death cutting his way through hordes of skeletal baddies, you're thrust into the first of many open world areas to explore. The overworld hammers home the scope of the game, as you're constantly dwarfed by your surroundings.
The combat -- the crux of any action-adventure title -- is really fluid and enjoyable, if a bit repetitive near the end. You're often facing upwards of five enemies at a time, and a large emphasis is placed upon dodging attacks, keeping you pretty engaged anytime a fight is going on. Death's main weapons are his two scythes that he begins the game with; then there are a number of different secondary weapons, like giant two-handed axes and glaives. Combos are performed through pretty simple button chains, and more are available at trainers found throughout the world.
Darksiders II isn't a very difficult game. As fast paced and intense as the action seems, it never really got out of hand, and I only died once or twice through my playthrough. Some boss battles, especially near the end, left me wanting a bit more out of the combat; every enemy has an easily recognizable attack pattern that can be adapted to and bested quickly.
The combat does tend to get a little too hectic whenever you're placed in a confined space, as the camera tends to get shoved up into a wall and make it pretty much impossible to tell what's going on. The game also suffers intermittently from glitches and bugs, with death getting stuck in mid jump, or the camera not registering when you enter a new room. None of these were game-breaking, but they did get frustrating and draw me out of the experience.
Blended into the combat are the new RPG aspects of the game. Enemies drop loot of varying tiers, with vendor trash whites, then green, blue, purple and gold with more added bonuses on them. Things drop after nearly every battle, so there's a little more incentive to stroll around and seek out things to beat up. None of the weapons are that much different from each other, though they do have things like ice and fire enchantments, or additional stat bonuses like you'd see in most action RPGS similar to Diablo.
A level-up system is also a new addition, complete with two skill trees that you can place points into to get new face-melting abilities. One tree offers more physical combat specialization, while the other focuses on summoning demon crows and things to swarm the screen and dole out some damage. Both are pretty balanced; no one tree overshadows the other, and it adds a further level of welcome customization.
Death is a lot more nimble than War was in the first game, scrambling up walls and between pillars like some sort of apocalyptic spider monkey. The dungeons follow a relatively straightforward path of a few puzzle rooms punctuated by the occasional mini-boss or group of enemies for you to slaughter. The puzzles and platforming are never too punishing, but it never felt like my hand was being held when trying to navigate through.
The slightly cartoony art style of the game is vibrant and varied, and it's really pleasing to venture into new areas solely to catch a glimpse of the different art the locales have to offer. From the blank expanse of the underworld to the rolling hilltops painted green, its far and away the game's strongest aspect. Coupled with some of the immense boss battled that are thrown at you, there are definitely several "holy shit!" moments to be had throughout.
The graphics tend to be a little less stellar. Some technical problems like grainy resolutions popping up in shadows and on walls, abundant screen tearing and a benchmark 30 fps on the console versions hold the game back. The PC version is also a straight port, with pretty middling video slider (resolution, v-sync) options for those with suped-up rigs. You can certainly play the game with a keyboard and mouse, but it's apparent from the start that it's meant to be played with a game pad, and I strongly suggest you do.
Overall, Darksiders II is a solid mashup of conventions from other series, and has enough style to stand on its own. The combat is fun and rewarding, the scope and scale of everything does a good job of impressing the player, but occasional technical hiccups and somewhat repetitive gameplay does bog it down from being a truly great, must-play title.
-- Sam Nixon is a self-proclaimed video-game nerd who writes reviews for the Daily whenever a rad new game is released.