Building off of the success of Darksiders, Darksiders II evolves away from the more traditional action-adventure formula and into a more grandiose RPG-styled adventure. With the first game giving clear homage to The Legend of Zelda, Darksiders II follows in the same footsteps in regards its overall structure. You are Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and your quest is to clear the name of your brother War, the anti-hero of the previous game.
The quest to save War takes you through many different realms. Your first stopping point is the Forge Lands, a colorful and mountainous realm inhabited by the Makers. As far as characterization is concerned, the Makers end up amongst the most fleshed out in the whole of Darksiders II. Each of them has personality and attitude and it really feels like the Forge Lands are very fleshed out in comparison with the other realms of the game. Reaching the Tree of Life, you enter the Kingdom of the Dead. From here, the Tree of Life (or Death in this realm) becomes your portal back and forwards to other realms and locations. From snow-covered mountains to the pits of Hell and gates of Heaven, to the torn-up streets of Earth; you will see many locations each with its own tone, atmosphere and characters.
Characters are interesting, however they usually fall by the wayside as only a couple of characters have fleshed-out backstories. A few dialogue options are available in just about every interaction you have with another character. Talking to a character and exhausting their dialogue options can either lead to side quests or nothing other than giving you a little more information about the task at hand. Dialogue is well written and well-acted; nothing stands out to me except for some of Death’s sarcastic quips which do fizzle out after about the 20th time. As mentioned above, the Forge Lands are the most fleshed out of all the realms. Passing into the Kingdom of the Dead and beyond you’ll find character development taking a back seat with world development not far behind.
Enemies are plagued by Corruption, an amalgamation of anger and hate that has manifested itself and begun to infect realm after realm. You’ll spend a decent portion of the game in and out of combat, so how is it? Well, it’s pretty decent. Different combinations of button presses (fast presses, long presses, switching between secondary and primary attacks), you’ll find the combat is very visceral and a real pleasure to look at with plenty of flashy animations. Primary weapons are always scythes, the loot system in the game will give you access to many different combinations of stats on your weapons. Like many other loot based game, you’ll find “Scythes of X” with X being a name like “Thorns” which has its own subset of statistics standard to its name. For example: +Wrath on Hit or +Health on Hit, you’ll find a significant combination of weapons. Secondary weapons come in a few different flavors: axes, hammers and pikes are your slow but heavy hitting weapons with the claws being a faster delivery method of damage, albeit at smaller amounts. Armor pieces follow the same naming and stat convention as the weapons. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter a possessed weapon. Possessed weapons can be upgraded by feeding it other weapons or items. After feeding it enough items, it will level up at which point you’ll have a choice of what stats to add or change. It’s a really interesting mechanic that doesn’t get much use, as the possessed weapons drop at an extremely low rate.
This being a game with RPG influences, you’ll be leveling up and adding points to skill trees. Two skill trees are available for you to deposit your points into; one being focused on producing magical shields to protect you, as well as ghouls or crows to fight your enemies for you. Physical attacks are the focus of the other tree, with heavy hitting attacks that can provide a marginal return to your health. You’ll find both trees to have abilities that can suit your combat situational needs, but really pressing the primary and secondary attack buttons in different orders will just about take care of any enemy you encounter, boss or otherwise. Disappointingly, combat is not exceptionally deep. Many enemies are the same in that all you need to do is dodge their attack and follow-up with a counter attack. Some have a shield and some fly and some even summon more enemies to attack you! Even with those additions, the enemies are still not difficult. Reaper Form, which turns Death into more of a traditional depiction of The Reaper (it’s really awesome, by the way), can be used to even the playing field if you find yourself overwhelmed. Combat is fun, but the lack of real enemy differences is boring. You’ll be fighting “blah blah Champions” or “blah blah Soldiers” for most of the games. Oh and scarabs, and even undead scarabs. They’re the same thing they just look a little different.
As stated above, the game is very structurally similar to The Legend of Zelda. Each realm has a central hub area for you to purchase items, learn more abilities and to pick up more side-quests. Upon exiting the hubs, the overworld becomes a vessel by which the game deposits you into dungeons. Each dungeon has puzzles related to certain powers you obtain throughout the story. Closer to the end, dungeons will begin incorporating more and more of your powers into solving puzzles. Many of the puzzles are very clever, but I found myself rushing through them during the latter half of the game as they were becoming a bore. Combat almost takes a complete backseat to the puzzles in dungeons, and it’s disappointing when the combat is so much more fun to look at. Aside from the standard puzzles, maps and keys in chests formula, there are many collectibles to be found out in the world and in dungeons. You’ll use the collectibles to obtain better weapons and armor. Some of the collectibles are genuinely difficult to get to; they’re a puzzle in and of themselves. Minor control issues add an extra level of frustration when completing some puzzles.
Stylistically, Darksiders II succeeds in its somewhat dark and almost cartoonish depiction of many different realms and the beings that inhabit them. Enemies, Death, his horse Despair, the shopkeepers and bosses are all extremely well designed. The cartoonish style keeps it all from being too serious, which felt appropriate. The graphical fidelity still holds up really well on the Deathinitive Edition for PS4, for the most part assets still look crisp and sharp with only a few muddy textures here and there. Frame rate is very smooth with only the very occasional drop. The game also crashes from time-to-time but with its very strict auto-save, either you lost a very small amount of progress or none at all.
The soundtrack also needs to be noted. Composer, Jesper Kyd, is famous for his works on Assassin’s Creed and Hitman and his skills are put to good use here in Darksiders II. Despite the variety of locations and tones of said locations, all the tracks come together to form a very cohesive composition that matches the game exceptionally well.
Darksiders II is a game where all of the separate elements are good but have their own glaring issues. The story, the characters, combat, music and world are all good. Unfortunately, these compounded issues make Darksiders II a slog. Finishing this game felt like finishing a chore and seeing the credits roll was a welcomed sight. Not bad, just a bit of a bore.