Darksiders II review for Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3, PC
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vigil Games
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards

It?s not that often that a sequel manages to surpass the original. Hollywood, and the games industry to a certain extent, tends to go bigger, badder, and hopefully better when crafting the follow-up to a potential franchise, and sometimes they fall flat on their face in the process. Darksiders II, thankfully, isn?t one of those times. In fact, Darksiders II manages to outdo the original in just about every facet imaginable, to the point that I?d actually have a hard time going back now that I?ve seen what developer Vigil Games is really capable of.

Darksiders II introduces us to Death, another Horseman of the Apocalypse, and blood brother to the original?s protagonist of War. There are some obvious physical differences between the two characters, and Death certainly plays out as a lither, agile version of War. This difference in physique ties into the combat, which feels vastly improved and refined this time out. Death is a combo chaining machine, capable of inflicting serious damage against a variety of demons and creatures at a terrifying rate. The use of an on-screen counter helps to let you know how effective you are at dishing out damage, and there?s also the helpful indicator of how much damage you?re actually doing, via constant number pop-ups when landing blows. You?ll also be able to see satisfying critical hits, damage over time effects and so on.

Death also doesn?t focus on blocking blows, and centers his movement on avoiding them. You?ll have access to a quick dodge function that can be chained together three times in a row, allowing you to quickly back-step, side-step, or dodge around attacks. You?ll also be able to pull off counters if you?re able to get the timing down, and you?ll actually encounter some challenging, tough monsters that?ll also force you to use the abilities at your disposal. Not all demons encountered will prove to be tough, there?s certainly a fair share of what you?d label ?trash mobs? in the game, but boss encounters, both optional and main, will give you a run for your money. On the default difficulty it might be a bit easy for anyone that has experience with similar combat systems in other games, but ratchet it up to hard for a pretty satisfying challenge.

Combat feels really great, and remains fun throughout the 25 hours plus you?ll put into the game. I honestly didn?t feel the need to skip out on any encounter, and actually enjoyed taking down the no name monsters that litter the open world environments surrounding the main dungeons. Finding faster ways to kill these basic enemies was a game unto itself for me, and as I gained access to more skills, the fun feeling that combat delivered just intensified throughout, which is great for a game that lasts as long as Darksiders II.

The original game harbored a lot of comparisons to Nintendo?s Legend of Zelda series, which I honestly feel is a pretty strong complement to what the first Darksiders was able to deliver on. It?s a type of game that Nintendo has long had a stranglehold on, and it?s certainly not a comparison that you?ll see get bandied about very often. And Darksiders II certainly has some of that element to it, but I think it does a better job at creating its own mold here, as opposed to slightly altering another.

Darksiders II gives you a pretty open environment to muck around in, consisting of four main areas that transition into a variety of dungeons and other, optional smaller areas. There?s a number of main quests given by different NPC?s you?ll encounter that propel the storyline forward, but also a fair number of optional quests if you?re interested in checking them out, which serve the purpose of introducing the player to areas that they might not otherwise opt to mess with.

The dungeon design still evokes a Zelda feel, but there?s not as much emphasis on the typical Zelda formula of finding a new item in the dungeon, using it to progress and fight the boss with, and then moving on to the next dungeon to repeat this pattern all over. You will gain access to new items and skills at points, but it?s not as overt in doling this out as a Zelda game tends to be. Darksiders II also does an exceptional job of making use of all your skills and abilities for most dungeons, and while the combat is certainly an excellent improvement, you?ll find that the dungeons are designed to balance combat and exploration extremely well.

As far as the more subjective aspects of the game go, the design of Darksiders II certainly feels a lot more epic than the original. Death explores a whole lot of new territory that looks absolutely gorgeous from one zone to the next, with some fantastic art to back it all up. I really enjoyed the character designs of the previous game, Samael in particular, but almost all of the cast introduced in Darksiders II manages to eclipse the first game for me. The same can be said for the excellent soundtrack, which has some seriously memorable pieces to it (the over-arching Land of the Dead for instance), and is well worth seeking out on its own accord.

Voice acting is also top notch, with a nice performance coming in from notable character actor Michael Wincott, who provides the voice of Death. Also, the supporting cast, consisting of a number of NPC?s that you?ll have mixed interactions with, is also really well done, and lends some real flavor to the world around you.

Another new element found in Darksiders II is the loot system, which is sure to appeal to a lot of folks. Loot is handled in Darksiders II via a color coded system, and drops randomly off of enemies, bosses, and from a large number of treasure chests scattered about the environment. It ranges from junk drops that offer no real stat boosts, to more common green items with one stat boost, and then uncommon, rare, and possessed items. Possessed items, a label reserved for weapons, are particularly interesting, as you?ll actually feed other items to them in order to increase their overall level, and also add in new stats previously not found on the weapon when it original dropped. They end up being quite powerful, and a possessed weapon will last you for quite a few levels.

Death also comes with a full blown experience and leveling system, and two skill trees that you can pour points into. The skill trees resemble something found in most MMO?s, offering branching paths that focus on physical attack, defense, and magical skills. Most parts of the skill tree can have multiple skill points dumped into them in order to improve their base stats, and you?ll not be able to max out both trees at once, so you need to be selective. It also gives some nice incentive to play through a second or third time and try various builds, but there?s also an option to respec and change your build if you?re not feeling your current set-up.

These new elements are just icing on an already delicious cake. Toss in the additional Crucible mode, which offers up a 100 wave arena for you to fight against ever increasing difficult hordes, all the optional side content, and the full story quest, and you?ve got a whole lot of quality gaming to spend your time with. There?s little to complain about with Darksiders II, in fact, I pretty much love everything about this game. I won?t be surprised to see it end up on quite a few Game of the Year lists at the tail end of the year, which I?m sure you?ll come to understand once you lay your hands on it this week.

Grade: A