Darksiders proved that you can successfully combine a mature storyline with Zelda-esque dungeon gameplay and some fast paced God of War combat. Vigil Games stepped it up for Darksiders II, adding even more content, a bigger map, more moves, a loot system and a brand new protagonist. The end result is an extremely satisfying action/adventure game with a gripping storyline.
Darksiders II's story runs parallel to War's from the first game. War is awaiting his sentence, while Death is on a quest to prove his brother innocence through any means necessary. Coming into Darksiders II, I wasn't sure how Vigil would handle the character of Death. Would I like him? He is the bringer of death after all. I was pleasantly surprised that Death himself is actually quite likeable. While he's no softy, and he likes to get straight to business, he does offer a helping hand to anyone that needs it.
There are a lot of similarities between the two games, but Vigil did include some great additions that make it stand above its predecessor which I'll get to soon. The combat is largely the same, as you can hack and slash away with your Scythes as your primary weapon, and a myriad of secondary weapons you'll find along your journey such as slow but powerful hammers, or extremely fast fire imbued gauntlets. You even get access to your brother Strife's gun which you can use to pick off airborne or at a distance enemies with ease. A huge part of combat is dodging as some enemies truly pack a punch, especially the bosses, and luckily its as responsive as it was in the first game.
The mechanics of combat can certainly change depending on what skills Death learns as he levels up. Whether you want to summon minions to help you battle, or a deadly attack that sucks health out of your enemies, there is plenty of variety, though don't expect the depth of a skill tree in an MMO for instance. Death can also unleash his true form to do some massive damage, all while looking like the deathbringer he is.
Like in Zelda games, you'll spend a bulk of your time in various dungeons, which will require some puzzle solving skills to get through. The difficulty in puzzles has certainly been scaled down, as now they didn't seem to involve much except for shooting a bomb to make a switch explode, or something of that nature. You also have access to Dust which is your 'pet' crow that with a press of a button will fly in the direction you need to go in. Certainly a helpful feature.
You'll have access to a ton of sidequests that I highly advise doing thanks to the great rewards associated with them. However the quests themselves don't amount to much more than killing certain enemies and collecting certain items. Can anyone say fetch quests? Yep, that's about all they amount to, and while that's pretty standard in games like these, it would be nice to see a bit more variety.
The map is a lot larger this time around, but you'll have access to your trusty steed Despair, which will not only make traveling long distances much quicker, but you can also use his speed boost ability to do some extra damage to incoming enemies. Darksiders II however also allows fast travel to any previously visited location. The best thing about this is it even manages to save your location within a dungeon, allowing you to fast travel out to sell your goods and then resume exactly where you left off. The environments vary quite a bit as well, which provides a nice change of scenery with every new accessible location.
Quite possibly one of the biggest and meatiest additions to Darksiders II is its loot system. Very much like any other action RPG with a heavy emphasis on loot, you'll be killing monsters, bashing crates and opening treasure chests to reveal a bunch of loot that you can outfit Death in, and improve his skills. The now standard color classifications of loot are also present, so you'll know to switch out that green shoulder piece for that legendary yellow one. It's sweet to also watch Death progress through the adventure, looking more bad ass with every new item you acquire.
Knowing when to equip or store each new item is also made incredibly easy and accessible due to an onscreen indicator which displays whether what you're about to pick up is better or worse than what you're wearing. It's quite similar to how Borderlands indicates loot quality, and honestly I wish almost any loot oriented game started doing this. The amount of time saved by not having to go through menus is quite immense.
If I was to score the game based on its soundtrack however, it would undoubtedly get a perfect 10. The music, composed by Jesper Kyd, has absolutely got you covered for any occasion within the game. From the epic battle sequence between you and a fake War, the serene melodies of the Maker's Theme, to the dark and foreboding sounds of the Demon Realm, every single song truly fits every environment and moment.
Darksiders II doesn't manage to make it without a few hiccups however. My game did freeze a few times during gameplay. Thankfully due to its great Checkpoint system, I didn't have to redo much after I had to reboot. There are also a bunch of graphical glitches that pop up here and there. Death would sometimes get stuck inside the environment, then would float above ground, or enemies would disappear and reappear again. Now bear in mind these didn't happen frequently, but enough to warrant a mention.
Also as much as I liked the idea of an expanded map, there honestly isn't much else to do than ride through it on your horse. A great example of this is even right after you leave the initial area and access the map for the first time, you'll find a wide open field in front of you, with no enemies to fight. It takes a good few minutes until you get to another part of a forest until you finally start seeing enemies you can decimate.
Darksiders II is a great follow-up to the first game, and I dare say it succeeds it in almost every way. The action manages to be even more exciting thanks to the game's varied loot, and the story compels you to continue on your quest to redeem your brother from damnation. A few hiccups along the way are easy to overlook when the entire package is just so great.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]