Darksiders II hands-on

If you’re expecting Darksiders II to be a typical sequel, you’d better think again.  Vigil Games’ second go-around with the franchise couldn’t be any more different from the first.  Instead of controlling the Horseman War, for instance, you’re controlling Death, who’s off on his own quest – which is happening at the same time as the original Darksiders, by the way.  What is similar to Darksiders is that it isn’t just an action game, but rather an adventure that requires a great deal of exploration to complete your mission.  We learned more about this during a recent hands-on event held by THQ.

Now, just so you know, the demo took place in the Foundry, about six or so hours into the game.  So you shouldn’t start out thinking that you’re going to get lost.  Vigil has stated that the build isn’t yet complete (it’s not due till late June), and “indicators” would be added in case someone needed to be prompted forward.

The demo has Death teaming up with a large warrior named Karn as they work their way into the Foundry.  In the middle of it stands the Guardian, a familiar character from the original Darksiders, who is dormant.  To awaken him, we need to find three pieces of a Heart Stone, necessary to continue Death’s journey.  So, the duo head deep into the lava-filled halls to track down the pieces.

Now, as I said, the game requires a heavy amount of exploration, sort of along the same lines as Zelda.  Some answers aren’t so clear, requiring you to look around and see what you can climb.  Others need a switch activation in order to move ahead.  But this isn’t a frustrating kind of exploration, it’s more like a “oh, so that’s what it is” type.  And it does get rewarding as you find your answers.

There’s plenty of combat with Death, so don’t be mistaken about that.  He can whip plenty of ass using his blades, chopping up enemies and finishing them off once little prompts appear above them, summoning gigantic bone wings to get the job done.  Mini-bosses also make appearances, including large demons that can take plenty of damage and, at one point, a Custodian, a magical stone suit that initially helps you, but then turns when it is infected by a piece of the stone.

No boss fight can compare to when you face the Guardian, however.  It’s awakened by the end of the stage, but develops a nasty temper, forcing you and your steed, Despair, to bring it down.  The battle is broken into numerous segments, balancing segments that stem memories of Shadow of the Colossus (when it tries to smack you with its hammer) and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (when you have to stab away at vital areas).  This battle is vast, and just when you think you’ve got him broken down, he kicks off a new attack, such as launching a gigantic rolling mine at you, forcing you to shoot it until it’s exposed and then rolling it back his way so he’ll kneel over, leaving his vitals open.

Honestly, it was a little frustrating at first, but after understanding the logistics of the battle, it’s pretty damn cool to see Vigil Games pull it off, proving that Death can certainly hold his own in combat.

The gameplay is terrific, with the combat stemming from the original Darksiders (right down to the stylish combos) and great exploration elements.  The Custodian, for instance, is a great tool when it comes to getting around, launching chains across chasms that Death can climb across and rolling over lava that would melt the Grim Reaper instantly.  (He’s also good in combat, especially against stronger enemies.)

Death himself is quite nimble, too.  He can run along walls Prince of Persia-style, as well as grapple onto ledges and leap between columns.  His best ability, though, involves his “Death grip”, which lets him grab posts and other objects and, with the right press of the jump button, launch himself even further.  This ability proves necessary during one particular puzzle when you have to launch from a Custodian’s chain at the right time, reaching branches across the way.

The Darksiders II build we saw was still in slight need of clean-up, particularly with frame rate and little glitches here and there.  However, thus far, Vigil Games has built an impressive world, one four times the size of the original Darksiders, giving you plenty of room to run and explore, finding secret spirit chests and glyphs.  Some of the environmental coloring is fantastic as well, including the clearness of the water, the fiery effects of the lava, and the glowing yellow/green mines that may (or may not) help you out of a situation.

As for the audio, it’s somewhat incomplete, with certain bits of dialogue missing and only one background tune playing.  However, it’s well composed, and perfectly suited for Death.  Furthermore, the voicework is excellent, between Karn’s deeply Scottish accent and Michael Wincott’s haunting take on the Reaper.

So, yes, it’s early, and getting a look at an earlier portion of the game would’ve given us a better idea of its scope, but Darksiders II is still an extraordinary push forward for the series.  The levels are bigger and better, the exploration portion will give players more to do, the presentation, while not perfect, is stellar, and the combat is refreshing, especially when Death brings out the big toys.  We’ll let you know how the final game fares in a matter of months.  Death awaits…

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Robert Workman
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