Darksiders 2 Hands-on Preview
I am become Death, destroyer of noobs. War may have been the hero of the first Darksiders game, but in Darksiders II, players will take control of Death, his more agile, more sinister, more…deadly brother. Though the characters share the same linebacker physique, Death looks more like a corpse — pallid and sinewy, with stringy black hair and a skull mask that makes him resemble Casey Jones from TMNT. Voice acting by The Crow’s Michael Wincott provides a suitably guttural, laconic tone.
Darksiders II is a “parallel” sequel; the events of the game will take place alongside the events of its predecessor. The story is the expected Comic-Book-of-Revelation gobbledygook, mixing biblical allusions and fantasy tropes into a teeming, epic stew.
Developers Vigil games are particularly proud of the size, scope, and scale of the world they built this time around. Death will have multiple regions to visit; each individual region is the size of the first game’s entire world.
Thanks to the efforts of the game’s creative director, comics artist Joe Madureira, Darksiders II preserves the same colorful, hyperbolic art style that made the first game so distinctive. At at PR event in San Francisco, assembled journalists were given access to three hours of gameplay inside The Foundry, a lava-filled dungeon located in a region called The Maker’s Realm. Part wizards, part technologists, the Makers favor architecture that gamers will recognize as “Dwarven,” with lots of chunky bronze and megalithic machinery.
Darksiders’ gameplay is built on the Zelda model, combining environmental puzzles, exploration, and combat. Death is furnished with a such a dizzying array of abilities that it can be hard to keep track of them all. To progress, he can jump, dodge, swim, wall run, wall climb, scramble up vines or scamper along narrow beams. A special ability, called “Death Grip,” sends out a spectral hand that can grab hard-to-reach handholds. Conveniently, if you miss a jump, there’s no death-and-reload cycle — Death simply sprouts magical wings that return him to his point of origin. If players get lost, they can ask for advice from “Dust,” a mystical talking crow that accompanies the horseman throughout the game.
Getting lost isn’t a common occurrence, and as players start to recognize the visual cues that signal the presence of a climbable wall or a Death-Grippable ledge, progression becomes much easier. At its worst, the game’s platforming can start to feel a little rote — more like acting out a designer’s intentions in order, and less like controlling an infinitely powerful horseman of the apocalypse.
Combat, on the other hand, will make you feel powerful indeed. Based on a frenetic, combo-driven Gears of War model, the system features plenty of acrobatic violence and brutal finishing moves. In addition to his two main weapons — bony scythes — Death has access to a suite of customizable magical powers and a number of secondary weapons that can be collected as loot. The game’s loot system is surprisingly deep, adding another level of complexity to an already complex game.
Death is accompanied through the Foundry by Karn, a hulking ally with pointy ears and an exaggerated Scots accent. Karn can toss Death across chasms and temporarily hold open heavy doors, while also chipping in in combat. Unfortunately, he can be a hindrance during the game’s already-confusing fight sequences, obscuring the player’s vision by planting his bulky butt right in front of the camera.
Death comes to the Foundry to reanimate a giant golem called the Guardian. To do so, he must retrieve three magical Heart Stones, which have the power to bring the Guardian back to life. To access them, players will take advantage of smaller golems known as Maker Custodians, grumpy-looking stone beings who roll around on giant balls in lieu of feet. By climbing onto a Custodian’s back, Death can use its strength to prevail in combat; the rideable golems are also useful for crossing lava-filled areas. Most crucially, their arms double as giant grappling hooks, shooting out lengths of chain that Death can then use as temporary bridges.
Once the three Heart Stones are collected and the Guardian is revived, an exciting boss battle ensues on a grand scale. Taking a page from the Shadows of Colossus notebook, Death must mount his spectral steed, Despair, keeping the beast at a gallop to avoid the slow-moving Guardian’s stomping feat and haymaker attacks. Targeting weak spots leads to temporary moments of vulnerability, and players will have to act quickly, clambering up to the towering golem and delivering decisive blows.
With the day temporarily saved, the demo ended. Fans of the original will be pleased with Darksiders II, and the game’s arresting art and hack-and-slash combat are sure to appeal to fans of other, similar franchises. Mastering all the combos, special abilities, and special items will take time — the game has a whiff of “more is better” feature bloat — but such dedication is likely to pay off. The game is available in June for XBOX, Playstation 3, and PC.