Darksiders returns with a change in central character – Horseman of the Apocalypse, Death, replacing his brother War – but the same feel in terms of gameplay, as once more players concern themselves with dealing out damage to a whole host of nasties before collecting trios of keys in order to progress across the Nether Realms.
If you’ve ever played The Legend of Zelda, in any of its iterations, you’ll know all of Darksiders 2′s moves almost before it makes them, so conformist to the Zelda rulebook are its boss fights, dungeons and overarching set-up. If that wasn’t enough the game’s constantly nudging you in the right direction, seldom allowing for endorphin-releasing bursts of inspiration, and instead simply having Dust, Death’s feathered familiar, show us where to go next.
And, like its predecessor, the game doesn’t stop at Zelda in its seeming determination to flatter by mimicry. Take the combat, which has more than just a passing resemblance to God of War, or multifaceted platforming sections which wouldn’t look out of place in Prince of Persia, as Death, a much more nimble entity than War, leaps and scurries from one handily placed hand-hold to the next.
Combat does at least compare more favourably to that which it aspires to than most aspects of its design, and it’s largely combat that will keep bringing you back to proceedings – unless grandiose tales of Earth, Heaven and Hell particularly float your boat. Enemies are many – and amongst them are enough tough ones to give you something to think about – while full-on boss fights can be epic, even if once more we’re left reminiscing over similar encounters in better games, Shadow of the Colossus for one.
Death has whole reams of combos at his taloned fingertips and can unleash a huge array of primary and secondary attacks depending on what weapon he’s currently packing. Elsewhere rudimentary levelling-up constantly adds to his move list, while unlocking further powers, such as the ability to summon ghouls or call forth Death’s Reaper form, adds to the means with which to devastate enemies.
Being the proverbial Jack-of-all-trades is all well and good, and there’s certainly no questioning the developer’s work ethic, but ultimately cramming so much into one game has created problems; perhaps inescapably. Those dungeons for example miss that hard to pin down shine that makes those of Zelda so memorable, while epic environments – which once more bring God of War to mind – result in a frame rate which rarely runs at optimum, so causing screen tearing, something particularly prevalent when panning the camera around to get a better view on things (NB: this was on the Xbox 360 version).
There’s further evidence that the game was pushed out perhaps a month or two before it perhaps should have done when simple puzzles are made irritatingly difficult. Huge rollable stone spheres (which you’ll come across worryingly often) are central to a great many of the game’s initial puzzles and get lodged in ill-designed scenery all too often for example. Beware too that unsolved rooms don’t reset if you leave them, so if that stone is stuck, it’s really stuck.
The length of the game, like so many other aspects of it, is another cause for both praise and criticism. On the one hand there’s plenty to do, NPCs you come across are all too happy to redirect Death from his main quest to run errands (seriously, can no-one do anything for themselves in the realms between life and death?), while merchants will have him collecting unholy artefacts in exchange for cash. Treasure chests – handily marked on the map superimposed on your HUD – are similarly common and often yield new weapons, armour and items; some of which can in turn be upgraded over the course of the game.
Impressive stuff, but though samey dungeons and repetitive looting quests worked well enough in the first Darksiders, here, because you’re looking at a game 2-3 times the size of the already over-egged original, you’ll soon find yourself sighing as once more you set off to find yet another long lost magical relic with which to progress the plot. There’s a lesson there to be learned for the inevitable third game: less can quite often equal more.
Vigil Games have crafted a decent adventure that fans of Zelda, God of War and games of their ilk will no doubt enjoy and, screen tearing aside, there’s certainly nothing overtly wrong about its design. Ultimately however, and much like its predecessor, it’s a title which won’t linger long in the memory and one that acts more as an ode to the classics than a game looking to become one.
Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3, PC
Developer: Vigil Games