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Death Wish: The super-sizing of Darksiders II

Just as Death is the grimmer, darker brother of War, Darksiders 2 is bigger and badder than the original game. We take a look and chat with Vigil's Daniel McGuffy.

Watching gameplay footage of Darksiders II, one improvement really stands out: the immediate availability of Despair, Death's horse.

Real world horses may be just the universe's way of keeping the upper classes busy, but a widely held critical theory posits the inclusion of a horse in a game is likely to result in good reviews. War had to wait for his, but his brother isn't keen on - heh heh - hoofing it.

"Despair's a pretty important part of the game, you're gonna use him pretty heavily to explore massive overworlds," said Daniel McGuffy, creative director for Vigil Games.

They do look massive; we watch Despair gallop along the length of what seems to be a floating fortress, guarded by two enormous serpents, flinging himself about the place on his signature Ghosthook weapons. While War spent the majority of his game tromping about on earth - and on foot - Death needs a spectral steed for his outing.

"Everything in Darksiders 2 happens in alternate dimensions," McGuffy explained, introducing us to "the Underworld, where souls go once they're claimed".

"The beneficial part of removing ourselves from the tether of Earth is that we can create completely new worlds, with new creatures, with completely new environments. It's creatively very liberating."

Death wants to have a chat with the Dead King about using the Well of Souls to clear War's name - as usual, though, nothing's ever simple, and before the Dead King gets his chance to send Death on a fetch quest or something, his nastily skeletal Chief Councillor gets a turn.

Whatever this grim bureaucrat wants from Death, and hence from the player, it aligns with our interests, as it seems to involve dispatching foes. We're treated to the sight of Death in action, spinning blades like a juggler at a cutler convention.

"You can tell by the way he moves that he's more of an artful fighter," McGuffy commented. "He's more of an assassin. He can toy with his enemies."

"He's more of an artful fighter. He's more of an assassin. He can toy with his enemies."

Death performed a mid-air flip, bringing a hammer down to smash foes, before pulling a spinning uppercut with a scythe to dismember another enemy. His attacks favoured wide ranging, bladed attacks which sent crowds stumbling back, punctuated by short, sharp and precise strikes against individual targets.

It actually looked a little daunting, but McGuffy assured us that "every player is going to be able to see everything the game has to offer".

"For the player who wants to do some really interesting combat - pull off combos and fold moves together in crazy ways - there's definitely depth there to support that," he said.

"But we wanna make sure that the novice combat fighting game player can also pick up a control, do very little, and get very much as a result. So anyone's gonna be able to feel like a badass."

It can't all be whirling dervishes of death, and pretty soon we're back on track with the Councillor's quest. Apparently, we need three soul stones to resurrect the champion of the Gilded Arena - no, I don't know why - and to acquire one of these treasures, Death must visit a particular environ and then... yes, good: kill something. Now we're talking.

Death's Ghosthooks act like a grapple or a zip line, and really come into their own in the mini-boss battle that follows, sending him careening about the environment, knocking skeletons for six and spotting weak points on the giant insect-like enemy. Like The Legend of Zelda, the which the first Darksiders was endlessly compared, Death has access to a variety of tools which serve as weapons and to open new paths. McGuffy wasn't keen to tell us what they are, though he did spill a little on one of Death's coolest combat tricks.

"If you watch closely you're gonna see glimpses of the Reaper form; that's Death's alternate form that he sues to deal massive amounts of damage," he said. The extra damage paid off, with the mini-boss falling into sad little piles of goo.

As enemies fell before him, Death collected a number of drops; McGuffy teased a "very, very rich lott system", with, quests, enemy kills and "a number of other activities" rewarding the player with weapons, armour and "other items". It had that definite tang of RPG about it, as did Death's "tremendous opportunities" to get chatty with NPCs.

Death took Reaper form again briefly, showing off its otherworldly glow, as he collected the soul stone. We didn't get to see what was required to get the other two, fast-forwarding to the Gilded Arena.

"One thing that's really, really important to us is scale," McGuffy said as Death stepped cautiously into the brightly-lit arena, furnished in the classical style complete with sand floor. "We love, big, big monsters, big environments."

A massive creature appeared. It seemed to dig its way through the sandy floor, and looked like some sort of skeletal snake. It thrashed about a little bit, looking threatening enough as is, before revealing itself to be nothing but the spine of a much larger, humanoid enemy.

Death, not a small bloke on the normal scale, was suddenly diminished; he stood perhaps as high as the creature's forearm.

"This guy," McGuffy beamed proudly, "Is actually one of the smaller creatures in the game."

"We're going to start revealing creatures which are 20 times the size of this guy. No seriously: 20 times."

I did some rapid mental calculation. I might need a bigger TV.

Death used the Reaper form to finish off the Bone Giant, which is good news for us, if not for snooty undead administrators - with the Bone Giant's skull in hand, Death will finally be able to secure an audience with the Dead King. Who knows what his Majesty will ask of our apocalyptic hero, but Death seems more than up to whatever the world throws at him. What's the worst that can happen to him? You don't happen to Death; Death happens to you.

Darksiders 2 is due on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in June 2012. A Wii U version is expected close to launch.

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