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Darksiders II Review (X360)

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Darksiders II Review (X360)
THQ
Darksiders II takes the Zelda-style action adventure formula from the first game, polishes up the rough edges, adds some extra clever puzzles, and throws in loads of loot to create a game with obvious sources of inspiration but with enough new twists to stand on its own. With challenging and satisfying combat, loads of content, and nice presentation, Darksiders II is a pretty complete package for gamers looking for a little action and adventure. Our full review has all of the details.
Game Details

  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Vigil Games
  • ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros: Fun, satisfying combat; great puzzles; nice presentation; lots of dungeons; some neat boss fights
  • Cons: Drags in the middle; repetitive missions; so-so loot

Darksiders II picks up shortly after the events of the first game. War has been charged by the Charred Council for royally screwing things up on Earth and bringing about the apocalyptic End War between angels and demons, but Death steps in to try to figure out who was really responsible for it all. Along the way, maybe he'll find a way to restore humanity on Earth.

Death travels first to the Forge Lands in search of the Tree of Life, then to the Land of the Dead, and the angelic Ivory Citadel (with a brief stop on post apocalyptic Earth) on his way to finding the ultimate truth about his brother War. Each location is large and has many paths that take you to multiple dungeons and there are lots of hidden items and collectibles to find tucked into every corner of each world. Darksiders II is roughly 20 hours in length and a bit longer if you want to try to collect everything.

XP and Loot

Darksiders II is a sort of action'adventure/RPG where you explore the worlds, talk to NPCs to get missions, and then go off to points unknown to clear a dungeon. You earn XP, which levels you up and gives you a skill point that you can spend on abilities spanning two separate skill trees offering a wide variety of skills. The game also features a loot system where you pick up hundreds of different weapons and pieces of armor, which you can equip or sell off. The loot system is a little iffy, though, because there is almost too much of it. Enemies constantly drop stuff, but 95% of it is junk that isn't any better than what you already have. This is a part of loot in any game, we know, but it seems particularly out of balance here. Most of the time the random drops aren't better than what the shops offer, and even the special items for beating bosses are usually only mediocre, so we ended up just selling almost everything we found and bought the best stuff at shops with the cash. The point of loot is the notion that the next drop could be special or the next boss might have something awesome which keeps you playing, but that doesn't really happen here all that often so the carrot of potentially better loot rots away pretty early on here.

Gameplay

THQ
Luckily, the gameplay is about more than the addiction of finding better loot. Darksiders II is a hack and slash adventure game crossed with some remarkably clever puzzles and dungeon designs. It is kind of like The Legend of Zelda for grown ups (not saying Zelda isn't for grown ups, just saying there is a difference in tone) with far more challenging combat are much more tricky puzzles than anything Nintendo has attempted. First, the combat. Darksiders II is a hack and slash game similar to God of War where different button combinations produce different combos. Depending on the skills you choose, you can also call on a group of corpses or a murder of crows to help you during battles or you can go with defensive skills to form barriers or recharge your health among many other abilities. You also have a true Grim Reaper form (because normally Death looks like Nathan Explosion from "Metalocalypse") that you can use to deal extra damage when you build up a meter enough. The combat is quite challenging because different enemy types require different ways of beating them, and all of them do a surprising amount of damage if you aren't careful. You always have to be on your toes. Boss fights are also especially challenging, particularly some optional bosses, with some real standouts overall including a great Shadow of the Colossus inspired one against a towering behemoth.

The other part of the gameplay comes in the form of platforming and puzzle solving, which both contribute to the overall dungeon design in the game. The platforming is very similar to Prince of Persia where you'll see a series of paths and handholds to climb on that make things pretty obvious. Other than a couple of sections where you're trying to climb as fast as possible to avoid a hazard, the platforming is pretty standard. The puzzle solving, however, is anything but standard. As you play through the game you earn new abilities that open up new puzzle possibilities. You get a sort of grapple beam (like Metroid) that lets you swing across certain gaps or pull items or enemies toward you (or you toward them if they're big enough). You learn to split your soul so you can solve puzzles that have multiple pressure switches. You even get a portal making ability, though it only works on specific plates in the world. All of these abilities and more come together in the form of some of the best puzzles we've seen in a long time. Granted, they are still mainly some variation of pushing blocks and activating switches, but they are just extremely well done here and more clever than most games. These are the type of puzzles that actually stump you and make you think for a while so you'll turn off the game and then come back an hour or two later after an "a-ha!" moment because you kept thinking about it.

For the most part this combination of combat, platforming, and puzzles is excellent and leads to some fun dungeons to explore, and there are lots and lots of dungeons to explore in this game, but because of the sheer volume of dungeons it all kind of loses its luster after a while. Instead of having a handful of great, large, well designed dungeons like Zelda, Darksiders II just has dozens of short so-so ones. The middle third of the game in particular really drags and the puzzles get kind of predictable and the dungeons a little too straightforward. It also doesn't help that all of the missions are incredibly repetitive variations of "Find me object X". In the midst of one quest to find three soldiers for the Lord of the Dead, one of those soldiers asks you to find three more things for him! And every mission requires a trip through a new dungeon. When the dungeon designs are good, they are very good, but when they are mediocre, they are pretty darn boring. Thankfully, there is absolutely more good than bad and things really pick up over the last few hours.

All in all, the gameplay is fun and satisfying and challenging and there is lots and lots to do. New copies of the game come with a code that gives you access to The Crucible, which is a long and difficult combat grind through a 100 floor tower which offers special (and actually worthwhile) rewards for completing it all. The game also features a New Game+ mode where you carry over your upgrades and equipment to a new playthrough.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation is very good in Darksiders II with nice visuals and solid sound. The graphics are nice with some neat enemy designs, though the textures in the environments are kind of simple and all of the dungeons end up looking the same. Death also looks pretty cool, though as we said above, he's probably Nathan Explosion under the mask. The whole game has a definite heavy metal-inspired visual style, which we liked.

The sound is good with great sound effects, solid voice work, and nice music (orchestral, not metal, unlike the visuals ...).

Bottom Line

THQ
In the end, Darksiders II is a great sequel that really builds on everything from the first Darksiders, but does a better job of giving the game its own identity. You can definitely see the influences from other games in a lot of the gameplay, but Darksiders II puts a little twist on it all or just plain does it better, which makes the overall experience stand on its own a lot better. True Legend of Zelda-style games are few and far between on non-Nintendo consoles, which as a recovering Nintendo fanboy I'm only all too aware of, but Darksiders II does a pretty convincing job of filling that gap on Xbox 360 (also try Nier). If you're looking for an action-adventure title with some clever puzzles and a surprising amount of longevity thanks to The Crucible and New Game+, Darksiders II is worth a purchase.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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