Darksiders 2 arrives in the UK next Friday having already seen its US release this week, and it’s been clear to see how much faith THQ have in the new title. A huge advertising campaign has been backed up by months of trailers, gameplay footage and information, so the game itself certainly has a lot to live up to. And you know what? It does a pretty fine job of it.
You’ll take on the role of Death, one of the four horsemen who rocks up with the intention of redeeming War, his brother from the first Darksiders game who buggered things up a bit and brought on the apocalypse a tad early. Looking like a part-time wrestler, part-time rocker Death takes a long and varied journey through a range of worlds taking on some truly bad-ass enemies. Taking inspiration from Prince of Persia, God of War and Zelda (and as such carries on where the previous game left off) there’s a huge adventure to be had with a hefty main campaign dotted with hours of side quests, extra areas to explore and hundreds of treasure chests scattered around full of kit to use or sell on. Those of you who just like to run about the place collecting stuff will have a great time, although the advancing of Death’s skills via the main campaign is vital in order to reach some of the more challengingly positioned goodies.
The main story takes you through several worlds and locations, and pretty much all of them look fantastic. The dungeons end up looking a bit samey as you’d expect – these are stone dungeons after all – but each has its own set of challenges and tricky puzzles, and they’re just varied enough to give you the uniqueness that each area needs to keep you focussed. Some dungeons exist solely to be raided for some high-end loot or as part of a side-mission, and finding these is both good fun and often entirely accidental, but it’s the often-huge environments found as the main campaign that are clearly the focus. These range from large open areas which come into play when doing battle with some of the massive bosses that you’ll occasionally come up against, through to a rickety wooden tower perched on the back of a flying… thing and plenty in between. Throughout all of this you’ll be using Death’s handy acrobatic skills which let him scale walls, run along a vertical wall and leap onto huge pillars in order to get from A to B. New abilities unlocked as the game progresses will help you reach for away places and be in several places at once, both essential skills to master in order to get your head round some of the more mind-bending problems you’ll need to solve.
There’s also a two-sided skill tree for you to work down as you level up through a standard XP based reward system, giving you points for kills and completing quest. Each side of the tree lets you unlock new abilities to either make you more powerful or allow you to summon other beings to do some of the fighting for you… trust me, once you’ve seen how cool it is to bring some undead into the fight and have them explode after some fighting you’ll be glad you unlocked it. There’s no reason to exclusively aim for one tree though, and balancing the two sides works every bit as well as putting all your eggs into one tree-shaped basket. Most unlocks have three levels too, so you’ve also got the choice of whether to have lots of weaker stuff or a smaller but more powerful arsenal.
Away from the special abilities are your normal weapons made up of a pair of scythes and a secondary weapon which gives you the choice of some weak (but fast) claw type blade things or a larger weapon such as an axe or massive hammer. The slower weapons are a little more risky, but deal massive damage and look awesome when dropped into an attacking scythe combo. The hack and slash fighting seen in a few other games isn’t exactly original and can get pretty mental with a few enemies on screen at once, but it’s handled admirably and being able to roll out of trouble can give you that half a second needed to take a breath and dive back into the action.It’s also a chance to get away from an annoying bit of scenery blocking your view, which can happen very occasionally when you’re fighting in a confined space against a pile of bad guys. I’m not sure how that could be avoided, but it can be off-putting when it crops up at just the wrong time.
Elsewhere are a few nice extras, most notably the Crucible mode that unlocks a little way into the game and pits you against several waves of enemies. Every few waves you’re given the choice: take the prize, or fight on for a while longer to try and win something bigger and better. It’s a good test of your power and skills, and a nice opportunity to get yourself some free kit. The big problem with this is the same problem that makes the latter parts of the game a little wonky – you’ll have accrued a lot of coinage, but the vendors just don’t have the kit to buy that’s much better than what can be found elsewhere. A second play-through redresses the balance a bit though with your stats carried over and some more beefy toys to play with.
By taking ideas from other great titles Darksiders 2 has become a very enjoyable mix of exploring, collecting, fighting and traversing. Does it do anything better than the titles it’s taken inspiration from? Well, that’s questionable. The level designs are great and the fighting feels tight and works well, but neither quite hit the levels reached elsewhere. But together, they make a package that goes above and beyond what it might have been. Whether you choose to play through once or twice remains up to you, but even at a single play through you’ll get well over 20 hours if you plug away at the side quests and try to go for a more full completion. That’s not bad at all, especially when it’s difficult to get bored of what’s going on. The game has its issues, but they’re easy to forgive when you’ve got such a huge, rich and enjoyable world (well, worlds) to do your stuff, and there’s so much to do you’ll probably forget about them pretty quickly anyway.
THQ might be having difficulties at the moment, but making great games clearly isn’t one of them. Darksiders 2 is a game you can sink into and not come out for quite some time; one of those games where you sit down for half an hour and end up playing for three. It’s not on the scale of Skyrim (mind you, what is?) but it’s still worth your investment and will give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Reviewed on PS3