Hands-on: DARKSIDERS II is looking ridiculously epic – but does it do enough to hold your attention for the long haul? We sit down for a preview play-session of THQ and Vigil’s much-anticipated action sequel.
A breakout hit for THQ and Vigil Games in 2010, the original Darksiders pitted you as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, fighting to clear his name after inadvertently summoning the end of the world. Whoopsie-daisy.
Running parallel to the events of Darksiders, Darksiders II – Vigil’s sequel set for release next month – throws you back into the fight between Heaven and Hell as War’s brother, Death. But this isn’t your typical black-coat, handy-with-a-scythe style of Grim Reaper – Death in Darksiders II floats like Ezio and stings like Bayonetta. The winning mix of stat-building, platforming, customisation and 40-hit combos is back in force for Darksiders II. And from what we’ve played so far, it’s looking more polished than ever.
First off, the two skill trees – Harbinger for melee, Necromancer for magic – can be upgraded and tweaked to the nth degree. If axes and chainmail are your thing, then you can pour experience points into making your armour thicker and your weapons choppier. Or, go the magic route and shoot lasers out of your palms. It’s up to you.
“Bigger” is Darksiders II’s keyword. Though the original had mission hubs and sprawling dungeons, Vigil are scaling everything up for their sequel and pushing for a more open experience. With its cavernous dungeons and vast, baddie-filled meadows, you’ll definitely need your new horse, Despair, to get around Darksiders II.
Or, of course, you could just use your hands. Where War was a heavy, lumbering kill-hulk, Death is nimble, agile and graceful. Sheer walls and rocky outcrops can be traversed with a Prince of Persia-esque speed thanks to Darksiders II’s impressive new platforming system. Just tap the trigger, flick the left stick, and Death will scramble over obstacles like an evil Nathan Drake.
A swing of the sword
All these acrobatics combine well with the fighting, too. Hack ‘n’ slash hit-streaks are chained together by evasive backflips and combat rolls, introducing a quicker pace and greater variety to the original Darksiders’ button-bashing. And if you get tired of swordplay, you can call your horse and go treasure hunting. Darksiders II’s beefed-up world map is peppered with loot, minigames and sidequests, so there’s always something to do.
Just cantering around soaking in the epic environments is a pleasure in itself: the sleek Soul Reaver-esque art style that decorated Darksiders 1 returns in full, eye-popping force here, more beautiful than ever.
But it’s not all good news. Like its decomposing protagonist, Darksiders II often struggles to feel alive. The mission hubs are sparsely populated and quiet, suffering from the same strange airlessness as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mafia II. And while combat is agile, it too fails to fully satisfy, mostly pitting you against repetitive enemy designs with a routine bash of buttons. Your hits don’t feel solid, and the indistinct jumbles of armour and spikes that you’re fighting take too long to die. You never really feel like Death.
With a potential run time of over 20 hours, the chances of Darksiders II outstaying its welcome seem worryingly high. But with more life injected into the environments, less time spent hacking and slashing, and more time spent platforming and customising, there’s every chance that it could hold on for just long enough, clinging to that crumbling ledge for its life.
Darksiders II, from THQ and Vigil Games, will release for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on August 14th 2012. A Wii U version will release alongside the console.