Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition is certainly ambitious; it tries to achieve a synergy of the Action-Adventure, Hack ‘n Slash, and RPG genres, while incorporating foreign elements like a loot system. However,this ambition to incorporate so many elements into one game and create such an epic causes the game to falter. Throughout my relatively short 20-hour playthrough, I couldn’t stop thinking about playing other games that have refined what Darksiders II is trying to imitate. It’s still an enjoyable game, but you, the player, can do much better.
Prior to the events of the first game, Earth is desolate. One of the four horsemen, War, has been condemned by the council – his judgement soon to be passed. He was beckoned to the human realm, but there was no call; leading to the extinction of the human race, and destruction and demonic renovation of the realm. Death, War’s brother, believes him to be innocent, and willing to do anything to prove him as such, he seeks the Crowfather, keeper of many secrets, so he may find his brother’s redemption.
Things go awry and Death is defeated; his former trinket bearing unreaped souls broken, embedded into his chest, and sent away to the realm of the Makers. He seeks the Tree of Life for answers, but the land is plagued by Corruption.
Darksiders II may have a greater focus on story than the first, and its dialogue and writing are superb, but it’s practically nonexistent. The story lacks any sense of urgency, making it stale and unexciting. There’s not much to look forward to when progressing the story except visiting new locales and new dungeons. Even when the story picks up and begins to catch your interest, it’s predictable and you might be caught up in the numerous side quests. It’s too simplistic and follows the paradigms of Action-Adventure games a la Legend of Zelda (go from point A to point B to acquire item A to open door Z).
What Darksiders II does accomplish is having a likeable protagonist with exceptional delivery. Voiced by Michael Wincott, Death is a cynical, witty, and overall charming character. He constantly engages in banter with the other characters, eliciting a few chuckles here and there and shining some light on an otherwise boring and dreary story. His motivations are unclear, however. While he does have a rationale for why he must put a stop to the big bad, it’s never stated why he fights for his brother’s innocence. Whether it’s for brotherly love or for his sense of justice (whatever there may be), it’s left up to the interpretation of the player, harming the integrity of the story and its writers.
It’s also worth mentioning the change in scenery is quite vast in Darksiders II as compared to the first. While the first game took place in a post-apocalyptic city, the Makers’ realm explored in this entry is much more fantasy. It feels odd transitioning between two radically different settings, and while there may be some answers as to who’s who and what’s what from the first game, it would be better if it were left ambiguous and saved for a later entry. It changes up much of what the first Darksiders established and creates even more questions, such as why some characters are where they are now. Much of the world of Darksiders has yet to be explored and it feels as if one needs to have read the comics to fully understand what’s going on around our protagonists.
Darksiders as a series has always attempted to mimic other franchises. From gameplay reminiscent of God of War, dungeon exploring akin to the Legend of Zelda, climbing and wall running similar to Prince of Persia, and a loot system nearly ripped from Diablo, DSII does much to accentuate itself from the imitated franchises. New to Darksiders II are its RPG mechanics. While the first game played like a normal Hack ‘n Slash where you merely traversed lands and were only rewarded with currency upon defeating enemies, the world has been opened up for greater exploration and you now gain EXP in order to level up.
While the map in Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition was very limited, with a few secrets thrown about, the Makers’ realm is much more open. You can explore the map and find optional dungeons, fight secret bosses, and even a few characters who will offer side quests and rewards for finding collectibles (and there are quite a lot). This is a refreshing change on the usual exploration formula seen in Action-Adventure games, but the world isn’t all that lively. There are a few things to explore, yes, but outside of these dungeons, there isn’t much going on. You’ll find a few enemies roaming the plains and some treasure chests about, but that’s the extent. There are no events or special encounters to be had, and that’s almost essential with games that offer such liberties.
Death is much more nimble and acrobatic than War, the tutorial will prove. He’s much faster, has a longer dodge distance, and his moves are more extravagant and his arsenal versatile. Given the loot system, Death has a larger variety of sub-weapons.. From bucklers and arm blades with swift strikes, to hammers and axes with slow swings, you are given more options in how you may want to arm yourself. This offers some layer of adaptability for the player, allowing them to choose a specific playstyle. Depending on weight classification, they mostly have unique moves but come sub-varieties, they aren’t much different apart from charge attacks. This is lackluster, despite the initial concept being a welcome one. You’d expect more attention to these minute details, especially when they’re so incredibly innovative and necessary to help keep the genre fresh and exciting.
Once you’ve acquired enough experience points, Death will level up. When done, not only will his base stats like ATK and DEF increase, but he will also receive a skill point. New to the game is the implementation of the skill tree, where these new points may be invested into so to acquire new skills and power them up. However, this tree is split into two categories: physical magic, focused on attacks and buffing your stats, and normal magic or spellcasting, dependent on your MP and scaling with a stat called Arcane. In relation to these new, differing styles of play, armor types are split as well. While some may focus on normal Critical Chance, there are varieties that will boost Arcane Critical Chance and power up other magic-based stats. Much more choice is given to the player this time around, even more so with these new features. You can mold Death however you want in these two regards, and will affect how you handle every encounter. This is a nice addition, and given the ability to respec your skill points for the measly cost of 1000 coins, can breathe some fresh air into the game should you start to bore of its gameplay.
It’s worth mentioning some of my problems with how Death handles. While combat is greatly diversified with the introduction of the loot and equipment system, after a few hours of play, it’s revealed just how shallow the combat is. Even after acquiring new moves, I still found myself using the same, few tricks throughout my playthrough. Enemies were impossible to stagger, the only ounce of difficulty coming because of that. Being a Hack ‘n Slash, a genre known for pulling off crazy combos, it’s unfortunate, as the action loses its momentum as a result.
Death also seems to have problems when scaling and running on walls. His movements feel sluggish and unresponsive to player input; taking about 0.5 sec before he’ll do what you commanded him, causing some headaches in certain sections of the game. While some rubble and walls may seem like they can be scaled, Death seems to be unable to. There are invisible walls, shrouded by debris of fallen ruin placed where you may not need to go and even some minor walls in accessible areas aren’t climbable without the grips indicating climbable sections. It’s annoying and inconvenient, especially grating considering that Death is capable of much greater acrobatic feats.
Possibly the most memorable part of Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition are its visuals and soundtrack. Come the Deathinitive edition of the game, textures have vastly been improved and new lighting has been implemented for much more seamless and beautiful environments than the original. While this update to visuals wasn’t necessary (as the game was already gorgeous), it lends to a fantastic representation of the merits of a more stylized artstyle, especially in a saturated market of more realistic games.
The orchestrated score in the game is phenomenal. It lends an ‘epic’ feeling to the game, making it more immersive and more like an actual journey. It sets a tone for the story, and while the player experience may vary, Death’s fight for his brother’s redemption is undoubtedly felt through the music.
One minor aspect that I feel I must mention is the amount of attention to detail. While some games would rather save the time and money of allowing the character to actually wear the pieces of armor they’re equipped with, Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition is an exception. Every armor piece changes Death’s appearance and every weapon he’s equipped with changes as well. While there may not be much variety in terms of appearances later on, it’s still noteworthy and leads to an empowering experience seeing Death become more menacing as the game goes on.
I love the Darksiders franchise and truly believe it can surpass even the Legend of Zelda. I want nothing more than to see the formula flourish into something amazing, but Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition is incapable of doing that. Although, I’m not opposed to seeing Vigil Games take another shot at it with a third entry.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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