Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Darksiders II

Developed by Vigil Games
Published by THQ
Played on 360

            Few games wear their influences on their sleeves quite like Darksiders does.  The first game took God of War’s combat and mixed it with Zelda’s dungeon design, mixed it up, and ended up with a rather fun game.  Darksiders II adds more games to the mix, and somehow, comes out as a near-classic.
            Taking place during an early point of the first game, II has Death (Michael Wincott) setting out during the time when War is under trial for starting the apocalypse.  Refusing to believe that War could have done such a thing, Death travels to various realms to look for a way to prove his innocence.
            The first big change here is that the game doesn’t take place on the ruined Earth the first game took place on.  Instead, Death’s journey expands the world that the game takes place in.  There’s four different worlds you go through, and each one has a very unique visual design.  The almost idyllic Forgelands look nothing like the Kingdom of the Dead.  And the visuals of the game are rather striking.  While there are plenty of dark, gory moments, the game doesn’t try to be dark and edgy.  Instead, the character designs are very caricaturized, coming out looking somewhat cartoony, and it works in the game’s favor.  And you spend enough time in each world to make them worthwhile and worth exploring.
            The other big additions here are the extra games whose influences have been added to the melting pot.  Prince of Persia-style platforming gets added in, with Death running along walls and jumping off columns, and action-RPGs are sprinkled with an equipment system for Death.  For the former, well, I love Prince of Persia and I love parkour in games, so this was an instant hit with me.  The equipment system has its pluses and minuses.  On the one hand, it is always nice to look for and find new equipment, and there’s enough small changes you can make to make things worth messing around with.  On the other hand, I generally just went for whatever had the highest attack or defense and didn’t really mess around with the sub-stats.  It’s an interesting system, but it never quite gets the satisfaction of finding some awesome new gear or weapon that games like Borderlands or Torchlight have.
            What Darksiders II definitely does best is its dungeon design.  They’re very intricately designed, with plenty of nooks and crannies that collectibles are hiding in, without being overwhelming.  You might enter into a huge room, but you’re nudged along the set path.  And new gimmicks are introduced to keep each one interesting and unique.  It’s not just how each dungeon looks, it’s what you do in each dungeon that ends up standing out.  You control golems in one, and then have to clear out dark matter by linking up crystals to proceed in another.  It’s also helped by a very limited selection of items that you get.  Not having many items may sound like a bad thing, but it ends up meaning that each one gets plenty of time in the spotlight.  You don’t pick something up, use it against the boss, and then forget about it for the rest of the game.  When you pick it up, you think back to all the other spots you saw where you could use it, and immediately go “Oh, I can go back there now”, thanks to each one having a very clear use.  And the puzzles are just difficult enough, enough to stump for a while until that “I know what I need to do!” moment.  Overall, the dungeons are certainly Zelda-like, but in a way that rivals Zelda itself.
            The game does have a few hiccups, though.  For one, there’s some bugs that showed up, including an odd case where the door to the end of the dungeon didn’t lock during a boss fight, letting me proceed without fighting the boss.  Sound also became very buggy at one point.  With THQ out of business, don’t expect anything to get fixed.  There’s also one “dungeon” that turns the game into a very mediocre third person shooter that goes on far too long.  You get a couple minutes into it and you just want it to end.  And finally, the final boss and ending just kind of disappoint.  It doesn’t help that the big plot hook at the end of Darksiders doesn’t get followed up on.  And with the future of the series in question, who knows if we’ll ever see the other two horsemen.

            Darksiders II is an improvement over the first game, in the sense that it’s gone from “fun” to “very fun”.  It still comes off as a blender of various games the developers enjoyed, but when the final product ends up as good as any one of those, it’s hard to complain.

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