It’s interesting how the overall strength of a title can completely transform its description. If a game turns out to be strong as a whole product, the early feeling of familiarity can quickly turn into an outstanding game by its own merit. If it weren’t for the number in the title, you’d hardly notice that Darksiders II is a sequel – and, chronologically speaking, it isn’t.
The game starts off with a quick backstory, which begins before that of the first game. It details the origin of the Nephilim race, an otherworldly amalgamation of angels and demons. That’s right, folks, the apocalypse that occurred in the first game was basically just a huge race war. The Nephilim are the unfortunate mulattos in this scenario, a race of unearthly stepchildren with no place to call their own.
Feeling slighted by the status quo set by the creation of man, the Nephilim attacked Eden. The Nephilm’s aggression was borne of a sense of existential seniority over the human race, and their resulting belief that humans were not worthy of Earth. Unfortunately, their arms proved too short to literally box with God; the Nephilim were slain by the armies of Heaven with the help of four Nephilim defectors who also believed that Earth was not theirs to take.
In exchange for their vow to help maintain “the balance”, the defectors were granted unimaginable power. They became the legendary Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: tasked by the Charred Council to keep Earth, Heaven, and Hell in check. If the armies of Heaven and Hell are the Avon Barksdale and Marlo Stanfield of the divine struggle, then consider War, Death, Fury and Strife to collectively fulfill the role of Omar Little.
Restore the balance, a horseman’s gotta have a code.
Darksiders II begins some time between the prologue and the main storyline of its predecessor. Our previous protagonist, the Horseman of War, has already arrived on Earth as an unwitting participant in the celestial conflict that results in mankind’s destruction. Believing that War was framed for the actions of others, the Horseman of Death undertakes an uncharacteristic quest to restore life to humanity. To do this, the Reaper must set out for the tree of life.
Death’s combat mechanics are decidedly much more dynamic than the limited abilities and movement options War was afforded. Unlike his brother, the Reaper has no stationary block command. Pressing the right bumper will cause him to do an evasive flip. This dodge acts in three parts, giving him the option to cancel the first two into any attack. Despite not having a stationary block, Death does have a last second evade counter that operates similarly to War’s properly timed block counter.
Fans of the Prince of Persia series will recognize some of Death’s movement options – he can wall jump, wall run, climb short distances, and push off of whatever surface he is currently attached to (with the use of the left trigger). These abilities make his vertical movement quite easy to control in most situations, though Darksiders II does not have the hurried traversal command that existed in the first game.
The enhanced mobility and vertical viability is not just for show; the game’s far-reaching, intricate world ensures that you use all of it. Covering multiple realms (some of which feel about as large as the original game), the main sections of Darksiders II’s are absolutely massive. Dungeons are as vertically daunting as they are expansive, with multi-layered puzzles that require you to explore multiple floors or dungeon areas in search of one solution.
The unfortunate exchange for the greater amount of content is that the game will occasionally pause to load the next section of the area you’re currently exploring. Pauses can be miniscule or last upward of 7-8 seconds. Installing the game to the Xbox did not reduce the frequency or the duration of these pauses. The timing of these loading pauses appeared arbitrary; sometimes I could explore an entire dungeon and encounter only one, whereas in the next dungeon it might happen at three consecutive doors. All in all, a minor gripe, and well worth it in exchange for the amount of open-world content received.
To compliment his quicker style of gameplay, Death is given an array of options that are new to the series. While the original Darksiders could be best equated to the Legend of Zelda franchise with respect to its attitude toward equipment, Darksiders II makes upgrading your gear a perpetual concern. Death’s main weapon is a set of detaching dual scythes, but it doesn’t end there. Death can equip 6 types of secondary weapons, that are split into two larger categories of “Heavy” and “Fast”. Each weapon or piece of armor has four tiers of rarity: normal, common, rare and epic. Bonuses and elemental damage variations (such as strength, arcane power, wrath regeneration, and execution bonuses) occur at every level except normal.
There are also two transcendent categories of equipment: “Legendary” and “Possessed”. Legendary equipment items provide potent boosts such as +150% critical damage and increasing death’s gold amount on hit. These items have their own names and backstories, found in their descriptions. Possessed weapons can be upgraded by sacrificing other equipment in order to increase the power of your possessed weapon. Any stats on the equipment you sacrifice are granted as optional additional stats that can be strengthened as the possessed weapon levels up. Upon full upgrade, possessed weapons can remain viable for a quarter of the game, easily.
Long gone are the days when an instant-kill is an automatic opportunity. The Reaper’s execution opportunity only has a percentage-based chance to pop up when you attack an enemy. Luckily, the probability of execution can be bolstered through equipment bonuses. Death is given the opportunity to obtain wrath, health, or chaos transformation energy in exchange for the less-than-guaranteed invincible slaughter of his enemy. Execution chance may be the best statistic in the game; if your armor has execution chance on it, it can process on any type of attack and make quick work of otherwise difficult fights.