Darksiders II Hands-on Preview

THQ held a community event last week for their upcoming, much anticipated title, Darksiders II, during which they let us play the first 8 hours of the game. Coming into the event, I was very nervous about playing Darksiders II for so long, as I didn’t finish the first Darksiders game. The platforming puzzles and over-the-top Zelda cloning proved to be too much for my lack of patience, and I nearly flipped over a coffee table in rage. It really made me sad that I didn’t finish the game, as the story was so great and I really wanted to know how War’s story finished outside of reading a summary on Wikipedia. So having to play a game that could potentially make me flip something that’s not mine in rage really made me anxious. I am so pleased to say that I loved every second I had with Darksiders II.

Before you get too worried, Vigil Games has not removed the platforming elements. They still exist, but they’re more fluid and less clunky than they were in the first game. Part of this is due to Vigil Games’ polishing the gameplay, but it’s also due to Death being more limber and agile than War. War was a massive guy, and it made jumping around with him feel heavy and almost uncomfortable. Death is smaller, wears half the armor, and his attacks focus more on agility and speed than anything else. As such, platforming with Death is a more relaxed fit than with War. I never once felt frustrated while traversing this fantasy world with this masked hero, and with as much platforming as Darksiders II requires and with how much I despise all things platforming, this is really saying something.

Darksiders II

Since Death is so agile, combat doesn’t feel as heavy either. Death can dodge far more quickly and at a greater distance than War. At the same time, Death is not able to block like War. I personally prefer dodging to blocking, so Death’s combat instantly melded to my typical gameplay with action games. What’s really interesting with Death’s dodging abilities, however, is that you can chain together his dodging with attack combos, creating really interesting techniques as Death cuts down the horde with his dual-scythes. For example, one of Death’s counterattacks requires you to chain his thrown, spinning scythe attack with his dodgeroll, which–if executed correctly–creates a counterattack of the spinning scythe attack as soon as you dodge out of the way. Death dodgerolls, and as soon as he stands up, he throws a spinning scythe into the back of the unsuspecting enemy. You can’t help but smile when you see it each time.

The combat and platforming tweaks aren’t the only changes that Vigil has brought to the Darksiders sequel. They’ve also removed a few layers of the blatant Zelda-copying and replaced them with some RPG elements. In Darksiders II, Death can swap out armor and weapons like in RPGs, and he doesn’t have to buy them either. He can pick up any fallen armor and weaponry from downed enemies and treasure chests. Even better, when Death picks up the armor/weapons, the player can see the item’s stats immediately and can decide to equip it immediately. There’s no picking it up and surfing through your inventory first; if the armor has better stats than what you’re wearing, you can put it on right then with the press of a button. All RPGs need to implement this function.

Darksiders II

Death also has skill trees so players can customize him how they want to fight. The skill trees are not half as deep as a typical RPG, but if they went any deeper, it would take away from the action-focus of the game. Basically, the skill trees are divided into melee and summoning. Do you want Death to deal out brute force or summon ghouls to take the heat off of him and help him out? Or maybe both? There is no level cap on Death, so players are free to level grind him as much as they wish. Fortunately, there are sidequests this time around to help with the potential monotony of level grinding.

The dungeons, however, still contain that heavy Zelda vibe. Dungeons contain everything from the last game and every Zelda dungeon ever: mini-bosses, lots of puzzle-solving, a new weapon to master, and a massive boss. If you don’t like this formula from The Legend of Zelda or the last Darksiders game, then there is nothing here that will change your mind. On the same token, in the six hours or so I was able to play, none of the dungeons felt half as long or dragged out as they do in most Zelda games or even in the last Darksiders game. Remember that first dungeon at the Twilight Chapel with Tiamat? The four dungeons I traversed in my hands-on time were nowhere close to as long as that first dungeon in the first game. As a result, I never once felt bored while combing through them.

Darksiders II

Death himself is even a little more entertaining than the angry protagonist of Darksiders. He has quite the sarcastic attitude to the point he’s downright rude, which constantly brought a smirk to my face. For instance, when meeting Ulthane’s younger brother, Death comments that he’s not nearly as attractive as the rest of his kind. He’s also overly dramatic in everything he does, from his finisher moves to how he simply opens a friggin’ door. With Death, there is no halfway for doing anything, of which I have a feeling that will be more than necessary as he tries to save his brother, War, from the Charred Council’s judgment.

When I finished (quit) Darksiders earlier this year, I honestly believed that I would have zero interest in Darksiders II, as surely it would be more of the same. Thanks to this community event, I have been proven wrong, and I really look forward to its release on August 14th. I can’t wait to find out exactly what Death was doing to help War while War was trying to clear his name.