Darksiders II serves as one of the shining gems in THQ’s crown of 2012 titles, and with good and slightly sinister reason. The original Darksiders developed by Vigil Games turned out to be a sleeper hit in 2010, surprising critics and gamers alike with its high production values, clean execution and depth of gameplay. At THQ’s Pre-E3 event in Melbourne, I was given the opportunity to get hands-on with the sequel, taking to the controller with an almost death-like grip.
In Darksiders II, Death takes up the mantle as the new protagonist, out to clear the name of his brethren War, the first Horsemen of the Apocalypse accused of triggering the End of Days before it was suppose to take place. Punished and held captive by the Charred Council, arbitrators responsible for balancing the realms of Heaven and Hell, Death now sets out to clear the falsely accused War and restore order to the destruction caused by the coming of Armageddon.
Interchanging character leads in the past have caused franchises to fall by the wayside yet, Darksiders II substitution to Death feels like a natural progression, shifting the storyline and series forward in a seemless fashion without compromising the established core. Unlike his tank of a brother War, Death is far more agile and nimble in his approach, making use of differing mechanics to traverse the icy environments and engage in cold-forged battles along the way. Gone is the two-handed oversized sword and in its place are dual scythes better suited to Death’s repertoire of combo-style melee attacks.
Death’s inability to block makes the familiar combat feel slightly skewed, placing stronger emphasis on evasion over confrontation. Dodge maneuvers are key to strategic defense with well placed barrel-rolls and sidesteps as a means to conserve health and create opportunities for initiating devastating counter combo strikes. Combined with a secondary weapon mappable to the button pad, Death can merge together an assortment of weapon barrages from powerful sledgehammers to two-handed scythes just to name a few. Certain encounters demand a particular weapon choice to overcome formidable opponents, for example, one boss battle against a frozen ice giant required the sledgehammer to smash through the hardened defenses, impenetrable by bladed armaments.
Thoughtful design execution adds a wide-ranging layer to the combat gameplay without being overly difficult, while still preventing the all too common pitfall of button-mashing most other hack-n-slash titles generally descend into. Even with the simplicity of quick low-impact attacks and hard-hitting swings, Darksiders II feels to be delivering a richer, superior offering which can be attributed to Vigil Games drawing much of its inspiration from other successful series, and that is most definitely a good thing.
Set upon a chilling mountain drapped in frost, the demonstration places Death on a quest to reach the summit. In order to scale the mountain peak, Death must climb, run along walls and cling to pillars, much in the same vein as the Prince of Persia series. Each new limber move is revealed a piece at a time prompting the player to make use of Death’s dexterous and zippy frame to transcend the vertical limits. The versatility and variety converts the steep upward journey into a gratifying exercise where each individual platforming section combines to form a distinctively different level design over the original Darksiders.
Advancing over its predecessor, Darksiders II introduces an all-new juicy loot system jam packed with features. Randomised item drops including weapons, armour and more transform an otherwise mundane RPG element to something more akin to an epic MMO-experience. Freshly dropped gear makes an immediate impact where items can be instantly compared against current gear and equipped straight from the inspection screen without the need to open up the inventory, saving time and ‘comparison fatigue’. Apart from the obvious stat modifiers that comes with higher grade equipment, Death also gets an aesthetic upgrade as each new piece is visually strapped to his cold body. With the promise of dungeons and side-quests in the full release, Darksiders II could potentially offer up hours upon hours of exploration and looting as players chase after that elusive next upgrade.
The biggest letdown of Darksiders II valiant stride forward is in its graphics. Not exactly a slouch in the visuals department, it’s simply just a little hard to see any noticeable improvements. Don’t get me wrong, the original Darksiders was, and still is a gorgeous title presentation-wise and Darksiders II appears just as clean and mesmerising to look at but if I’m to be critical, when compared against the other iridescent glowing aspects, Vigil Games have raised the bar which the graphics simply doesn’t measure up to in evolutionary contrast. Granted, the hands-on demo I experienced is still a work-in-production build and perhaps the finished product will be more polished when it does launch.
In a surprising turn of events, the demo culminates with a larger than life face-off against the original horseman War as the massive steel blade of the original hero clashes with the hell-forged scythes of the ‘Reaper’. In a battle of attrition, the sheer power of War emanates an overwhelming aura as Death goes toe-to-toe with the hooded marauder, testing how well players have adapted to the new mechanics and tactical abilities. I won’t say what happens at the conclusion but it does lay stake to potential intertwining storylines from here on out.
Vigil Games have taken to Darksiders II with meticulous detail, crafting a whole new unique experience in the Darksiders franchise while retaining that quality mesh-up worthy of the hype, anticipation and general praise from those that have had a taste of what’s to come. With a slew of hack-n-slash titles on their way, Darksiders II stands tall as a true example on how to rejuvenate a genre without breaking the solid foundations on which it’s built.
Darksiders II is currently in development and will be available worldwide in August, 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC. A Wii U version will also be released at a later stage in 2012 when the console launches.
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