Sunday, June 9, 2013

#15: Darksiders II - Who Knew Death Could Be So Much Fun?

I must admit that I originally planned on reviewing both the original Darksiders and the sequel, but I found that there were enough similarities that discussing them back to back would be a waste of words. So instead, I opted to talk about by far my favorite of the two: Darksiders II.

Both games are a mash-up of several other famous game franchises, Darksiders II even more so. This creative franken-game combines the combat of God of War with the loot and talent system of Diablo II, the questing of an MMORPG, the wall-running gymnastics of Prince of Persia, the dungeoneering of Legend of Zelda, and even a little bit of Portal. While some might expect these elements to jive poorly, I found them to combine to create a game greater than the sum of the ingredients.

Fans of Norse settings will love the first 1/3 of the game
3rd person shooter section? Why not?
Perhaps you've seen Darksiders before and been intrigued by the darkly ornate art style or the classic "Angels and demons, heaven and hell" setting. Both games are heavy on the visual flair and light on the story, so appreciating the aesthetic is important. I could tell you everything you need to know about the story of both games in about three sentences, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers I will simply say that you play as Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I am personally a huge fan of what they've accomplished both in character design and in their environments. Whether tearing into an enemy with dual scythes or simply galloping about the overworld, I found myself marveling at my surroundings and taking copious screenshots.

The combat in Darksiders II, as mentioned earlier, borrows heavily from God of War. What makes it unique is the presence of equipment and two distinct skill trees that lend themselves to either a merciless melee-heavy shredding machine or minion-and-ranged necromancer play style. You can painlessly respecialize Death with a simple trip to a vendor, so players can feel free to experiment with whichever style they prefer. The equipment drops off of enemies and from chests throughout the game, and comes in multiple levels of rarity, including legendary weapons from specific bosses and possessed weapons that players can "feed" extra items in order to boost their stats. The level of customization the player is offered for combat is frankly remarkable for this style of game.

Most dungeons have some kind of twist. This one gives you huge
rolling stone golems with rocket fists.
Death finds himself plundering Legend of Zelda style dungeons with regularity in Darksiders II, even down to the grappling hooks, bombs, switch puzzles, and long-running collect-a-thon sidequests. While the puzzles never quite seem to reach too far in complexity, they're enough to make most players do a double-take before coming up with a solution. The original Darksiders had puzzles that were too easy for most of the game, but the follow-up gets it right. Darksiders II is not a short game, either; it contains a solid 20 to 30 hours of gameplay for those who do the side quests, and that's before the "New Game+" that lets you bring all of your equipment, levels, and stats into a second playthrough.

Death's "Reaper Form" is only available in short bursts, but
 is completely awesome and unstoppable.
I came very close to ending this review with a wholehearted seal of approval, but I simply can't in good conscience ignore a few major flaws, particularly in reference to the DLC (an area of discussion that often doesn't get a proper review; aren't you glad I was late to the party now?)

First of all, the game never explains the stats beyond giving you a number that goes up or down. I guess most gamers can probably figure out that "Strength" helps you with melee attacks while "Arcane" helps you with abilities, but what about melee attack abilities? What about abilities that summon minions? Does it increase the health of the minions or the damage? What about defense, does that reduce all damage? Is it a linear reduction or are there diminishing returns to stacking defense? What does "health regen: 36" even mean, that isn't a rate! While this might seem like nitpicking, I believe that trawling the internet to find this information is ridiculous when it's central to the function of your character.

The Darksiders franchise has a uniquely mechanical
take on the appearance of angels.
The second issue is that the DLC has some quality control issues. The first DLC, Argul's Tomb, is very bland, with the only highlight being the use of an icy mountainous setting. The second DLC, The Abyssal Forge, is acceptable though short. The third DLC, The Demon Lord Belial, is fine enough . . . if you can even play it without your game crashing.

See, there's a crippling freeze bug in Darksiders II that can happen to anyone but tends to rear its head for players working their way through the DLC, particularly those who reach the third one. Eventually, your character's safe file is "too big" for what the game is set up to handle, and basic actions will cause the game to crash. Despite this being known for months prior to THQ's own death, it was never fixed.

Luckily, one intrepid internet troubleshooter created an executable that fixes this bug as long as your Darksiders II game is saved in the Steam default location. I personally thanked him for his troubles, as it allowed me to finish playing this otherwise enjoyable game. For those who are interested, you can find it here (make sure to turn off Steam auto-updates for Darksiders II after applying the fix):

The Verdict

Darksiders II was an excellent hybrid of several phenomenal game franchises. In addition, it has its own endearingly intense and unabashedly over-the-top artistic direction. I recommend Darksiders II to nearly anyone who enjoys one of the "component games", with the caveat that you might need to do some self-troubleshooting. The publisher THQ is now defunct, so I can only pray that someday the IP for Darksiders gets picked up and a third entry (starring Fury or Strife) is given the attention it so clearly deserves.

4 out of 5

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