The first Darksiders answered the question of what War is good for: a brilliant gothic action game. Now, annoyed at the treatment of his brother Horseman of the Apocalypse at the hands of universal forces, Death is taking the reins for a follow-up that’s significantly larger, stranger and gorier than before.
Well, eventually – early sections of the game are positively sedate, spent wandering through a largely pastoral world chatting with friendly giants and occasionally slaughtering the odd rock monster. You’ll soon find yourself in the first dungeon though, where thoughts soon turn to puzzle solving, Prince of Persia-style platforming elements and some truly impressive bosses.
Quests and levelling are handled much like any MMO you care to have played – speak to character, gain objective, complete for reward and experience. As Death’s powers grow, the range of fearsome attacks on offer expand, such as darting around hordes of enemies at speed or unleashing your true Grim Reaper form. However, when swarmed, maintaining a target is tricky, and inexact camera movement plus imprecise dodging mechanics can frustrate. Unlike its predecessor, souls are no longer harvested to replenish health, replaced by a number of health potions – useful when you have a gargantuan demon bearing down on you and need to heal quickly.
It also ambitiously dwarfs the first game, measuring up at about four times the size. For a world so large, it’s merciful that map teleportation is in place, saving you precious hours of tedious backtracking for objectives. The game benefits from outstanding art direction throughout, particularly the strikingly monochrome Shadow Gorge early on, where only Death and the pallid glow of his steed, Despair, provide any colour. However, a lot seems curiously low textured, particularly characters’ clothes and accessories.
While you can identify the ingredients of Darksiders II – traces of God of War and Soul Reaper in its aesthetics and tone, and even Legend of Zelda for its general structure – the game is much more than the sum of its parts. An engaging core story and literally hundreds of secrets to uncover make it an improvement on its forebear and an excellent game in its own right.