Darksiders 2 is the second installment of Vigil Games action rpg series. The series is based around a unique take on the concept of the four horseman of the apocalypse. In the first game we followed War, who was framed for starting the apocalypse ahead of schedule, and throwing earth into chaos. This recent game happens alongside some of the events from the previous and centers around War’s brother Death.
Death’s motivation in the narrative is his devotion to his brother. He believes War was set up and sets out to absolve him of the crime by trying to revive humanity. The basic concept of the plot is fairly simple, however the narrative gets incredibly convoluted and unnecessarily confusing.
The first game took place largely on a ruined Earth that had been conquered by the legions of hell. There, the game had established the existence of 3 opposing powers outside of humanity; angels, demons, and the charred council. This game introduces the concept of completely other worlds, and beings that exist beyond Heaven, Hell and Earth.
In doing so the concept of balance becomes utterly confused and the point of the four horseman of the apocalypse begins to seem trivial. In fact, its established in Darksiders 2 that all who die end up in the kingdom of the dead, including angels or demons, yet this is separate from Heaven and Hell, calling into question what the importance of the “Third Kingdom”(the kingdom of man) is.
I’m delving a bit too much into the lore of the game, but only because it was so distracting that I was actually trying to pay attention. The game designers did so much to try to flesh out and add more and more to the universe that they created, however, it begins to feel as if everything they added was prefaced by someone saying, “Dude… wouldn’t it be cool if…”
It does not feel like a universe whose details were lovingly crafted into a coherent place we could travel through in the game, it just feels like a bunch of interesting concepts thrown together cause they looked cool.
As far as the actual game portion goes, it’s clear that Vigil Games were attempting to evolve the formula of the first game or at least create a sequel that didn’t feel too much like a rehash of everything the first had done. This had mixed results. In the first game, it felt like a dark comic book-like universe version of a Zelda game with a combat system reminiscent of God of War.
Whereas, this game starts to tread into Kingdoms of Amalur territory of feeling like a single player MMO in its rpg elements, while tweaking the combat as well.
Starting with combat, one of the most noticeable changes was the removal of the ability to block. Death is a more acrobatic fighter so the controls concentrate more on him rolling out of the way than deflecting attacks. It works well enough in certain situations, but the presence of swarming enemies that moved really quickly made me miss blocking a great deal.
Death’s main weapons are two scythes that he wields in the most impractically badass way the designers could come up with. On top of this, you can equip a second weapon which is either big and slow (hammer, mace, glaive) or small and fast (gauntlets, claws, armblades).
Along with melee weapons, Death also has special attacks that you can acquire by leveling him up through the game. You gain skill points as you level which you can expend in a skill tree to add abilities to your combat capabilities. These come in essentially 2 different versions, summoning based abilities and up close melee powers. My favorite one was probably the ability to summon undead to fight for you, it gave me time to create distance in fights I was having trouble with.
There are also trainers that can teach you new attacks or make your attacks with certain weapons more potent if you pay them gold.
The addition of armor and weapon loot is another part of where the expansion of the rpg elements comes into play. Killed enemies can drop gold and various equipment that can be picked up. Armor and weapons have required levels to wield and stats that can make elements of Death stronger or give him special abilities.
The armor actually has an aesthetic change as well, its cool to see Death fighting in either a torn cloak or an over-sized set of spiky barbarian armor depending on what you have equipped. However, this also becomes sort of annoying as you accumulate tons of loot through all the dungeons you travel through, and it becomes almost a chore having to go into your inventory to see if there is something you have picked up that is better than what you have on.
There are also people you meet up with that act as shops. Including the return of a character I enjoyed from the first game, named Vulgrim, whom unfortunately doesn’t get too much to say in this game. Most of these also offer side collection quests that will yield various rewards, most really only worth the time if you are obsessed with maxing out Death to be as powerful as possible. Some still not even worth the time if that’s your goal.
My biggest problem with the game really comes in just how laboriously padded the whole experience feels. They wanted to make everything bigger in this game than the first, including its length, but didn’t spend enough time making it feel as though it should be. Almost every single minute goal you have is split into a series of quests through 3 or 4 dungeons. Most of the dungeons are fairly stock in design and just overwhelmingly boring.
The puzzles were not satisfying to solve, most just being repetition of established themes from other games. It’s not the longest game I’ve ever played but it drags on in such a way that I was literally begging the game to end throughout the last 5 hours of play.
It didn’t help that, unlike the first game, I more or less dreaded every boss fight in this one. Not because they were difficult, but because they were tedious as hell. My least favorite fight was with a giant stone construct that you had to throw spiked bombs at that would fall to the floor when it punched the ground. Toward the end of the fight the thing started hitting the ground more frequently, which would detonate the bombs almost as soon as I picked them up or right before I could throw it.
That’s not challenging, that’s annoying. If you establish a pattern and then arbitrarily punish the player for following that pattern, that’s not good game design.
As I played the game I also ran into an incredibly stupid issue. There’s one point where you return to a tower after a mission on Earth and a cutscene is supposed to start. Well, it didn’t and going back through the portal again didn’t fix it. Neither did quiting the game and coming back or restarting the console. The guy I needed to talk to was standing high on a pillar beyond reach and there was the inanimate model of a griffin standing on a platform that I could walk through as if it were not there.
Turns out if you descend the tower one floor, then climb back, that gets the scene to kick in. I’m apparently not the only person this has happened to being that I was able to find the answer to this issue online, but it blows my mind that such a stupid glitch was overlooked.
Visually, the game has a cool style. Some of the imagery is pretty damn inspired, like the throne of the king of the underworld which is pulled by two massive serpents. The areas you travel to get to the different dungeons and locations are desolate and dull, though. Often lacking any interesting detail and just being speckled with one or two enemy types wandering aimlessly along the path. Even the architectural design inside most of the dungeons tend to seem dull and not really leave a memorable impression.
Character models are probably where most of the creative effort is on display. Death himself looks like if Casey Jones died from a steroid overdose, became a zombie and joined a metal band. There’s even a boss fight with a creature obviously inspired by Cthulhu which was pretty striking.
Honestly, I was a pretty big fan of the first Darksiders, feeling it was a bit underrated. It did run a little longer than it justified but I still enjoyed it. Darksiders 2 plays around with the ingredients and threw in too much filler that ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth at the end.
I didn’t hate the game, there were definitely aspects of it I enjoyed. I liked the combat, I did like seeing the different armors I could equip Death with, some of the abilities you gained for solving puzzles (especially souls split) or in combat were cool and I enjoyed at least 2/3 of the campaign. However, it drags on for far too long, the setting is so uninterested in making sense that you eventually stop caring, and some of the bosses/ dungeons are so frustratingly annoying that I don’t know that I would ever really feel the need to revisit this game.