Darksiders 2 is out this week in the States, kicking off the pre-holiday rush of game releases. Has THQ got a winner on its hands? Dave Cook rides with Death to find out.
With a smaller release slate focused on quality, as well as a reshuffled pack of talent, publisher THQ has its sights set on resurgence, and in Darksiders 2, it most certainly has a winner on its hands. Cast from the same mould as the Zelda series and showing similarities to Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Vigil’s follow-up is a solid start to the pre-Christmas release calendar.
Set around the same time as the original Darksiders, Earth is ravaged by a premature apocalypse and one of the four horsemen War is being blamed for the mix-up. His brother Death refuses to believe that War is to blame, and sets off in search for the tree of life to clear his name.
It doesn’t take long for parallels with Zelda – specifically Ocarina of Time – to appear, as Death navigates his way through the starting dungeon. It’s cramped, it’s dark and Death’s move set is restricted to a few light and heavy swipes. It’s nothing to ring home about, but that’s the point.
Before long you’ll be walking out on to the grassy expanse of the game’s sprawling mythical world and that cramped starting area now feels insignificant. It’s like taking your first steps into Hyrule field essentially, and the impact here is similar. It’s a sight to behold, thanks in large part to Vigil’s abstract art style and the vibrancy at hand.
So off Death rides on the back of his trusty steed Despair in search of more dungeons to tame, and there are many – some central to the plot, others are tucked away, hiding new gear and items needed to complete side quests. There is much to discover and you may quickly realise that Darksiders 2 is no mere weekend distraction, it’s a real time sink.
Town hubs are where Death will be given most of his quests, and they are also places for players to learn new skills, stock up on supplies and potions, as well as buying new armour or weapons. But for the best part, you will be wading into packs of beasts and mythical constructs, tearing them apart with Death’s fearsome arsenal.
Combat is mapped out across light and heavy attacks. Death always unleashes light attacks with his scythes, working slashes, launchers, air juggles and ground pounds into the mix. It’s a simple system that works well, bolstered by heavy attacks from Death’s secondary weapons, which are mostly massive and include maces, axes and more.
Locking on to enemies during battle works well, backed up by a dependable camera system. However, when locked on to a particular foe, the viewpoint focuses perhaps a little too much, marring your peripheral vision and leaving you open to cheap back or side attacks.
You can use Death’s dodge manoeuvre to keep moving out of your enemy’s range, but on the hardest difficulty setting, cheap deaths due to zoomed lock-on can frustrate, especially when some checkpoints plonk you at the start of an unskippable cut scene before trying the battle again.
Elsewhere, Vigil’s dungeon design is smart, working in a variety of puzzles that see Death rolling circular weights around to activate pressure pads, throwing explosive around and shooting them with his brother Strife’s revolver, and reanimating stone golems and using them to clear rubble and create walkways over pits with their grappling hook.
In typical genre fashion, these dungeons follow set themes. You have an industrial molten lava plant, a lush forest temple and – like Ocarina of Time – a puzzle-riddled water temple. It’s not as pad-smashingly frustrating as Nintendo’s water temple however. Thankfully.
Defeated enemies drop currency, as well as new weapons and armour – sometimes coming with elemental properties such as fire which burns over time, and other attributes. You will also unlock Wrath powers, which see Death summoning ghouls to fight alongside him, unleashing flocks of crows and other moves, including a rather helpful shield skill – which is useful when fighting in the game;s many enclosed arena battles.
Darksiders 2 is a big win for THQ despite a few minor niggles. It may have combat to match God of War, but not the awe-inspiring spectacle. It has the same world and dungeon structure as the Zelda series, but not its heart.
What Darksiders 2 does do however, is deliver a sombre take on the genre, while working in a number of RPG elements to lend a degree of strategy to its hack n’ slash combat mechanics, as well as giving you no shortage of quests to complete and trinkets to unearth.
Vigil is clearly an imaginative bunch too. The studio has created a compelling world that could sustain many more adventures, as well as a solid story to drive progression. Darksiders 2 may not do many things that are new, but as a cohesive whole, the sum of its separate parts gel wonderfully into a complete package worthy of your time.
The pre-Christmas slate has officially begun, and it has most certainly started strong. Darksiders 2 is out now in the US, and launches 21 August across Europe.