Pros: Smart puzzles, exciting combat, intense visuals.
Cons: Dull story, overly ambitious use of gamepad.
If the developers of Darksiders II had named the game according to its influences, it would be titled The Legend of the Prince of War: Sands of the Twilight Princess. An open and unashamed pastiche of what one assumes are the designer’s favorite games, Darksiders II’s greatest feat is seamlessly combining three game series into one.
Developed by: Vigil Games
Published by: THQ
For ages: 17 and up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 18, 2012
The Gameplay: Tough, Athletic, Adventurous and Familiar
In tone, Darksiders II is heavily influenced by the God of War series. The protagonist is Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a hardened warrior with a mission that requires a lot of grisly combat. In typical GOW fashion, there is a muscular, angry feel to the game, as Death opens huge doors, tears treasure chests apart, cracks the ground when leaping down from great heights, and occasionally transforming into a scythe wielding, unstoppable spectre.
Combat is well implemented, with simple controls and the ability to add new attacks and improve weapons. You also get experience points that can be used to purchase special attacks, including a corpse squad, a murder of crows that bring yor health, and a fast and deadly running attack.
While battle has the seamless quality of GOW, exploration is heavily influenced by the Prince of Persia games. Death is as agile as he is strong, running along walls and leaping from pillar to pillar through puzzle laden environments.
The game’s structure is beholden to the Legend of Zelda series. Death travels through a series of puzzle-laden dungeons, each featuring a door with a huge lock on it that requires a key hidden in a virtually inaccessible treasure chest. Beyond that door lies a brutal boss battle that requires as much ingenuity as it does strength and speed.
Beyond Gameplay: A Weak Story But Clever Gaming Ideas
Zelda also provides the model for the game’s episodic and unfocussed story. In Darksiders II, Death decides to revive destroyed humanity in the service of saving his brother, War. This involves talking to The Makers, gods with inexplicable Scottish accents who send the horseman on a series of fetch quests. The story lacks both the propulsive energy of POP and GOW and the adventurous scope of LOZ, and is the most disappointing aspect of the game.
While heavily indebted to the games that have come before it, Darksiders II still offers a lot of originality and imagination. There are clever uses of explosive plants, entertaining animations of huge keys thrust into mouth-like locks as though to choke them, huge rolling balls to maneuver into position, and the ability to summon specters to do your bidding. All of this takes place in dark, crumbling ruins full of savage monsters.
The Gamepad: Trying Hard, Succeeding Partially
Darksiders II has found a lot of uses for the Wii U gamepad, although with varied results. The touchscreen interface is a bit confused, offering, for example, two separate screens for choosing weapons. One of these screens often seemed to appear unbidden, taking me away from the onscreen attack controls, and it took me a while to figure out how to get the right screen up (you just have to do is push the down button, but a toggle on the screen would have been more intuitive).
The developers also play with the gamepad’s motion controls, but the attempt is not entirely successful. I like being able to dodge by shaking the remote, and I found using tilt controls to swim underwater was, while awkward, still less awkward than doing it with buttons alone. But sometimes the controls work against the player. For example, Death often comes across giant boulders that he must roll or shove, and for the first few hours of the game I had terrible struggles getting those boulders where I wanted them. I didn’t realize until I asked a question on GameFAQs that the ball was controlled both by the analog sticks and by tilting the gamepad, at which point I realized the two methods had been fighting for supremacy, as I would push forward on the stick but hold the gamepad somewhat tilted back. Unfortunately, while you can turn off motion controls, you cannot pick and choose which ones you would like to keep.
While its gamepad use is shaky, the basic controls involving the sticks and buttons and triggers work quite well. Death moves well, and outside of the motion control mess you never feel you have to battle the controls
The Verdict: A Must Buy
While its flaws are small, Darksiders II’s virtues are impressive. The game is visually impressive, vast in scope, and generous in content; the Wii U version, which includes some side quests and a short mission that are separate purchases on the other platforms, will take you at least 30 hours to complete. It is also a game that avoids the punitive aggravations that mar so many games: There are frequent checkpoints, so death won’t set your progress back too far, you can also quick travel to a potion peddler if you need more health to deal with a particularly nasty boss. The game encourages you to take chances during exploration by instantly resuscitating you on the spot if you do something like fall into lava, and if combat is too tough or easy you can instantly change the difficulty level.
Like its developers, I love POP, GOW, and LOZ games, so I find Darksiders II pretty irresistible. I can’t wait for The Legend of the Prince of War III.