|System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U|
|Release: Q2 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
Darksiders was one of the most depressing narrative experiences I've ever had. Take Zelda, but excise its charm, and set it in a world in which humanity has been eradicated. Honestly, what's left for one to empathize with? War? He's an anthropomorphized expression of a concept, not a compelling and multi-faceted character. The one pervading theme throughout the title was the character's rigidity (all characters, actually), as situations were dictated not by individuals' emotions and agency, but by arbitrary rules and codes to which they would cleave, holding them to their chests like metaphysical life preservers.
That said, the gameplay itself was fun. Combat was entertaining, if somewhat one-dimensional, and the environmental puzzles were good fun. Plus, the artistic design was compelling. War was a visibly powerful protagonist. He's also not in the sequel. Though, in truth, to call Darksiders II a sequel to the original is a misleading statement. It's more of a parallel tale, focusing on Death's journey as he traverses fantastic realms in an effort to clear his brother's name.
According to information provided by THQ, Death is the de facto leader of the horsemen. He's certainly the oldest, and is written to be something of a philosopher, perhaps. At the very least, aestheticism and precision mean something to him, informing both his choices as an individual and his combat style in game.
See, War was a tank. He hit stuff with a big sword and weathered the storm of weaker blows from his opponents. He could move, but it was somewhat laborious, and this came across in the gameplay. Combat was a somewhat soggy affair. Darksiders II aims to spice things up by taking away your block button. Rather, Death will have to evade his opponents in melee, lashing out with his base weapon of dual scythes in fast and furious combinations (note that the scythes can recombine into a single one for certain attacks) or one of the subweapons. In fact, two of such subweapons were demonstrated for us: a massive hammer that swung slowly but did tremendous damage, and a pair of claws that attacked in weak, rapid combos, shredding enemies.
The thing is, as many changes as have been made to combat and the underlying game system, many of the same concerns stick out to me. Though Death attacks faster, it feels like his attacks are having even less of an effect on sturdier enemies, who don't respond to his attacks in an aurally or visually exciting manner. This is exacerbated by the new damage numbers and enemy health bars (I asked, and it was confirmed that one can turn these off), which do provide exact knowledge of how one's fight is proceeding, but also made it apparent just how much damage these foes can soak up. There's also the Ghost Hand, which is used in combat as well as traversal, and is more or less Nero's Devil Arm from Devil May Cry 4.
Traversal, on the contrary, has seen almost unilateral improvement. Death's agility and Ghost Hand enable acrobatics on a Prince of Persia scale, including wall-running and beam/rope balancing. It looks to be very intuitive, as long as the camera can be reined in a bit and it's careful to introduce new traversal options, such as the aforementioned Ghost Hand, in controlled environments.
The biggest alteration to the overall Darksiders formula, however, is the introduction of more blatant RPG elements. Death, unlike War, can collect equipment from downed enemies. There are three main sets of armor—Slayer, Necromancer, and Wanderer—which enhance different aspects of Death's performance. There are numbered stats, taking the game a bit further from its action-adventure roots and firmly into the territory of the action-RPG. Along those lines, it also features a pair of skill trees in which one slots points over time. These two trees, Harbinger and Necromancer, open up spells and afford you greater control over how you play Death.
In the all-too-brief gameplay demonstration, THQ walked us through parts of an early side-dungeon (we have been assured that there is a tremendous variety of secondary content) and showed off a sub-boss fight. They were very proud of the size of their bosses, asserting that the mid-boss we were seeing—three or four times the size of our protagonist—was built on a much smaller scale than the game's real bosses. To punctuate this point, we were shown a snippet of a later dungeon, with Death observing a tremendous, stationary hammer ostensibly gripped in the obscured hand of that dungeon's monolithic boss.
Visually, Darksiders' pleasingly bright color palette has not been dimmed for the Pale Rider's outing. It's as vibrant as ever, with Death displaying elements of white, purple, and green in addition to the black, brown, and grey one would expect. Despite the apocalyptic subject matter, this is not a game that believes in muted tones.
Understand that this was not a finished build of the game, and everything we saw is subject to change. What was already there, though, was the framework for a title that should entertain players who enjoyed the original Darksiders, and provide them with a longer and more involved experience. We'll know for sure when it hits later this year.
Date: January 24, 2012