Interview: With DARKSIDERS II just around the corner, and its first impressions very much made, we chat to lead designer Haydn Dalton and art director Han Randhawa about Vigil Games’ action sequel, and how they hope it’s bigger and better than ever.
The introduction to Darksiders II sees the player pitted against a version of War. Is this to emphasise the difference in fighting styles between Death and that of War in the original?
Haydn Dalton: Yeah, it’s for two reasons really. One is to show the contrast between the two, while the other is that we knew people wanted to see a cameo from him in some way. Now, we knew we couldn’t use the actual War, so we thought essentially a shadow of War would be a good way of bringing him in.
If you notice, when you’re hitting War as Death, you’re not really impacting on him much because he’s such a big, strong character and he’ll basically fight through your attacks because he’s all about the brute force and breaking through things. That’s why we force the player to evade, get out the way then show off how nimble Death is. So, it’s a good way to show the contrast between the two, right in the first level.
Key to Darksiders II is the artistic style in the introduction sequences. How did you come up with such a distinctive look?
Han Randhawa: The whole thing, the style, is based a lot on comic books that our creative director Joe Madureira has done, and he’s kind of our style compass, if you like. So, the fact that it’s set with this comic book look about it, we’ve tried to use this graphic novel, painted sort of style, and it seemed to make sense anyway to push the cutscenes into 2D. Budget came into it as well, but it seems to work really, really well, giving that sense of graphic storytelling to progress the story and exploration.
But at the same time, if you jump back into the world, we’re not going for an ultra-real look, even if the surfaces do have some treatments because of the next-gen nature of the game. But our silhouettes, the shape and language, is very chunky and comparable to a graphic novel. That was a very big challenge for us, because that’s where it came from to be honest.
Our motives for doing it are to make sure we have a very distinct style. We want to stand out from the crowd. We want to make sure that if you see a Darksiders piece of artwork you feel it’s Darksiders. We want to own the style, we want to make a house style. That’s very important for us. We didn’t want to be just lost in the swathe of other projects out there. That was very key for us.
Haydn Dalton: Yeah, we think if people see a screenshot from Darksiders anywhere, they automatically know what our product is, so it’s a bit like our own built-in product placement. So basically this time the environments and characters are much more cohesive visually. Everything about it – colour palette, texture finish – is all very similar, and the big key thing is that if someone sees a screenshot of our game, they automatically know it’s a Darksiders game. It doesn’t feel like a next-gen game but you can’t tell because it’s ‘next-gen grey,’ ours is much more vibrant. We’re happy to be different like that.
The story runs parallel to that of Darksiders I, so how difficult is it to write a narrative that links into the original, is a story in its own right, while also considering future games in the series fitting into the same timeline?
Haydn Dalton: The biggest thing to do when we start a brand new story like this – certainly with Death – the key point’s to tell his story, first and foremost. So first we come up with the main plotlines of why Death is doing what he’s doing and how it pans out. Then once we’ve got that main spine of the story, then we can start looking at how we can do the crossover with what happened with War and whereabouts would that crossover between the two.
Now as for the other two potential horsemen, we kind of already know what type of characters these are, but how they’ll slide into this one or what we do in the future, that’s hard to say. We’ll only look into that at any deep level once we know we’re doing another Darksiders in the same universe somewhere.
So right now it’s important to tell it, and obviously link the story back to the first one, but not so much that it’ll put people off. If you haven’t played the first one we don’t want this to spoil only playing the second one. We have to make this story compelling, fun, and it has to revolve around that character. But there’s going to be a lot of insider information where people will go, ‘Ah, that’s what happened in the first game.’ There’s a certain level of that, but it’s not enough that players will be confused if they haven’t played the original game. So, there’s a bit of balance there.
There’s a taste of that in Darksiders II when you’re handed your brother’s gun, and you don’t know why that’s there, and in future we’ll find out why.
Haydn Dalton: Yeah, if you’ve played the first one you know that War got Mercy and now death gets Redemption. These are both of Strife’s pistols, so there will be some tie-in, obviously, in the future. We know what sort of character Strife is, he lost both his pistols. Why did he lose them, and why do these guys have them? That’ll be written into the story as to what went on. So, even if you didn’t get the little nod to the first game, you’ll still know that it’s one of your brother’s pistols and it’s a cool gear item to pick up. From a sequel point of view it doesn’t disrupt anything, but if you’ve played the first one you’ll go, ‘Ah, that’s the second of the pair.’ So there’s a little bit of insider information there for those who’ve played Darksiders I.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Haydn Dalton: I hope fans of the original really like it and come out and get the second one. I think it really feels like it’s Darksiders 2.5 as opposed to just a straight sequel. We’ve added so much with the loot and the NPCs and quests. I really do think that it’s a much richer experience this time, there’s much more flexibility for the player and there are a lot of reasons for replayability, because we think it’s important not only to reward people from the first game, but also reward people who’ve spent their hard earned money, so we want to make sure that they’ll get a lot of time and fun out of this one.
Han Randhawa: I think Haydn pretty much said it: it’s a much bigger game. It’s an interesting experience because there’s a lot of stuff in the first game that we wanted to do but couldn’t. You’re going to see a really polished, epic Darksiders game here. So, if you liked what you saw in the first one, you’ll absolutely love this one.