Darksiders 2 hands-on preview

With Darksiders 2 right around the corner (August 14th!), it?s high time we do a little preview of the game considering we?ve had a bit of time to play through the retail version on Xbox 360 and PS3. In fact, having just finished it and gearing up for our review that?ll go live on launch day, what I?d like to do is detail some of the new mechanics and combat you?ll see when you first step foot into the world of Darksiders 2, and also give you a little primer on the events of the previous game and how that ties into the sequel.

The story of the last game revolved around the rider War, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse referenced in the passages of the final book of the Bible, Revelations. War, much to the chagrin of the human race, broke out of the gate a little early, which brought about the end of the world before it was actually scheduled to occur. Because of this, the human race was essentially wiped out, the forces of Heaven and Hell are locked in a massive, unplanned conflict, and War himself is not the most popular guy around. Obviously sinister dealings are afoot on all sides, and War was left wondering why he heeded a call that supposedly never happened.

Without going overboard on spoilers for those of you playing through the game now in prep for Darksiders 2, we?ll just say that things don?t quite get resolved on that front, which leads into the beginning of Darksiders 2, and the appearance of another horseman, Death. Voiced by Michael Wincott (rocking a hair style for Death that looks straight out of his character he played in the film ?The Crow?), sets out to clear his brother?s name at the onset of Darksiders 2, and plans to revive all of humanity to do so.

And he?ll have his work cut out for him. One thing that stands out when playing through Darksiders 2, even the earlier sections of the game, is how much bigger, and more epic, everything around you feels. The environments, the scope of the world, the combat, and the introduction of the loot, experience, and skill tree systems make this feel like a grander experience than the first game. The original Darksiders harbored a lot of comparisons to Nintendo?s Legend of Zelda series, and Sony?s God of War games, and rightfully so. But Darksiders 2 offers a lot more than just a solid combination of previous games you?ve already played.

And speaking of loot, you?ll find yourself picking up a lot of it in Darksiders 2. The game incorporates a loot system that?s akin to other loot heavy titles like Diablo, Torchlight, World of Warcraft, and a variety of other games. Loot is color coded for rarity, featuring plain white ?junk? drops, more common green items that generally boost a stat or two, uncommon blues, rare purples, and the more unique orange drops that signify possessed items. Possessed items, exclusive to your primary and secondary weapons, are the rarest of the bunch, and are also potentially the most powerful things you?ll find. But there?s also unique, named items to uncover that are generally tied into side quests and main quests, which come equipped with unique skills that can?t be found anywhere else.

While the original Darksiders made War a more static character in terms of progression, outside of the ability to increase his health and wrath meter, Death comes with a list of stats that?ll upgrade over time as you gain experience for killing bad guys. Along with a more traditional leveling system, each level up will earn Death a skill point that can be spent on two different skill trees, one of which focuses on melee combat while the other is based around Arcane, or magical attacks. Either skill tree is completely viable in combat, or you can mix and match your progression however you see fit. Most skills can be upgraded up to three times, making them a bit more powerful with each point spent.

With a bigger world to explore, comes a whole lot more content as well. Besides the main quest line available to pursue, there?s a number of optional areas spread across the various locations that Death will explore. This includes a lot of hidden treasure and even a number of completely optional boss fights if you choose to seek them out. Along with the larger scope, Death gets instant access to his own horse, named Despair, which helps you navigate the open world around you quicker than the original.

And then there?s the combat, which is certainly more involved than War?s move set in the original Darksiders. This is helped by the fact that Death is a much more lithe creature than War, focusing less on blocking, and more on deftly evading attacks and rolling in when an enemy over commits. Death comes with a number of basic attacks at the onset of the game, including the ability to use his primary weapon consisting of dual scythes, and a secondary weapon that can be a number of things depending on what you find, including a massive war hammer, a large glaive, or fast striking gauntlets. The combos you?ll get access to will allow you to deftly switch between the equipped primary and secondary weapons via the face buttons on the controller, with different combos emerging based on what secondary weapon you have equipped.

Combat is also a bit more flashy this time out, with constant feedback from each attack showing up in the form of on screen numbers that float up after each blow is dealt, giving you feedback on critical hits, damage over time effects, and elemental damage. There?s a combo score given too, and the ability to cause various status effects depending on the weapons you have equipped. Enemies aren?t pushovers either, as later foes will block, evade, and counter, forcing you to pay attention to the flow of combat and make effective use of a number of combo strings.

There?s also the recently announced Crucible side quest, which involves an arena mode that has you battling it out against 100 waves of enemies that increase in difficulty. The Crucible isn?t available from the onset of the game, but you?ll get access to it quickly enough. It?s also broken up into four sections consisting of 25 waves a piece, and completing each section will result in unique, powerful rewards for Death. There are also some surprises for more devout Crucible conqueror?s that we won?t spoil here.

Another neat addition is an in-game item trading system across Xbox Live and PSN. At various points on different maps you?ll have access to Dragon Tome locations that?ll let you send and receive loot to other folks on your friends list. You?ll also get some items sent to you via the Dragon Tome system from in-game characters, and the game will helpfully alert you when something has been sent. It?s a pretty neat feature for folks to trade items with friends that are more geared towards whatever discipline they?re pursuing.

But that?s where we?ll cap things off, as we prep for our review next Tuesday. There?s so much more to talk about too, so make sure you look for it when it goes live at 9 A.M. Pacific on August 14th, the same day the game launches in North America.