Vigil Games knows what worked in Darksiders, and is looking to give players that and much, much more in the sequel. Ready for Death? Taylor Cocke met the Reaper in San Francisco last week.
Death has a variety of faces. He’s often depicted as the Grim Reaper, complete with flowing robe and intimidating scythe. He’s appeared as a laughing skeleton, killing all he touches as he dances through the world. He’s been personified as an angel, sweeping people to their judgment. He’s even been the god Thanatos, escorting souls into the Underworld.
He’s a tough character to pin down. Producer on Vigil Games’ upcoming Darksiders II Ryan Stefanelli puts it, “Everybody has their own fears of Death and thinks about Death differently.” The development team is clearly aware of this fact, bringing that mentality to the design of their new hero’s adventures through the Underworld. As such, their Death is a fleeting one, changing from player to player, moving quickly through the shadows.
Vigil has been sure to make sure each player has their own image of Death. New to the Darksiders series, skill trees are available right from the start. With dozens of skills to choose from, spread out across two distinct trees, players’ Deaths will be as varied as he has been through history. For the warrior types, there’s the hand-to-hand combat focused Harbinger tree. Prefer to cast spells from afar, avoiding getting hit yourself? Check out the Necromancer tree, which allows for attack spells as well as the summoning of fellow demons to do your dirty work.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the way Death and War play from the first Darksiders title, Vigil’s Death is tough to catch. Unlike his brother, “he doesn’t traverse things with a lot of weight and substance, he flips through them quickly. He does them with attitude and feral agility,” Stefanelli says. Where War would take time to contemplate his next move while climbing, Death whips through traversal sections with a determined grace. Armed with the grappling hook-like Ghost Hand, he’s able to pull himself across gaps, up walls, and over treacherous pits with a speed and ease that his hefty brother could never hope to achieve.
“Darksiders II is much more about the vastness of the world. It’s about getting on the horse, riding through a forest, riding through the Realm of the Dead, tromping around in Angel Citadel."
Much the same in battle, Death doesn’t rely on the heavy, crushing attacks that War had previously. With his dual scythes in hand, he hits fast and often, but is certainly no less deadly. He gets “in and out more quickly than War did,” says Stefanelli, and it’s true. He ducks and dives, swings and slashes. He uses his Ghost Hand to pull himself up close, take a few cheap shots, and flips right back out again, eyeing his enemy for the next opening. He can’t take much of a pounding, so he needs to make sure he doesn’t get hit often. Of course, being Death, he’s not exactly known for leaving survivors.
This time around, however, the victims don’t live out their usefulness when they stop living. Death is able to, well, reap the benefits of their demise, looting their bodies and taking whatever he finds with him to use against their brethren. In typical RPG style, enemies drop anything from new weapons to new armor. Sets of armor will support a variety of play styles, allowing for customization further than what the skill trees allow for.
The three different sets are about what you’d expect from a game borrowing heavily from its more hardcore RPG inspirations. Those who prefer straight up hand-to-hand combat will take to the Slayer armor, which gives bonuses to HP and damage, whereas mage fans looking for more powerful spells to wield will want to check out the Necromancer set. Finally, for the sneaky, there’s the Wanderer set, fulfilling the rogue requirement of the trio.
But what good would all these new toys be without a nice, new playground to play with them in? Whereas Darksiders felt a bit too linear for many peoples’ taste, “Darksiders II is much more about the vastness of the world. It’s about getting on the horse, riding through a forest, riding through the Realm of the Dead, tromping around in Angel Citadel,” says Stefanelli. The world is said to be about twice as big as the first game, with a much larger variety of environments.
Indeed, this world is much different than that of the first game. While War was stuck on a demolished Earth, Death is on his own journey in what has informally been called The Underworld. Upon hearing of his brother’s fate, he sets out to prove his innocence. Fiercely loyal, “bound by their common blood…they’ll do anything for each other,” points out Stefanelli. Taking place concurrently with the events of the first game, Death’s journey has allowed Vigil to explore what they “always imagined…to be a more fantasy-based world.” So don’t expect to be getting souls through punching cars this time around.
Even though they’re taking a more open world approach to their established formula, they’re definitely not abandoning what make the first title successful. Stefanelli definitely is aware that “what made DS 1 special was that alchemy of elements, [that combination of] traversal, combat, puzzle solving, character management.” They “made all of those deeper in DS2, but we couldn’t lose that core, which is that adventurous feeling you’re getting when you’re doing all those things at the same time.” It’s not so much a rehash as it is taking a successful formula and pushing it to the limits of where they wanted to go with the first game.
Along with that comes more fully featured sidequests. Where the first game had a few in the “run over there and kill some things” style, Death will be fighting his way through fully featured dungeons with their own puzzles, monsters, and bosses. The Grim Reaper comes and goes when he pleases, so it only makes sense that Death will do the same with his quests. Granted, in the Castlevania and Zelda – games the development team has pointed to repeatedly as inspiration – tradition, he won’t be able to reach some of those quests or areas before gaining access to certain skills or items. But, just like in life, Death’s coming is inevitable.
Darksiders II is really about embracing what the character Death is all about. He’s cold, cunning, and unwilling to back down when his mind is made up. He knows the most efficient way to take down his enemies, and isn’t above taking less than honorable methods in order to complete what needs to be done. Most of all, he’s enigmatic, changing from moment to moment to kill who and what he needs to. There’s no one more efficient and powerful, so who better to put in the hands of players?