The original game might have taken us by surprise, but Darksiders II has a few tricks up its sleeve as well. We talk to Vigil’s Jay Fitzloff about going bigger and better.
DARKSIDERS 2 – Vigil Games
Forsakes the original Darksiders protagonist, War, in favour of his fellow horseman of the Apocalypse – Death.
The second game from Vigil Games, founded by comic artist Joe Madureira and Trade Wars developer David L. Adams.
Expected on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U in mid 2012.
Darksiders was a weird and interesting beast. Combining elements from games as eclectic as Zelda, God of War, Starfox and Portal to name but a few, the story of War, the first Horsemen of the Apocalypse, was a surprise critical and commercial success in early 2010.
It was a brilliant title that held promise, but with Darksiders II Vigil Games hopes to fulfil that ptoential at last. Vigil Marketing Director Jay Fitzloff was on hand at gamescom 2011 to run us through a hands-off demo of Darksiders II and explain to us why the team has been able to go further with this title than the previous game allowed.
“To be honest, when the guys were making that first game for a little bit they weren’t even sure what that game was actually gonna be – they had to figure out the beats,” Fitzloff tells us when asked why Vigil believes they’re able to do a significant amount more with Darksiders II.
“On top of that the engine was getting built and the game mechanics were being thought through. This time they were able to start right away and they obviously had to work out new characters and locations and ideas and stuff but at least we don’t have to work out these little troubling bits. Thanks to that it’s going to be a bigger game by default because we were just able to go and not worry about thinking that stuff through.”
Darksiders II sees players take control of a new protagonist, Death. Another horseman of the apocalypse, Death is working a different angle to War in the same time period as the first game. This allows for Vigil to explore some new areas thematically, as Fitzloff explains. “Because this isn’t taking place on earth there’s a lot more fantasy elements, which has really let our art team go for it.”
The team have worked to make Death a very different protagonist to War, and one way this has been achieved is to show how Death reacts to events from the first game from a different angle. “It’s parallel to the first game. There’s a little bit of difference – it doesn’t begin and end at the exact same points, but what you’ll see is the same events playing out from a different perspective.”
“In the first game War dealt with being falsely accused of causing the apocalypse on Earth, and everyone is after him because of that. In the meantime, Death is working the underworld and trying to figure out how it all happened, who started this, and how he can clear his brother’s name. There’s a little bit of difference but it mostly takes place in the same time-frame.”
Taking place in the underworld means that more of the universe of Darksiders will be explained and unveiled than before, too. “We said that if we’re gonna make all four horsemen and explore this world we have to go deeper. When Darksiders 2 is done players are going to be able to say ‘Okay, now I understand this whole cosmos, this whole universe that all these characters live in.’”
“War is honourable, but Death is willing to work with some shady characters in the underworld to find out what he needs to know. Whereas War was a straight warrior type who would rush in and fight head-on, Death is more agile, nimble… he’s fast. He kills people like it’s an art. Death doesn’t even block – he just dodges.”
Death does seem to be a little more speedy in the demo we’re seen. He’s climbing a huge beast, Shadow of the Colossus style, summoning his horse, Despair, to aid him, jumping off and using an ethereal hook to lash to a higher part of the beast. Where War wielded one fat sword, Death here instead chooses to front with two smaller ones at once, giving him speedier, quicker attacks than his brother.
The HUD has been removed from the build we see to avoid spoiling items and the like, but we still see Death engage in a bunch of different combat situations. We see him use that hook again, which we’re told is officially called the ‘Ghost Hook’ – to pull an enemy’s weak spot out, and to close the gap between Death and his enemies. Even when battling a hulking beast, Death seems more combo-heavy than War ever was.
The gameplay feels like a natural expansion on the first game, but all-new elements are weaselling their way in, including a deeper focus on character progression. While the first Darksiders packed some basic weapon and skill upgrading, the second game aims to take that deeper and offer a greater level of customization, as Fitzloff explains.
“I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let me say it this way – if you and I were playing the first Darksiders and we were both about four hours in at the same point our characters would be largely the same. Maybe a little difference, but we’re pretty much the same dude. Four hours in on this game I can guarantee we’d be totally different.”
“If you and I were playing the first Darksiders and we were both about four hours in at the same point our characters would be largely the same. Four hours in on this game I can guarantee we’d be totally different.”
“We may have picked different skills or different equipment or gone different directions. Even when you finish the game no matter how you’ve played or how well you’ve done there’ll still be stuff you won’t have gotten to – you just have to make choices and not go in certain directions. You’re gonna have to forego some things to get certain other things you want.”
The successful borrowing of features and gameplay elements from other successful titles is something Vigil is continuing with Darksiders II, also, though Fitzloff stops short of giving any specific game credit. “Did you see there was gold dropping and stuff? You can now collect items and gold that drop out of defeated enemies and use them. We can say that looks like Diablo or whatever, but that’s another idea we’re adding into the mix.
“It’s not like the guys sit there and say ‘What game shall we grab an idea from?’ – They’re more like ‘You know what’d be cool?’ Is anything original in games anymore? I don’t know – it feels like everything has been done before somewhere. It’s just about taking the game, Darksiders 1, which we loved, and seeing what we can build on top of that. Some of the new ideas for Darksiders 2 are ones that were left on the floor during the first game’s development because we ran out of time.”
It won’t all be bigger builds directly atop of what has already been established in the first game of the series, though. Fitzloff is clear that Vigil understand that some areas of the game were flawed, and they’re keen to find fixes. “I’d agree [that Darksiders could be graphically unpolished in places]. I think graphically we’re getting there; the style is much more refined in this game, and the setting allows us to do a lot more, he admits.
Some players also took issue with some of the level design. “A lot of people complained about how if you had to backtrack in dungeons in the first game you had to walk forever to get where you needed to be,” he adds, admitting another shortcoming.
“We’ve solved that by having more dungeons but making them smaller. If you took all the dungeons and put them together the surface area would be far greater than the first Darksiders, but what we have done is made more dungeons but make all of them smaller. You also get Despair, Death’s horse, a lot earlier, so it’s a lot easier to explore the overworld and get to places faster.”
When asked if more dungeons meant more unique items, as each Dungeon in Darksiders came with its own item required to solve it, Zelda style, Fitzloff’s answer is quite simple. “More weapons, more secondary weapons, more abilities. Absolutely.”
One thing we sadly don’t get to see in our combat-heavy demo is any of the bread and butter puzzle solving that makes up a very large chunk of the Zelda-meets-God of War gameplay in the first Darksiders. Despite its absence at GamesCom, Fitzloff promises it will be there, and the team is working hard to ensure the difficulty strikes a balance between what different groups of gamers will be angling for.
“You know it’s funny because earlier – two separate guys in two separate demos – one asked me about the puzzles and said ‘The puzzles were too easy, are you going to step it up’ and another guy said ‘The combat was too easy, even on hard, are you going to improve that’ – and I’m like – I’m getting mixed messages off different people here!”
“If you get stuck but not frustrated it is about right. Like I just finished Portal 2 and there were times where I was just like ‘Screw this game’ – I’d put it away, then come back the next day and say ‘Oh…’ and get it right away. Puzzle-wise, I think that’s the best you can do, so we’re shooting for that.”
While what it is definitely appears to be far more defined than the original Darksiders, Vigil still don’t seem to be afraid to throw more all-new elements into the mixing pot for the sequel after the success of the strange but compelling mash-up of elements and ideas that became that first title. Bigger and better seems like a bit of an cliché, but it certainly seems to be what Vigil is aiming for, and Fitzloff uses those very words.
“It’ll just be bigger, better, more stuff for the player to discover,” he tells us at the end of our time with him, clearly enthused about the game he’s working on. “and more variety, too, because we never want the player to be like ‘Ugh, another puzzle, oh man’… we want people to be saying ‘oh, shit, cool!’”
That sounds like a pretty solid philosophy to have.
Darksiders II is set to launch for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in mid 2012, with a Wii U version planned.