Death cometh and none shall stand in his way in THQ and Vigil Games' amazing Darksiders II. This new addition to the franchise features my new favorite Horseman, The Pale Rider, in a story that spans realms and quite frankly blows away the original in every way. While War may have caused hell on Earth dooming all of humanity and landing himself in hot water in the last adventure, it's up to Death to do what he does best to clear War's name by doing the seemingly impossible - restore humanity.
Unlike his big lumbering brother, Death is a mighty spry fellow that would put some other video game heroes to shame. This changes almost everything you may know about the Darksiders universe from the combat to navigating some picturesque locations, though many cross into the nightmarish side of beauty. The original Darksiders focused heavily on combat with a few puzzles present but not entirely taking a back seat.
Darksiders II however practically puts that idea on its head with plenty of puzzles and intricately elaborate dungeons; so much in fact that it could cause many an untimely death... not that it really affects our hero much. A few seconds and Death is back on his nimble heels in no time seconds away from that fatal misstep thanks to an excellent checkpoint system. I have to say that some of the puzzles in the game especially later on are just mind-blowing awesome especially with a grappling hook shot and the return of the Voidwalker "portal" gun.
Fear not; combat is not lost in Darksiders II, as Death can kick some major ass in a big way this time. Combat plays out the same as far as the "button mashing" goes from the previous excursion, but the play-styles are hugely different. Death's movements during combat against a wide and nightmarish cast of enemies are extremely fast-paced. Teamed up with his ability to quickly dodge out of the way of incoming attacks and often times get behind foes for a few and often deadly attacks makes the thin but still built Pale Rider a force to be reckoned with.
Death, the Kinslayer, himself never goes into battle without his razor sharp scythes, but he has a "few" extra instruments of destruction at his disposal. Darksiders II doesn't just trickle the weapons periodically like the first one to progress the story. Instead Darksiders II has a huge loot system in place similar to some of the big name dungeon crawlers. Throughout your journey through the realms you will receive "drops" that contain everything from potions, to gilt(gold), and most importantly armor and weapons.
When I said huge, I mean that in every sense of the word. Darksiders II contains a seemingly inexhaustible amount of weapons to pickup ranging from the traditional scythes to arm blades and claws and the motherload of hammers. I'm usually the one to say quick and fast damage is always the way to go but man can you go all "Thor" on your unsuspecting foes with some of the hammers you can wield. I am also really impressed with all the weapon and armor stats and variances found in Darksiders II. It's a RPG fan's dream come true, but there's always a downside in that silver lining.
The main issue with loot is that once I found a few really good weapons amongst all the choices, I rarely found anything better than what I had. The loot drops that come from chests and enemy defeats do give you some pretty impressive weapons like a certain Tomahawk weapon. There are also the coveted “possessed” weapons that I particularly like. These weapons can be "fed" other weapons and armor to make them stronger and therein lies more of the problem. Most of the good gear was almost always for sale by the Makers or other merchants, leaving the loot you do find as a cash source. Luckily there is an auto-loot option and more importantly no encumbrance limitations to slow you down, so I just collected everything and every so often I'd look through the star highlighted boxes for better stuff, usually to be disappointed.
Weapons and armor aren't everything in Darksiders II though. You have Death's own sets of skills at the tips of your fingers to choose from. There are two distinct skill trees that you can select from to mold Death into your own preferred flavor of Death Dealer, pun intended. You can choose from the Harbinger, Necromancer or both. You can go the way of the puppet master with the Necromancer side and summon demonic crows and ghouls to help whittle down your foes or go all hands-on with pure physical badassery with the Harbinger side. The only issue is that you can't fully complete each tree in one pass, as there are only a limited amount of skill points to spend on abilities. There is a New Game+ mode though for those who want to unlock everything at the cost of another rather lengthy playthrough.
All the puzzle-solving and combat prowess in the world won't help if the game doesn't control smoothly. I am happy to report that Darksiders II ran and handled like a champ on the PC. Now being a fairly regular PC gamer I'm partial to the good old keyboard/mouse setup like I used for the original Darksiders. This time though that method wasn't the best choice as I thought it would be. Using a gamepad, like my trusty wireless 360 controller, was instrumental and much more responsive for the quick combat and puzzle navigation required in this sequel. My only issue with using the controller was the menu navigation and confusing LB/LT/RB/RT commands when switching through gear pages, which I had little issue with when using the keyboard/mouse option.
Like the original Darksiders, Darksiders II has a decidedly comic/painted style to it. The biggest difference is that while both have similar environmental elements present Darksiders II has the original beat in shear epic visual presentation. Right from the starting moments of the game and beyond, particularly at the first epic level boss, I saw something truly special about Darksiders II. The characters you meet, the twisted and sometimes seemingly peaceful landscapes you encounter and equally disturbing foes you fight are beautifully brought to life. The only thing I would have liked to have seen was a few more graphical options, but given the stellar presentation that is something I can live with.
The one element of Darksiders II that floored me from the moment I started the game was the out-of-this-world score created by none other than composer Jesper Kyd, the man behind the music in the Assassin's Creed franchise and countless others. His work really defines the feel and atmosphere to put you in the proper mood to play Darksiders II like very few games do for me. I love video game scores and this is by far in my top five of all time. The track that plays during the first epic boss is perfect in every way to that moment, and the music just gets better as you dive deeper into the story. The soundtrack alone is a must buy. The music blends in with an extremely good voice cast spearheaded by Michael Wincott whose voice performance as the main character, "Death" is amazing. His voice flows into Death's persona like butter as you hear expertly delivered lines of anger, contempt, annoyance and in some instances, bits of humor that are perfect. The sound effects of weapons and creatures blend in perfectly with the score and acting and round out an exceptional audio presention.
Darksiders II is an absolutely huge game that can take upwards of 30+ hours to complete for most people. For those that are 100% completion centered than you could be playing Darksiders II for quite a while with all the collectibles and side quests to be checked off - seriously, the strategy guide has a checklist. I'm not talking Skyrim long, and I know that from experience, but it could cause you to spend over 80+ hours searching for missing Book of the Dead pages or hunting down and killing troublesome creatures across the realms. There is plenty to do and for some this will be an issue as one could say there is "too much" to do.
As if the main story and side quests aren't enough there is a whopping 75 levels of pure combat to be found in the aptly named Crucible that becomes available after a while. For those that have friends playing Darksiders II on PC you can also gift weapons and armor to your fellow Reapers via the Serpent Tomes found thought the game. Depending on what version of the game and where you purchased it from, you can redeem special item codes and receive them via these tomes.
Darksiders II is a game that I've been waiting for since it was announced and probably even before. The original Darksiders took my favorite aspects from other huge titles and brought them together to make a good game, but no amount of Internet readings or videos prepared me for how much fun Darksiders II would be for me. Sure it had a few minor issues like the unbalanced loot system, but this is one of the first AAA titles this summer that's really grabbed me in a death grip. The graphics are solid, the gameplay content seems to have no end and the score is well...you have to hear it. Pick up a copy of Darksiders II for PC (and the soundtrack) today and get ready for a ride of your life.