The original Darksiders was a strange game. It mixed varied gameplay mechanics from many well known series and threw in an original story for an ambitious, but not always well executed experience. Vigil Games set out to change that with Darkdsiders II. They started fresh with a new protagonist - Death - got a new setting and changed the gameplay style drastically. Before launch, I was worried that Vigil might be biting off more than they could chew. The game just seemed too huge to be true. Four times the size of the original? A Diablo-like loot system? It was too good to be true. Well, my worries have been smashed into little pieces by Darksiders II. This is a content rich game with a beautiful visual style and marvelous gameplay. While it isn't without its faults, it is one of the best games so far this year.
One of my biggest issues with Darksiders was its gameplay. War was a tank, both in strength and movement. Combat was slow and sometimes clunky, and what little platforming segments there were in the game felt out of place. Darksiders II couldn't be any more opposite. Death, as his namesake suggests, is agile and elusive. Blocking is no longer an option, with Death instead opting to use quick evasive moves. Attacking is fast and frenzied, making combos look and feel much better than War's same slash over and over. But the biggest new addition to gameplay is a free-running system. In a similar vein to Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Death can run along walls, climb beams and jump from ledge to ledge. A whole new array of tools is also available to Death, and every dungeon has clever puzzles that utilize each one. These additions add to the overall dungeon design so that each one felt fresh and unique.
The original Darksiders was set on a post-apocalyptic earth and saw War fighting to prove that he did not cause all the madness that had occurred there. Instead of opting for a direct sequel, Vigil crafted a story that runs parallel to War's account. Death is convinced of his brothers innocence and sets out uncover why he was falsely accused of triggering Armageddon. In order to do this, he ventures across four realms trying to get favors from characters in each one. How does he get these favors? Fetch quests, and lots of them. Every time Death tries to forward his quest, he is besieged by requests." Oh, you want to go through this door? You're going to have to collect this item that was stolen from me." This is essentially what is repeated throughout the whole adventure. In the end, I forgot where I was going and why. The story is so bogged down and padded out by other issues that it meanders into obscurity. And after finally solving everyones issues, you are treated to one of the most underwhelming endings in recent history.
Darksiders II is a vast improvement over its predecessor visually. The art direction has a much more fantastical look, and its color pallet is much more diverse. Character models contain a stunning amount of detail, and each realm is instantly discernible from the others and feature sweeping vistas and a high level of architectural detail. While the overworld is gorgeous, things are a bit unevenly spread out at times. Everything of importance is shoved into one specific area, and the rest is left wide open. These wide open fields also feature minimal vegetation and end up just looking like barren wasteland. There are also occasional framerate dips, especially in the last two to four hours of the story. They are few and far between, but still enough to be an issue.
When Vigil said that Darksiders II was four times larger than the original, they were not exaggerating. Each of the four realms are easily the same size of the originals, if not larger. My first playthrough clocked in at just over sixteen hours and that was ignoring all the side quests, which there are plenty of. Almost every NPC will give out multiple side quests and there are dozens of optional dungeons. And that isn't even taking New Game+ or the Crucible into account. Once you're done with the story you can opt to carry your stats, items and currency over to a new playthrough. The Crucible is an arena type mode with one-hundred waves. Every five waves you can leave and claim your loot, or continue to try to gain more loot. Speaking of loot... oh loot, how I love you. The loot system in Darksiders II is like potato chips; once you have one you need fifteen bags worth. Darksiders II adopts the Diablo-style loot system and the result is addictive. Almost every enemy you kill explodes into gold and loot, and every chest holds a surprise. Even after sixteen hours I find myself wanting to search for the best loot possible.
With Darksiders II, Vigil has crafted a wonderful mix of multiple genres and the results are great. Looting is addictive, combat had improved immensely since the last iteration and there is enough content to keep players busy for dozens of hours. While there are a few performance issues and the story is stretched a bit too thin at times, Darksiders II delivers on Vigil's promises. It's one of the best games of last year, and exactly what a sequel should be.