I was very impressed with nearly everything in this game. A lot of good people did a lot of fantastic work and clearly did overtime on this ambitious and well-advertised project. The character development and personas developed by the writers were superb, the modelers went above and beyond, the puzzle and level designers along with the game mechanic engineers came up with tons of really creative puzzles and breath taking environments. With only a few minor glitches in the audio and interface departments, THQ pulled off an exquisite game.
THQ really brought the Darksiders series to new heights with their second installment, Darksiders II, which features several new shiny game mechanics that I’ve never seen before. Time travel, split personalities, and minion control are just three of the new tricks in your puzzle solving arsenal. That’s not all this new title boasts, however. Are you tired of playing the nice guy in video games? Great, because Death, the main character of the second game of the series, is a hero who really speaks the player’s mind. Have you ever been really enthralled in a good story line and along the way someone bugs you to go retrieve their family heirloom from a house halfway across the map? Sure, we all have, and we’ve all had those thoughts of, “you have to be kidding me…I have to go save the world from total annihilation, invasion, destruction, whatever and you want me to go fetch your dumb diary?”. If you’ve had those thoughts then Death may very well be your favorite RPG hero. He voices the gamer’s internal emotions during most dialogue sections which are scattered through the game and only last long enough to further the plot with some good humor. From start to finish you, as Death, ride forth in search of a means to resurrect humanity, and you learn how in the first half hour of the game. Problem being that it would seem all of creation wants to throw a wall between you and your goal, and, when I say all of creation, I mean heaven, hell, the underworld, and the Makers. Lucky for you, the animation and game mechanics teams worked together to train Death in becoming a traversal phenomenon.
The game itself revolves around environment traversal, button mash hack and slash, and magical-physics puzzle combination.
You spend a majority of the game on foot with a few travel moments spent on your horse really just running past pretty scenery. Each new location has a few brief dialogues between some interesting characters before you’re off slashing the life out of various enemy types usually because some fool of a dungeon lord decided that putting piñatas in your way was a better and more entertaining use of your time. You know what though? He was right. The puzzles themselves aren’t too brain wracking, and just challenging enough especially with their new puzzle solving tools. In this game they actually give you the ability to split into three forms all of which can be controlled individually. One of your forms is an enormous stone statue of Death as a Reaper and it can be moved by one of the other two ethereal forms of Death to activate weight sensitive pressure plates. The portal gun from the first game is new and improved as well because it now does time travel! By making two parallel levels, one destroyed in the future, and one whole in the past, you can effectively travel through time and challenge yourself to complete puzzles in both worlds to get to the end.
However, for me at least, this game’s most compelling feature was not the exquisite game mechanics or the brilliant puzzle designs, but the development of a truly relatable super-human character. Complex emotions flow from Death effortlessly and it really shows me that the writers and designers on this team knew a lot about their audience. Similarly, the puzzle and plot designers knew how to set the right pace for an enjoyable game. I found that the game revolved a bit too heavily around the number three in relation to the missions; the third part of the quest-chain was always the bloodiest and fastest. As a gamer, my attention with this game worked something like this –
“Cool! I really like this new mechanic they designed these puzzles around. Awesome, just completed part one. Ok, time for part two. Alright, that was kind of long. Crap, I have to go get another one of these <insert magical quest item here>? Huh…Well, at least this step is a lot more mindless bloodshed and killing instead of challenging puzzles. Wow, that was quick and relatively painless. Sweet! On with the story!”
If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, Death is not exactly the model citizen here and, personally, I really liked that about the game. I played Darksiders I and, looking back, War was a really polite, thoughtful, and intense character. I probably would invite him to dinner if I thought he’d fit through the doorway. Death is snarky, cynical, rude, and a fresh change of pace for this new, darker, game. The game’s overall genre has shifted greatly and it’s really brought out new facets of the THQ development team, almost completely for the better in my opinion. The game has expanded and taken on many of the classic RPG aspects. Item pick-ups are a huge part of their new look.
Honestly, I think that the art team was waiting for this because the weapons in particular look phenomenal. Following traditional RPG value scales you have white items at the bottom, and move through green, blue, purple, and orange. For reference, white weapons in this game rival World of Warcraft’s epic level weapons in model detail and creativity. Now, to be fair there are a limited number of models and some models for the more common items do have to share. Named weapons and possessed weapons all have unique shapes, sizes, and statistics.
If the word “possessed” sparked your interest, you might wish to know that these weapons can be fed other weapons to power them up, gain new abilities, and make them extremely powerful beyond their initial level. If you pick up a possessed weapon at level five and feed it, its effective level is actually more like ten to twelve. Before I get carried away fawning over the weapon design guys and gals though, I should say that the animations were lacking. The mouth animations especially were straight from 1967’s Speed Racer.
The animations didn’t affect the Audio though for Darksiders II which was certainly better than Darksiders I. The first game was in desperate need of some decent background music and they got that handled in II. Granted, there were some discrepancies that threw me off a tiny bit. In areas that had a distinct Scottish feel, environmentally speaking, they added music that would be more at home in a rural Chinese location, though it was quite beautiful. The voice acting was very good though and certainly assisted the mood of the game. It especially helped convey Death’s emotions in conjunction with excellent gestural animations.
I was very impressed with nearly everything in this game. A lot of good people did a lot of fantastic work and clearly did overtime on this ambitious and well-advertised project. The character development and personas developed by the writers were superb, the modelers went above and beyond, the puzzle and level designers along with the game mechanic engineers came up with tons of new and really creative puzzles and breath takingly large environments. My personal favorite was the traversals between the giant serpents and the Dead Ship. I have to say – the King of Bones certainly knows how to travel in style.
Every game has its fair share of glitches and design flaws though. Firstly, there is one section in the Realm of the Dead that just had messed up sound. I truly wish I could make better technical sense out of that statement because I know it’s not helpful. Some sounds just didn’t work sometimes, and then did other times. The horse would run but no noise would come from the hoofs, but his neigh could be heard. The scythe would swing and make a swishing noise, but no impact noise upon hitting an opponent. After scouting out the area, I had to come to conclusion that one area between the first Lord of the Dead’s chambers and the judicator’s dungeon was just plain off. Otherwise, my only small problem was with the reloading of the gun. I understand why they evolved the gun from the auto fire infinite ammo “Mercy”, from the first game, to the revolver round reloading gun in Darksiders II, however, once you empty the pistol, you wait pointlessly for roughly five seconds where Death just runs with his arm out pointing the empty gun at things. This is a small eternity in fighting time, and then, finally, Death decided to flick his wrist and reload the gun through some act of Divine Intervention. Besides that though, the game was challenging, beautiful, engaging, visceral, and had the best pacing I’ve seen in a long time. People working for THQ either work really hard to gauge their audience during gameplay, or had ridiculously good intuition. I don’t normally say this, because the Game Industry seems to be moving full charge towards series of games rather than new ones, but I certainly hope we get to see a Darksiders III in the future.