Darksiders II has more in common with Diablo than War’s original adventure, but it took a sequel to add in the looting and RPG elements Vigil wanted to include from the off.
“We were making a sequel, so the easiest thing would have been to put War in the second game. The same moves, the same environments. Bigger. Maybe we’re masochists, but that’s just boring. We wanted to do something different. For the sequel we wanted to do a new horseman, to move it forward.”
Games can take a while to get going. Oftentime, the first instalment of a new IP is a loss-leader, an excuse to limit red numbers with saleable content before cashing in with a fully-featured sequel. In the first instance you’re building tech, planning your fiction, nailing core components. The vision takes time. And sometimes the original can take a bizarre route through genres you never envisaged yourself visiting at all.
So it is with Darksiders. Darksiders II is an action-RPG with more in common with Diablo III than its predecessor. The first Darksiders was a straight up action game with direct comparisons to the Zelda formula. This is something entirely different. It’s the game Vigil initially wanted to make. It has fully-fledged looting, trading and RPG systems a world away from the clear-and-progress formula of Darksiders and more closely aligned with Blizzard’s just-released instant classic.
The change in tack is evident the first time you lay eyes on Darksiders II. Vigil marketing boss Jay Fitzloff slices through some standard mobs. “When all the smaller guys were dying there, they were dropping loot, loot items that are statistically generated according to your level,” he says.
The game shows instant stats and comparisons to your current gear. Fitzloff grabs and equips a pair of boot as an example. The first game had nothing of this: there were move upgrades and new weapons to find, but this is RPG looting with rare items and bunk to sell. It’s taken a second game to be able to fit it all in.
“This is something we wanted to have in the first Darksiders, but there’s a lot more that goes into the making a game the first time; the engine-building, feeling stuff out, and so on. Stuff just got left on the cutting room floor,” says Fitzloff.
“But this time we have the time and staff to do it.”
If you were in any doubt as to the new direction, every world in the game – there are four – has a central town where you can buy, sell, trade, train talents, chat to NPCs and take on side-quests. It’s an action-RPG.
Darksiders II’s setting, as well, is radically different. It takes place in roughly the same timeline as the first game, but you’re playing Death. War’s on earth fighting through his heaven-and-hellish antagonists while Death’s ploughing through the underworld trying to clear War’s name.
We’re shown the Makers’ realm. It’s full of “corruption,” which is blocking the Tree of Life. The tree will allow Death access to the rest of the game. This is a process of doing jobs for gates – the giant, rocky guardians from the original – while solving puzzles, dungeoneering and levelling. The switch in locale has freed the imaginations of the team.
“The art style is also a product of us using the engine better, but we’re not bound on earth this time, as we were in the first game. Everyone knows what earth looks like, so you have to make ruined earth. When you get to, ‘What’s a Maker? What does the Tree of Life look like?’ It looks like whatever the hell we want it to look like.”
The original Darksiders was a “what if” take on earth’s end of days, but the sequel has its roots firmly in fantasy.
“There are some pseudo-contemporary elements – Death uses a gun, for example – but it’s a fantasy game,” says Fitzloff.
“It’s a conscious choice because we knew we were using these fantastic elements, but I don’t think we ever sat down and said, ‘We’re going to turn this game into an RPG,’ or, ‘We’re going to make it look fantasy.’ It was a natural progression.”
While the second-to-second gameplay of fighting mobs and traversing environments is still at the core of Vigil’s baby, the hugeness of the changes from the first to second Darksiders games isn’t lost on Fitzloff. The risk is worth it, he says.
“We were making a sequel, so the easiest thing would have been to put War in the second game. The same moves, the same environments. Bigger. Maybe we’re masochists, but that’s just boring. We wanted to do something different. For the sequel we wanted to do a new horseman, to move it forward.
“I think everyone had grandiose goals, but things start snapping up. You get a hard release date, and you start looking at what you have to accomplish. What can we do and what can’t we do? Obviously, the loot element and its balancing is huge. For the first game we couldn’t do it. But when it came to Darksiders II, what’s the one thing we want to add in?”