After War comes Death. Stace Harman went along to a hands-off showing of Darksiders 2 to find out if the end of the world is all doom and gloom or one big party. Chat with developer Vigil and new shots are below.
“Prior to work starting on the original Darksiders, the development guys wanted to make a game that featured all four horsemen and that would be multi-player,” Vigil Games marketing manager Jay Fitzloff told me when we sat down to discuss our hands-off demo of Darksiders 2.
Grinning at the ambition of it, he shrugs. “But, y’know what? That’s a lot of work!”
Despite this admission, the original Darksiders was no slouch. It told the epic story of War, one of the biblical Four Horsemen, who is charged with resolving a dispute between heaven and hell but subsequently condemned for an embarrassing case of premature instigation of the apocalypse.
In Darksiders 2 you play as another of the horsemen - the cheerily named, Death. You’re on a mission to redeem War for his transgression that saw some 6 billion people unceremoniously and simultaneously dumped into the afterlife.
The original game featured sprawling environments which, if you were willing to re-tread some of the huge dungeon areas, gave up their secrets and revealed additional paths with the unlocking of each new weapon or ability. This structure looks set to be recreated in Darksiders 2, though on a grander scale.
The sequel is being touted as four times the size of the original but to combat the risk of familiarity breeding contempt as players revisit areas armed with new toys and abilities, Fitzloff says they’ve streamlined the level design - something that’s been helped by the artistic freedom afforded by moving away from the post-apocalyptic earth setting and into more otherworldly surroundings.
"We’re looking for some cool way for players to be able to share or brag or some kind of online function."
“We got a lot of complaints about [the backtracking in Darksiders 1] and that’s fair enough,” he acknowledges. “We had these great big worlds and we made people run back and forth through them a lot.
“The dungeons [in Darksiders 2] are actually smaller, which was something else we learned from Darksiders: we had these huge dungeons, which was cool - until you had to go back through them to find one particular thing and ended up running around for 10 minutes.”
There will be four major zones, each with its own hub area for gathering quests and trading equipment. We’re shown the tentatively titled Abyssal Plains, a netherworld region in which exists a huge floating fortress tethered to two gargantuan flying beats, thus making it airborne. This is the kingdom of the Lord of Bones, a gloomy chap whose domain consists of imposing spires and skeletal enemies and whose help Death needs to progress his quest.
“Each zone is a totally unique environment,” Fitzloff told VG247. “This differs to Darksiders 1 which was set on earth post-apocalypse, so there were ruined buildings and tunnels underground and that was pretty much it. This time around the chains are off are we’re going wild with it – we’re aiming not to limit ourselves in terms of the setting.”
Expediting Death’s traversal of these unique environments are two key tools: Death’s steed, Despair, which will play a bigger role in this sequel than War’s mount, Ruin, played in the original game and the multi-purpose Ghost Hook - a hook-shot-cum-Bat-Claw that allows Death to zip around the environment wherever glowing grapple points are present.
A dedicated follower of fashion
Death himself is an altogether svelter proposition than his brother, War. He’s able to scramble up vertical walls for a few steps in order to reach higher ledges than his more portly sibling ever could, he can also wall-run for short distances.
To further enforce Death’s more acrobatic tendencies he does not block during combat, as War did, instead he dodges and dives before unleashing flurries of blows with his twin scythes. The scythes are a nod to archetypal image of Death as the Grim Reaper, a form he occasionally assumes here for brutal finishing moves and for interacting with larger environmental objects.
There’s a degree of flexibility in how you kit out your very own version of Death. Armour types, secondary weapons and whether you lean towards a spell caster or melee brawler all contribute to the appearance of your protagonist. This should serve to inject some personality in to what is at this stage – a year out from release - an otherwise generic character model, whose white eyes and face mask make him look a cross between Soul Reaver’s Raziel and the Predator, leaving little room for facial expressions to accompany his surprisingly noble voice.
Where I expect to hear a rasping refrain is instead dulcet tones and contributes to a version of Death that is a little too heroic. He’s currently more stoically reserved than darkly menacing.
Minor character complaints aside, however, it’s evident that the potential for customisation extends beyond Death’s equipment and appearance to his abilities. An RPG-lite skill tree, large enough that you won’t see all of it in just one play-through, opens up a number of possibilities for characterisation and tactics as well as hinting at the potential for multiple play-throughs, something that Fitzloff says is yet to be pinned down.
“We’re not sure how [progression beyond the end-game] might work yet,” he admits. “But it’s fair to say that when you finish Darksiders 2 you won’t have got all of the powers or items, and we certainly do love New Game Plus! We’re just not sure yet on the best way to implement that ... we’re still looking at the coolest way for you to be able to achieve something with what you’ll have accomplished by the end of the game.”
"Prior to work starting on the original Darksiders, the development guys wanted to make a game that featured all four horsemen and that would be multi-player."
Death works alone
One thing that has been decided upon is Darksiders 2 will be singleplayer. However, with the storylines of the first and second games running concurrently it’s likely that there will be some crossover. Crossover that may see you team up with an AI controlled War.
Furthermore, single-player doesn’t necessarily mean a complete lack of online elements, though again details on any potential network features are yet to be decided upon.
“What with all the loot and equipment available, within an hour of playing your and my characters are going to be quite different, so we’re looking for some cool way for players to be able to share or brag or some kind of online function,” Fitzloff teases, before reiterating: “It’s not multiplayer. But something where you could hit up your friends online and maybe give hints or something. We don’t know what yet, but some community element.”
With the game set to be released on an undisclosed date in 2012 there’s plenty of time to decide upon the specifics of multiple play-throughs, online elements and, hopefully, to further refine Death as a personality.
Vigil Games looks to be mixing the epic scale and locales of the God of War series with the ability-driven level design of a Metroid or Zelda title and wrapping it in all in the evocative mythos of the horsemen of the apocalypse. If the resulting game is at least the sum of its great parts, 2012 could be a glorious year of Death and Despair.
Darksiders 2 launches on PC, PS3, Wii U and 360 in 2012.