Darksiders II review
“The Legend of The God of Persia 3″
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”
I’ll bet that when director Jim Jarmusch so shamelessly declared the ease with which he nicked his artistic ideas he never imagined his commentary on art and film would be so aptly quoted in a video game review. But said video game so perfectly embodies these words that they almost feel wasted talking about Hollywood’s recycling of the umpteenth Saw film, and so superb is the result of developer Vigil Games’ latest appropriation that no gamer should doubt that Darksiders 2, despite being totally derivative, is a totally derivative masterpiece.
As per the sub-header, Darksiders 2 is a blend of all the best bits of some of gaming’s most beloved icons. Your hero, Death, journeys to absolve his brother War through fantastical, apocalyptic realms that mimic the enthralling design of Legend of Zelda, all the while mixing quick and heavy attack combos apparently learned under the tutelage of God of War’s belligerent Kratos.
Death is also far more nimble than his lumbering brother was in the first game, and his appearance and physique (one might describe him as “a buff Skeletor”) are surely attributed to the wall running and acrobatic skills only a Prince of Persia could bestow. And, since we’re calling out all the digital shoplifting here, there’s even a bit of Diablo 3 thrown into Vigil Games’ big bag marked “swag”, as the Diablo Factor (my term for any game that perpetually dangles the tasty carrot that is the promise of better loot) is forever present to make you want to explore just one more dungeon before bedtime.
But the whole of Darksiders 2 is indeed greater than the sum of its pilfered parts, and what a lot of whole there is. The multi-dimensional game world spans an area more than twice the size of the original, and although there are many barren areas with no purpose other than being transitional and to create a sense of scale, the massive expanses lend the game a considered sense of pace and the feeling that you’re playing in a desolate realm that Death himself really belongs in. This offers a pleasant contrast to the manufactured, unexplainable circular-saw-infested walls of Prince of Persia, or the overly polished and pristine halls and pathways of the oddly janitor-less God of War.
As we all know, big spaces need big baddies, and the infrequent but awesome boss battles are one of the coolest aspects of Darksiders 2. While the wealth of combo options for regular combat makes you feel like you’re ordering off the McDonald’s of murder menus, the fights against the big enemies are surprisingly simple, but varied and challenging enough thanks to their individuality. From hunting down ice giants in frosty caverns to sizzling skirmishes against fiery phoenixes, Death’s quest is given a sense of importance with each and every one of these duels. Even the immense clash at the end of the first of the game’s three acts will leave you wringing your controller in anticipation of what’s next, and the “whoa’s” and “f*** me’s” only increase as you progress.
An RPG (or even a quasi-RPG like Darksiders 2) needs solid mechanics to work, and the plug-and-play nature of the items in the world will have you kitting Death out in the sweetest reaper-friendly duds with ease. An already simple gear system is made even more user friendly by allowing you to scan an item’s attributes immediately as it falls from a dying foe, meaning you can compare it to your current weapons and armour and equip it instantly if it’s to your liking.
The skills system is also deceptively simple, and while the two separate sides of Harbinger (mainly the combat stuff) and Necromancer (the “raising the dead” stuff) are different enough to help justify a second playthrough, any type of mix of the two skill trees will gently enhance your game rather than completely define it.
Visually, Darksiders 2 is… well, it’s just a bit on the hideous side, if I’m honest, and the low resolution textures will likely put a lot of people off almost immediately. (Cover your eyes, PC guys, these are some vintage console graphics right here). However, after putting a few hours of playtime in, it becomes apparent that the simple visuals add to the game’s style and comic vibe of Death and his world rather than detract from it, and once you get caught up zipping across chasms and lopping off skeletons’ skulls you’ll be having far too much fun to care that those rocks off in the distance snuck in from the late PS2 era while no one was watching.
The entire aesthetic is saved by excellent art direction and talented voice work, with the host of characters met on the journey all designed and spoken for interestingly and individually: Death growls sardonically through his bony mask, the wise Makers that guide you are appropriately Lord-of-the-Rings-esque in their wisdom and beard length, and various adversaries spill their distaste for your hero along with their nefarious plans just as typically as any Hollywood fantasy blockbuster.
Despite a lack of originality and a couple of technical hiccups that no one seemed to spot while all the thievery was going on, I have to admit I’ve changed my tune a little about games that steal from each other. Unlike some other industries and companies (I’m glaring at you, Apple and Samsung), gaming seems content to let its constituents borrow and improve on stuff that we as gamers really enjoy, and Darksiders 2 offers more a nod of respect to those it steals from rather than thumbing its undead, boneless nose at them.
And who can argue when the final product is this much fun? I’d even go so far as to say that it’s my favourite game of the year thus far, and I haven’t felt this twitchy about getting home to slay more demons and swipe more loot than when I lost an indeterminate number of hours during my high school years to the time-sink of Diablo 2.
Oh, and don’t be put off by the low review scores for visuals and originality: this is one overall score where the Fun Factor should count at least twice, and it’s also the only 10 I’ve ever given a game in this category.
So, I believe I can safely say that the old mantra is in fact correct: the only certain things in life are death and taxes, so once you’ve got this year’s pesky SARS nonsense out of the way, claim your pennies back and make certain you invest some of them in Death’s most awesome adventure yet.
Editorial from James: While I completely agree with Dan’s assessment of Darksiders 2, I feel that PC gamers must be warned that as it stands, Darksiders 2 can prove to be a bit of a mess on the platform. A recent patch from Vigil Games has rectified some problems, such as the previously non-functional V-sync. Reports from forums around web suggest that some people are having no trouble at all with the game (I’m one of the lucky ones, and it is great fun to play) while others cannot get it working at all.