Darksiders 2 opens with Death on horseback, which is nice. He is after all a horseman so you’d expect him to have a horse, and War didn’t get his own steed until quite a way into the first title. As you progress through the opening area of the game, a freezing mountainous place, it’s quite clearly a statement of intent, and that this game is going to have a different feel. Within the first ten minutes you see that large parts of the game mechanics have been altered and wrapped around Death as the new central character, and a fresh angle on the plot and setting go along with this.
The events of Darksiders 2 actually happen alongside those of the first game, as Death is convinced that War was framed for the botched apocalypse, and rides out to set things back to how they were, at the very least. This means a trip to see the Crowmaster, the Keeper of Secrets, to try and bring the human race back from extinction.
The basics of combat will feel familiar and haven’t really changed too much, but the first thing you’ll probably notice is that a whole bunch of numbers are popping up all over your screen during fights!
The damage being dealt is being shown via these numbers that pop up. Continuing with RPG influences, when enemies die they will often drop piles of money and loot for you to grab; loot which often ties back to the combat in the form of newer and better weapons.
Death now has two weapons to hand. His primary weapon is a pair of scythes, but you now hold a second weapon which can be one of a variety of things. Initially it’s a slower heavy weapon, a big axe or hammer, but as you progress you’ll come across gauntlets, claws and several other faster weapons. Your choice of weaponry helps shape how you have to tackle your opponents, and I was personally sticking to the faster weapons, doing my best to be a whirling dervish of doom and destruction!
Weaponry isn’t the only form of loot, though, and you’ll also be coming across shoulder guards, greaves and more, all of which have different perks and affect Death’s stats in various ways. Some will boost your health or your damage dealing, whilst other can steal a bit of life back from felled opponents, which can be pretty handy. They also change the physical appearance of Death, for the image conscious among us.
As you level up through the game, not only do your base stats improve, but you also gain skill points to spend on powers and abilities. Here you can pick and choose between two paths for your Wrath abilities, under the Necromancy and Harbinger paths. The former being more about summoning allies and casting magic, whilst the latter keeps you in the action with more direct combat abilities.
As a whole, Death is much faster during combat than War ever was, and this is really shown off when you have to face a facsimile of War early on. Even accounting for scripting, War is more of a lumbering beast compared to Death, and the difference is accentuated and enhanced by Death not having the ability to block attacks. Instead you have to roll and dodge out of the way, but all this does is keep your combo rising and encourages you to keep the variety of attacks quite high, which is more pleasing to watch too.[drop2]
Death’s agility in combat carries over to the platforming elements of the game. Traversing the world is now a much more pleasing experience, as you can now wall-run, and clamber up and around posts, with the level design being been tailored around this. At some points, where there’s a lot of linked together movement, it’s very reminiscent of the Prince of Persia series, and it’s really rather enjoyable.
More varied gameplay is all well and good, but it needs to inhabit a world you want to come back to, and here the first Darksiders stumbled a bit. A lot of the world was very drab and grey in the post-apocalyptic cities. With this title, you’re almost beseiged by colour and variety, spanning several different worlds.
After the icy opening tutorial level, Death is transported to the Forge Lands in his quest to seek the Tree of Life. Here he encounters a race of Celt-inpired Makers, the masters of creation in the universe, who inhabit the first of the game’s hubs. At first blush the world filled with lush greenery, but as you talk to a few of the Makers you quickly discover that it is slowly being eaten away and transformed by Corruption. Naturally this prevents you from getting to the Tree of Life, so from this first hub you have to set off to put their world back into balance, by unblocking the supplies of fire and water.
As you head out onto the plains and ride off to the first dungeon the world gradually changes around you: the trees lose their greenery, the enemies you can fight or ignore become more frequent, and the lighting effects shift in tone. The corrupted areas are more washed out and dull, and with lava and water being the focus of the first two dungeons you know what to expect from them, but the shift from one palette to another was a nice effect and a nice improvement from the first game.
The open world has a bit of depth to it, and you’ll not only encounter demons and beasts, but often come across little areas where a bit of platforming will help you get to a chest containing some nice loot for you. So a little exploration is in order for those that want to stray off the beaten path a touch. These are supplemented by being able to take on some side quests from the NPCs in the game, like hunting down a few particular items which can be combined into something more powerful.
In the few hours of play time I had with Darksiders 2, it really felt like I was only scratching the surface of what’s on offer. Darksiders was a title where it was quite easy to spot several influences, and this sequel has taken that game’s frame and fleshed it out, to the extent that even if you were a bit disappointed with the first game, Darksiders 2 might be worth a second glance when it’s released next month in August on PS3 and Xbox 360.