Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Darksiders II Review

It's rare that I ever buy a videogame for full price. Usually I wait a few months for the cost to go down, using that time to read player and critic reviews, but I had heard and read so many good things about Darksiders II that I couldn't resist splurging. So far, about halfway through the main quest (I think), I'm more than satisfied with my purchase.

I played the original Darksiders and wasn't blown away; that's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but I felt the areas in it were somewhat cramped, and I particularly didn't enjoy having to backtrack by foot through the entire game to collect items I missed. In the sequel, there's fast travel and Death comes with a horse able to sprint, because the areas are massive.

One of the high points of the original Darksiders was combat. While Death has a similar control system to War, their styles couldn't be any more different. Death is wiry. He dodges and strafes attacks, retaliates, and if you don't get the knack of dodging, you die. When in combat, I find the only part that is clunky is the use of special abilities. To target and employ I have to hold down a trigger, bumper, directional, and then punch a button. It took longer than usual to incorporate my specials into the free-flow, yet it's very reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham series. In other words, it's a proven system I've seen before.

The bosses, which can be epic, require interesting tactics. I am reminded of Legend of Zelda circa Nintendo 64 and beyond. So far, there haven't been any bosses that stumped me. When a throwable or moveable object appears or falls, it's pretty obvious it has to be incorporated in the fight. A lot of the fights in the original I felt were generic. On War, I usually just let off a series of combos, blocked, and unleashed more combos until everything died. On Death, I'm thinking a bit more and figuring things out.

However, combat is not even the best part of this title. Darksiders II employs a leveling system, complete with character builds like an MMO or Borderlands. You can raise ghouls or summon ravens. You can rely on yourself, beefing defensive and/or attack abilities. You can specialize in single combat or taking on groups, or, if you're anything like me, you can be a Jack of all trades and prepare for whatever situation comes your way. There's a lot of possibilities, which can be tailored to your style of play. Not happy with the talents you choose? Respec.

As of right now (Level 17 starting the Lostlight Realm) my build is simple. My Death is like a brawler and dependent on my weapons prowess. I use Teleport with maxed skills that boost wrath regen, refund health, cause enemies to explode and cause them to burn, along with Harvest with every additional skill for it maxed because this ability destroys everything around me. And for the tougher fights, I recently incorporated Aegis Guard for survivability, though I read up on the Ghouls, and they sound as if they could take a lot of aggro off me like tanks. These skills, along with stacking str, def, wrath, crit % and crit dmg, have gone a long way to make my character a beast; I leave health potions on the ground all the time.

Along with builds, there's a RNG loot system akin to action rpgs like Diablo or Torchlight. Now and again, you kill a monster in the wild or in a dungeon (bosses offer some killer gear), and loot drops at your feet. From there, you decide whether to wear or store it. If you don an item, Death's appearance changes with his stats. Some items are more powerful than others, coming with enchants and a rainbow of colored titles. Weapons can be possessed. If you want to upgrade them, you feed it the useless junk in your inventory instead of selling the junk to a vendor. The results can get crazy--I can swat regular beasts with 1 or 2 hits after upgrading a slow-handed mace to its max.

And if you like puzzles as much as I do, Darksiders II is loaded with them. In fact, there is more puzzle solving than combat. I've easily spent an hour leaping, running, shifting objects, exploding walls, vaulting, swimming, and climbing without an enemy, just to progress to the next area, where the door locks behind me and I'm assaulted by droves of monsters that rise from the floor.

Like its predecessor, Darksiders II has a comic book-like approach to the look of the cut-scenes and characters. This time around, the NPCs are a bit more fantasy than apocalyptic, but their voiceovers are nothing less than stellar. I actually sit and listen to everything they have to say without skipping ahead. I've seen complaints about the graphics, and I have no idea what people are talking about. Yeah, it's not Skyrim, where you stop and look at flowers or stand on mountaintops and gaze into the distance. It's a stylized, crisp world that feels...right for the characters.

As for music, the soundtrack really stood out in this one from the beginning, seamlessly flowing, really drawing me into the ambiance. As an example, check out and listen during the Guardian fight at the end of the first realm; the music fully immersed me.

There's a town full of Makers (there are other towns for each realm), where Death can pick up side quests, just in case you feel the main story isn't enough. The quests are basic: fetch these items or kill these guys--it's better than nothing. They ease the burden of rounding up collectables as you search every nook and cranny for items to nab or shoot (you get Fury's pistol early on). Darksiders II has three difficulties, an arena system, and a +game mode after you complete it, offering all sorts of replay.

I've stumbled on a few glitches, nothing gamebreaking. The worst glitch I have noticed is an unresponsive B button; sometimes it's finicky and won't let me instant-kill an enemy or move an object without hitting it several times. Another bug that has happened to me twice is the game not acknowledging a ledge when dropping from above, which has resulted in a death-by-lava and grumbling as I start a climb over from the bottom. I hope both of these bugs will eventually be fixed by the release of the first DLC. If not, the game is still playable and enjoyable.

Another slight problem I've found is the story. It is nowhere near as complex or engrossing as the original. I don't mind, because even though it's a simple tale (Death seeks the Tree of Life to revive humanity and redeem War, who has been blamed for the Apocalypse) it's a solid tale. The characters are rich, neither flat nor boring, and that's more than what I see on TV or in most movies.

Halfway through Darksiders II, I have to say it's been one of the best gaming experiences I've had on my Xbox 360. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see it as a Platinum Hit or Game of the Year: it's that good. Between the original and the sequel, Darksiders is on course to be a truly remarkable franchise with at least two more sequels to unfold, as we have yet to meet Strife or Fury, the last two horsemen.

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