The original Darksiders seemingly came from nowhere, surprising many with its fluid action combat coupled with dungeon exploration and puzzle solving, wrapped in a uniquely styled apocalyptic wasteland. Whilst Darksiders 2 follows in its footsteps, adding some brilliant new features from loot to more customisable combat, it falls short on delivering an epic adventure on the same level as War's.
The series revolves around the conflicts of Hell, Heaven and Mankind, along with the existence of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to ensure balance who are only to be summoned when the End War, a final conflict, between the three kingdoms begins. The first instalment told the tale of War, one of the four horsemen, who is prematurely summoned to Earth alone and blamed for bringing about the Apocalypse early. For this he is imprisoned for 100-years.
Darksiders 2 takes placing during these 100-years, running alongside the tale of War instead of functioning directly as a sequel to the concluding events, which is a crying shame as what a stunning conclusion that was. You play as Death, brother to War and fellow horseman, who believing in his brothers innocence has embarked on a quest to clear the crimes against him which somehow relates to resurrecting all of humanity via the fabled Tree of Life.
Ultimately the tale told in Darksiders 2 can be quite baffling due to already having prior knowledge of the events that proceed War's imprisonment, knowing that Death is ultimately on a pointless errand as War is already granted freedom to clear his name as well as a handful of connections that don't really add up or leave plot holes unanswered. Even worse than this though is a conclusion that seemingly attempts to recreate the brilliance of the original by ending on a great and sudden cliff-hanger that instils excitement for an obvious sequel, instead only to leave confusion and contradictions with past and future events already told making Deaths entire ordeal feel a little redundant.
Upon this quest, Death will travel through various planes from Hell and Heaven to Earth and the lands of the world’s creators themselves. The world is dramatically larger and more open than the original but unfortunately ever the sparser for it. When venturing between locations for the first time you'll typically be upon horseback sprinting at every opportunity, and after discovering each location, you make use of the quick teleport feature instead. This sparseness is especially true for the Forge Lands where you'll spend the majority of the first quarter of the game, resulting in a slow start overall. Whilst the world outside might be a little too sparse, the same cannot be said for the various dungeons you'll explore which are brimming with complex catacombs to explore and awe inspiring vistas to view.
Navigating through the dungeons demonstrates Death's agility running across walls, clambering along ledges and grappling between nodes familiar to that of Prince of Persia. Death naturally attaches to walls and pivots where needed allowing Death to casually parkour around an environment with the ease of tapping jump at clearly designated areas. Additionally you'll need to solve a vast array of puzzles to open paths and unlock doors typically with the aid of items that you'll unlock as the game progresses akin to the Zelda series. It is a combination that works terrifically together and is executed well, having the obstacles encountered and puzzles to solve growing in complexity as the adventure progresses. Later dungeons cleverly meld together several gameplay mechanics to create some devilish puzzles, from needing to portal back and forth through time itself to literally splitting Death in two. If ever you become stuck, which will happen given the frequent complex mazes you’ll traverse, Death is able to call upon the help of Dust, a crow which accompanies Death throughout his adventure.
Being dungeons their not exactly inhabited with friendly individuals welcoming Death with open arms, resulting in the need for wading through literally thousands of enemies from the demons of hell to angels of heaven with a combat system familiar to God of War. Death has a vast array of combos at his disposal making use of his primary weapon, dual scythes, and a second weapon of your choosing (a pair of speedy fist weapons in my case). Combat is fast, fluid and limb filled as you gracefully execute wave after wave with style. There are also special abilities available which can be customised from selections made in a two tier skill tree, where I opted for a ravenous flock of crows that heal Death through the damage caused and the ability to teleport behind an enemy for a vicious backstab. You’ll even be able to make use of some of the items that have been unlocked for the puzzle solving segments per above.
Additionally Darksiders 2 brings loot to the table, having enemies spill their inventories all over the floor upon death and having chests littered throughout the world filled with goodies, with everything from a vast array of weapons, armour and amulets able to be swapped out for additional stats or benefits such as life steal, critical-strike chance and increased defences. There are even 'possessed' weapons that can be individually named and fed other weapons to level up, typically being especially strong in their given category. It’s a fantastic addition to the series and adds a layer of RPG character and inventory management that fits naturally into the game. All of this comes together to form a compelling and engaging combat system which is enhanced by allowing you to make personal touches. The constant mayhem of a screen full of enemies, the fluidity of the combinations at your disposal and a simplistic one button dodge mechanic results in combat that's a blast and never get old.
Unfortunately the same can't be said for pretty much the rest of the game which lingers around for a little too long, extending beyond twenty hours of gameplay. Whilst dungeons are ultimately varied by use of different puzzle solving mechanics, it isn’t long before you've performed the same 'blow X with Y bomb' or 'push button to open door' trick what feels like a hundred times. Similarly the quests themselves are extremely repetitive with the story progression feeling little more than a shopping list in which Death must fed-ex from location to location obtaining rare artefacts for favours for everyone he meets. Rarely do you get to feel like Death, the feared horseman of the Apocalypse, instead of a glorified delivery man that's happens to be exceptionally handy with a scythe.
Upon completion you can continue the adventure in ‘New Game +’ or alternatively you can do as I chose, run to the included release DLC The Crucible and fight through 100 waves of enemies and boss fights in a continual risk and reward of bidding your unknown rewards so far for the potential of bigger prizes. With the ability to play through to level 30 (you'll reach around 20-24 on the first play-through), The Crucible, and various side quests in the numerous quest hubs - there's certainly a fair deal of replayability, and that's ignoring the promised DLC to follow.
The art style behind the game is truly terrific, and setting aside the odd frame hiccups and texture quality concerns, it's an absolute beauty to behold. This is made ever more immersive by the fantastic metal and rock inspired background music that fits perfectly with the dark twisted art direction. Equally the voice work, particularly in the case of Death himself, is top notch. Whilst War is a far more interesting and fleshed out protagonist of the two, the quality voice acting surprisingly builds up a personality that’s easy to engage with given Death is ultimately a faceless protagonist with a weak sense of purpose.
Darksiders 2 doesn't quite manage to reach the heights of its predecessor, but it does deliver a solid action-adventure with more than enough style, depth and complexity to maintain engagement throughout. Its greatest weakness lies in its inability to advance the series story, leaving you once again longing for the true sequel as hinted by the first’s conclusion with the coming of the four horsemen.