Darksiders 2: Rider of all trades, master of none.

This article contains spoilers.

Before I begin, I’ll have you know I played the first game of the franchise, and to be honest, I was pretty much excited to see the sequel being released. Despite the original Darksiders had many flaws, it successfully wrapped the whole thing into a cliffhanger ending that left us wondering “Oh man, what will happen next?”. Truly, the ending of Darksiders was probably the most meticulously organized holdup I have ever seen in modern gaming, and it is even more fascinating to observe as the last part of the game felt really rushed, and the last boss pathetic in every point. But the last cinematic made me forget the whole sequence, and the last image built up the suspense. And so was I anxiously waiting a sequel, aware of THQ’s economic situation.

And Darksiders 2 was finally released, with much more marketing campaign than its predecessor ever had. This was probably the first sign that warned me. I often think to establish this as my first rule concerning any product in this era of consumable products: the more publicized it is, the more suspicious I am. But, as usual, I did not pay attention to the numerous announcements. For me it was crystal clear: I just wanted to know what could the series possibly bring up after the scandalous (in a good way) ending of the first game. I was expecting everything, but mostly a story with one of the 3 remaining Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You may imagine my joy when I discovered that we would play Death, who is indeed a Horseman and War’s brother, in a total new adventure but still related to the universe set through the first game.

Alas, the game turned to be a massive letdown in so many points that I can’t say it was a great experience or a great sequel to the first Darksiders. It was certainly not horrific, and I did enjoy a few sequences, but overall I know that I will not classify this game as a “great game”, and last but not least, it did not bring me anything new or memorable that I will preciously hold in my memory and remember.

Do you like soup?

The first Darksiders was already a mix of genres. Hack and slash in one hand, and adventure filled with puzzle-based dungeons on the other hand, it created the surprise for many gamers that did not expect such a title. Add some biblical background and heavy-armored characters dealing with giant creatures, and voila, the franchise was born. Nothing new under the sun, but the mix was balanced. Darksiders 2 pretty much continued the soup but in such a way that it became indigestible. Through Death, a whole new set of moves is available: the character can no longer block, like War used to do, but instead he gains the ability to dodge more rapidly than his brother and most importantly, he becomes an Assassin of Persia. I cannot find another way to say it, but running on the walls, climbing and jumping in almost every dungeon reminded me of a mix between Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed. His animation when running on the walls is even the same as the Prince. When he dies, some sort of rewind ability grabs you and puts you back on the last solid ground you left, with no punishment for dying, allowing you to try again over and over the move (which will be discussed later when I will talk about the nonexistent difficulty of the game).

There is no need for me to say that Darksiders 2 follows its prequel’s path. The hack and slash is still present, and if it was not already obvious in the first game because War is far less mobile and dexterous than Death, here every combat remind of God of War. Death fights with 2 scythes, and a secondary weapon which can be chosen among hammers, claws, or claws. Is Kratos disguised as Death or the contrary? I did not find out the truth yet. The action is abundant, and the fights are fast-paced, much faster than in the prequel. Death is extremely quick and the gameplay during combats is excellent. Where War could be sometimes clumsy and lacked reactivity when the player mashed the buttons, his brother is responsive and mobile. It is a pleasure to dodge, grab, slash the enemies. With two set of weapons, combats are more versatile. Depending on what you choose, you can alternate between slow and powerful hammers, quick and cunning claws or traditional yet efficient swords.

However, Darksiders 2 piled the food up too high on its plate. I only asked for a decent sequel, full of action and puzzle-based dungeons. Instead, I received a 5-in-1 game with ton of features that add nothing to the basic idea, which was God of War mixed with Zelda. Apparently, the soup was not spicy enough. I already mentioned Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed. While the ability of Death to go where he wants to (and it is mostly on walls, don’t ask me why) is entertaining, it feels most of the time as a gap-filling ability to lengthen the dungeons and it reveals to be somehow frustrating when at the end of a dungeon you realize that you spent more time climbing walls than actually slaying monsters. Because, yes, most of the times, dungeons are incredibly empty. Much emptier than in the prequel. Except for the Earth level (which was awful on its own), there is no true dungeon without climbing and jumping and doing the acrobat. The cherry on the cake is a sequence where Death has to rapidly climb a wall, as it is timed and suffers no error, for the spiky ground tries to catch you up. Ironically, this was the most difficult thing to do in the game, and by difficult I mean, holy mother of Horseman, are we playing Darksiders 2 or Prince of Persia: Nightmare Mode edition? I have nothing against difficulty in a videogame, in fact I appreciate challenge when playing, but this particular timed race was not from Darksiders. It was from Prince of Persia. Seeing my character dying over and over in the last second because he didn’t react fast enough after I pressed the button made me realize how much this game reminded me of Prince of Persia. And that is the point I would like to insist on: Darksiders 2 has no identity. The mixture of genres was decent in Darksiders, but in the sequel it is too much. The soup looks like Frankenstein’s monster. I read many reviews saying that it was a brilliant tribute to the classic of video games. Personally I did not feel it that way for one simple reason: it brought nothing on the table. As said before, the climbing parts were more gap-filling tricks than enjoyable moments, not to mention than the acrobatic parkour was more linear than a line. It could have been like Mirror’s Edge where you could, at some rare moments, use a different path (plus the parkour thing was the essence of game, and not a cool borrowed feature that has nothing to do with the core). Instead, we are forced to jump and climb where we could have just walked as well, just like we did with War. It is funny the first hours, but not beyond.

Another thing that is badly incorporated in the game is the loot system, borrowed from MMO, and RPG features. At first it seems brilliant: Death is now equipped and able to loot tons of powerful items, from his weapons to his boots. The Horseman is fully customizable, allowing great combinations of sets that enhance a whole new statistics-based system based on the traditional RPG canon: armor, damage, health, mana (ups I mean Wrath), critical hit chance, resistance… Death also gains experience and levels up like a true RPG character. Skill points are awarded with each new level, and they can be spent on two talent trees. Then it unlocks some abilities, depending on the tree you choose. You have the Harbinger one, which is more offensive and the Necromancer that relies on the use of crows and external elements that help you, more like a sorcerer. To be honest, I did not find any utility in all of this. To begin with, the loot system. Death will find many items, each of them with unique statistics. While it looks nice theoretically, it is meaningless in the game. The overabundance of items found drastically reduces their lifespans. One item is barely picked up than another one reveals to be better. I was literally playing the Sims, opening the menu to equip Death every half-hour. It is worse if you use the shops. In lieu of a looting system, Darksiders 2 has a pale pastiche of what looting really means, i.e grinding and bashing for a long time in order to finally obtain the precious and longtime desired element. Here, no need! Just walk through the game as you would normally do and the items should drop right in front of you, every 10 minutes or less. For the RPG features, it is also pointless. The Necromancer tree is clearly uninteresting. Why would anyone use long-range abilities and crows while Death is a close-range fighter relying on his dodges and his speed? That does not make any sense. Hence the Harbinger tree usually becomes the most useful. I do not call it a RPG choice. We could have stayed with War’s system that the game would have been the same. In fact, Darksiders 2 forgot what made the franchise popular: hack and slash mixed with puzzle-based dungeons. Instead of this, we have plenty of new features that seems interesting, such as climbing and looting, but in the end it does not bring anything exciting. It is surely new, original (to a certain extent, if we do not have a gaming history) and entertaining for the first hours, but rapidly becomes forgettable, until the ultimate realization: Darksiders 2 is a huge empty world.

I can hear my echo in there.

The game takes place in a huge universe. One of the main flaws of Darksiders was his extremely short duration and the numbers of dungeons within. Problem is solved with Darksiders 2: the first part by itself is equal to the whole prequel. The game is immensely vast in comparison with the first one. However it is also terribly empty. Several times during the game, I had this well-known feeling that occur more and more often in modern games: it is beautiful, but it is empty. But beautiful. But empty. It is so empty in fact that I do not even know where to begin.

The environments in Darksiders 2 are much more diversified than in the prequel. War only spent his time on a ravaged Earth, all in black, gray and red tones, very demonic and post-apocalyptic. Meanwhile, Death travels through various landscapes, from the Makers’ Land to the Kingdom of the Dead, through the Earth and the Angels City. The first part of the game is truly a wonder for the eyes. The Maker’s Land is all about gigantic. The Guardian Boss was probably my favorite moment of the game. Here we are, fighting against a creature a hundred times bigger than Death, in a vast plain. It rings a bell, does it? Very Shadow of the Colossus-ish, yes indeed. Maybe the only good tribute of the game, as it is well implemented and is the peak of the first part. Seriously, I was severely disappointed after this boss fight when I encountered the other ones, much smaller and insignificant compared to this one. It should have been the final boss (I will come back to it later). However the magnificence of the landscapes also reveal the emptiness inhabiting them. Everything is so deserted that it becomes painful to travel from one point to another. With the exception of some locations which unlock side quests, there is nothing to do from one dungeon to another. The linearity present in such vast environments is truly hurting my inner explorer. It is a delight for the eyes, but a pain for the game. Nothing to do, nothing to discover. Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty of side quests for those who want them. But they are all so forgettable, just like the rest, that I do not see the point of doing them, except to unlock the items. They do not participate in any way with the storyline. To take an example, in the Legend of Zelda, some secondary quests could bring you Pieces of Heart that increase your health. Unless you feel brave enough, you had to do those quests in order to have more health. Here in Darksiders 2, what is the point of doing those side-quests when you get upgrade your equipment every 10 minutes? Do you really need those items? I even had the feeling than the reward would be inferior to my actual equipment, hence not worth doing it and because of that I did not complete the side quests. Not to mention that they are incredibly repetitive. From what I understood, it was something like “Collect X things then go back”. But the game is so linear that I do not see the point to come back in an environment and look carefully around a second time. What is the point? The whole purpose of the game is to go from A to B, yet the side quests specifically asks us to either take our time or to come back and search again. This is not hack and slash mixed with puzzle-based dungeons. This is artificial length trying to disguise the void of the game. The dungeons are already so slow-paced with linear parkour tricks taking over combats that to take another few minutes to look around and find gems would almost classify Darksiders 2 into ‘point and click’ genre. And I do mean my words.

Speaking of void, I have to talk about the characters in this game. Did I say characters? Because they are none in Darksiders 2, except Uriel from the prequel. I have rarely seen a game where the characters were so insignificant and meaningless. The principle during the whole game is the following: Death enters a new zone, encounters a totally unknown protagonist which is more or less powerful than the previous one (but usually higher in the hierarchy of the world), speaks with him during 5 minutes and never sees him/her again. What do we know of the protagonists? Do they have some background? Absolutely not. Right now, I am unable to say for any of the characters I have encountered anything more than “It’s some heavy-armored/fantasy guy who wants me to do his duty and find some keys in order to progress through the game”. The best example is at the very end of the game, where Death meets Lilith, her supposed “mother”. Their meeting is the following: Death sees her, refuses that she calls herself his “mother”, asks her where is the Demonic key. Then Lilith takes one of Death’s previously obtained power, upgrades it, and tells him to seek another guy, Samael (seen in the first Darksiders), for he has the key. That’s it. We will not learn anything more of their relations. What if Death did not have the power? What would Lilith would have done instead? It is not only the perfect example of the insignificance of the characters, but also the demonstration that the game needed it to be that way, and nothing else. It is by no mean logical and coherent. For example, in Darksiders, Uriel became an important and deeply developed character: member of the Hellguard, she believed War is responsible for the fall of her chief that she beloved, and wants to take revenge against him. She does not also believe that her chief (whose name is Abaddon) became the Destroyer. Driven by its will to avenge Abaddon, she will seek out War but at the same time she will begin to ask questions and discover the truth, and finally helps the Horseman. Now what about Lilith? Well, she’s Death’s mother, and she created the Corruption. She can manipulate a power come from nowhere in order to help her son reach a key. Oh, and she has a relation with Samael, and maybe the Dark Prince. Truly, you can not say anymore about her. I had to look upon the wiki to find information about her that are never said in the game. And you can say nothing more about any other character. It always consists in a 5-minutes discussion unlocking the next quest. Usually it introduces the protagonist as someone important and yet it feels like every single one of them are just here, lazy and doing nothing. Why don’t we see them more than once? A few exceptions aside, it is very frustrating because it is nearly impossible to feel anything towards the characters. In the end, it is “oh look, another guy who will ask me to do something else in order to progress through the story.”

And the story…how do I begin? Maybe it is related, but the lack of truly developed protagonists goes along with a poorly written story. The first one in Darksiders was not magnificent, but at least it was clear and direct. In Darksiders 2, it begins well, but meanders horribly in the middle part and becomes ridiculous in the end. The plot would have been so much better, though. Is is so frustrating to progress through the game, and realize that you do not know why you have to do this and that. Let me put it this way: so basically, Death wants to rescue his brother and prove that he is not guilty by restoring humanity. He pays a visit to the Crowfather, hears what he has to do next, then kills him. Fair enough, I guess. The Crowfather tells him that he has to go to the Tree of Life, which is somewhat blocked by Corruption. As he cannot beat Corruption on his own, he has to go to the Makers’ Land, for they have the perfect weapon when it comes to fighting black tentacles and dark power. O…kay. However, upon arriving, the Makers say them that the Guardian, which is the weapon, is currently unavailable. To reactivate it, you need to do tons of things, basically go from A to B, get some keys, forge something and then activate the Guardian. Once the Corruption is wiped off the portal leading to the Tree of Life, Death enters in and is transported to another place, the Land of the Dead. Here, he learns that in order to save humanity he must go to the Well of Souls. To do so, he has to pay a visit to the Bone King, who will in fact tell him to find a soul capable of revealing him the secret of the Well, and guess what: the soul is the Crowfather. I stop here the ‘story’. My short summary is not finished, yet it is self-explanatory. Darksiders 2‘s story is all about filling the void and add artificial length with no coherence whatsoever. Why is the Crowfather alive again? Why did he not tell him in the first place to go to the Well of Souls, instead of going to the Life of Tree? Why is Death told to go seek the King Bone, if he has to search for the Crowfather in the end? What is King Bone’s significance, besides being an excuse to add non-logical dungeons which are themselves subdivided into more dungeons? That’s right, at some point in the adventure, you have to do dungeons into a dungeon. That is beyond amateurish. The story becomes barely interesting after the Makers’ Land, and worsen until the end finally comes.

Some may say “why do you play Darksiders 2 for the story? the more important is the game, Jesus!” or “It is just a game, go pick a book if you want a well-written story”. But I strongly disagree. Darksiders 2 is not Super Hexagon, where the gameplay is everything. In Super Hexagon, there are no dialogues, no character, just the game, the music, the feeling. I do not extract a story from Super Hexagon, because it displays none, and that would be meaningless of me to do so. However, it is clear that Darksiders 2 tried to put up a storyline, by “introducing” characters and dialogues. When something comes with the intention of telling a story, it has to be at least coherent and logical, otherwise just don’t, save our and your time and do Darksiders 2: Super Hexagon version. I would have not been so picky about the story if the game did not display it as something that I could possibly find any good. This is an insult to my intelligence. Playing a game does not mean turning off my brain. I can hack and slash dozen of monsters and still think about the absurdity of my actions. Why did I go to the Tree of Life while I could have just simply gone to the Well of Souls? Why putting an artificial length where other games can easily and beautifully create an outstanding story without artifice and confusing plots? Not to mention the ending which, in comparison with the prequel, was beyond garbage. To put it simply: Death finally reached the Well of Souls, kills the Avatar of Chaos, which appears to be the final boss (I will discuss it later) then has to choose between either restore the humanity or bring back the Nephilim, his extinct brothers. Death chooses the first option, meaning that he has to sacrifice himself, for the Nephilim are within him. He jumped in the Well of Souls, and then the last sequence shows War, who in the meantime broke the last Seal, thus reviving Death and calling the 3 remaining Horsemen. THE END. The final boss is by far one of the most disappointing thing in the game. The Guardian in the end of the first part would have been so much better. It was gigantic, with Zelda-like gameplay consisting in several phases. Instead of this, we have a creature that is barely larger than any semi-boss we encountered here and there so far, with patterns more than predictable and no resistance at all. Even Samael, who appears before the final boss, is more challenging than him, for he can teleport everywhere around Death. Overall, the last section of the game feels rushed and unsatisfying. The sacrifice of the Horseman in the end is meaningless as we know that he will be revived as soon as War broke the Seventh Seal. In fact, it would have been more logical if Darksiders 2 had been released before Darksiders. We would have seen Death jumping, with no clue whether he is really dead (oh the irony…) and then War appears and breaks the Seal, ready for the next step. That would have been a perfect cliffhanger for the third one. Instead it feels like Darksiders 2 is not a game per se, but only a 25h-advertising product for the upcoming Darksiders 3, where the action will finally happen.

The Big, the Bad and the Rider

Despite the numerous flaws that I have talked about above, Darksiders 2 is not a bad game. Some moments were enjoyable, especially boss fights. The Guardian will surely remain in my memory. However, I cannot say it was a great game either. When I look back at it, I remember the feeling of emptiness surrounding me and a question which is still unanswered: why do I do this?

Graphically speaking, the art is impressive, yet not fabulous in my opinion. The universe is coherent and deals with heavy-armored biblical figures, demons, apocalyptic creatures, giant things. Death looks so little in comparison with his surrounding environment that I wonder why he has to do all this while I am pretty sure those guys can handle everything. Some environments are worth looking, yet it feels so empty that I had a hard time trying to be into the universe. But I do understand why one would find Darksiders‘ universe extremely inspiring. Death on the contrary is kind of faded character. He is presented as a bad-ass merciless Horseman, known as the Harbinger of Souls or Kingslayer, yet his behavior is quite submissive in front of every PNJ asking for help. His lines of dialogue are unsatisfyingly smooth and polished. War in the prequel was forced by The Watcher to bend down and execute the orders, yet he had a strong temper and an urge to destroy everything. On the contrary, Death is free and willingly obeys, to a point where he does not question any tasks, leading to the utter non sense that was the overall plot. As a Horseman, he also appears to know nothing of the universe he lives in, which I found quite surprising. War knew most of the characters he met, even if the player did not. Here, both Death and the player seem to have no clue on what is going on, which is frustrating. I would have expected from one of the four Horseman of the Apocalypse to be at least aware of the mechanisms of their universe.

The music is fairly good, even though it does not particularly stands out. It is at the same level of any serious modern production, enjoyable but forgettable, except one or two tracks. It is a mix of fantasy themes and oriental-ish composition which reminds of Prince of Persia’s influence over Darksiders 2. Each environment has its own fitting music, which is highly appreciated, for no repetition is heard throughout the game. The voice acting is pretty decent. It is funny to recognize some Scottish accent in the Makers’ voice, bringing up diversity in the spoken language. Death speaks a lot more than War, but it does not serve him well, as seen before. His dialogues seem clumsy, very Bioware-like, as it can be summarized like this: “Who are you? Where do I need to go? What do I have to find? Tell me more about…” He makes some humor from time to time, but that did not make me feel closer to the character.

Finally, the difficulty of the game was tremendously easy. I had a hardest time trying to finish Darksiders than Darksiders 2, essentially because War was less mobile and required more precaution during combats. Death, with his dodges and quick attacks is much more easier to manipulate. But overall the game is pretty easy, almost too easy. It has never been the intention of the franchise to be hard as…hell, but still. I did not have any satisfaction after beating a dungeon, for I knew another one was on its way, in a sort of routine, from a point A to a point B. I would not say it was boring, but I surely did not have any challenge, except for the precise and irritating wall climbing and jumping. The puzzles were decent and at the same level of the prequel ones. That is the only thing that remained the same between the two games.

Verdict : Play it Once.

After the surprise that was Darksiders, I was very hyped for its sequel, but it turned out to be very disappointing on almost every level. The mixture of genres was just too much this time, and brought nothing on the table. It tried to follow the trend of assassin-based game, with fast-paced action and a touch of customization in a post-apocalyptic biblical environment. It was aimed to be pure entertainment, and I guess it succeeded doing so. The story is indeed insignificant, as well as the characters. The last part was rushed and gave me the feeling that Darksiders 2 could have been simply called “Darksiders 1.5 Extended: you can now play Death!” Rider of all trades, master of none. I titled this review like this and it is definitely my final thought about the game: overall enjoyable on a basic level, but rapidly forgettable. Between the two games so far, I prefer the first one, shorter but much more controlled and coherent as a whole finished product.

Credits:

Developed by: Vigil Games

Published by: THQ

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About Maratz

Ludophilophage. Explorateur de mondes pixelisés. Coucheur de mots sur écran. English. French.

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