Death is coming this August. And he?s on a horse. Wielding scythes. Out for vengeance and retribution. And he?s going to slay everything that stands in his way. Of course, while any real-life apocalypse will no doubt put a grin on all the Mayan doomsayers of the world, it?s probably worth pointing out that I?m referring to the sequel to THQ?s rather great action adventure game, Darksiders.
The second game featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Darksiders II
sees Death seeking a way to clear his brother War?s name in the depths of the hellish Underworld (if you remember, War was accused of starting the Apocalypse early, which we all know was a bit of a fib). To do this, our more nimble and athletic Horseman is on a quest to search for the Tree of Life - a magical landmark that can reverse the extinction of mankind and allow War to walk free.
Except things haven?t exactly gone to plan for Death, either. His quest, running parallel to the events of the original Darksiders
, takes a turn for the worse as a cursed sage known as the Crowfather plays a trick on him and sends him all the way to the dying land of the Underworld. The path to the Tree of Life is blocked by Corruption, and if Death wants to restore order he?s going to have to get involved.
After playing the opening hours of Darksiders II
, it?s already shaping up to be a worthy successor to War?s 2008 adventure. Here are five reasons why.
Richly Detailed Worlds
The Underworld that Death adventures through in Darksiders II
is much more rich and vibrant than War?s post-apocalyptic Overworld. From the second you load up the game and begin to explore the Crowfather?s ice palace, it?s obvious that Vigil is taking much more of an artistic liberty with respect to colours and level design. This continues as Death is tasked with continuing his open-world journey into fiery furnaces and watery reservoirs.
You get to travel on Death?s horse, Despair, from the very beginning of the game too. This has allowed for a larger world map. Traveling on horseback across such scenery - from lush green meadows to monochrome, corrupted mountainsides - gives you a real sense of adventure that was at times missing from the first Darksiders
Death Has Balls
Dungeons are as meticulously designed as ever, with logistic puzzles that are likely to give you a good mental workout. In the original Darksiders
, War explored the ruins of the human world with the aid of secondary equipment. You?d find some new gear - be it the Crossblade, Abyssal Chain or the Voidwalker - and use those items to progress through the level. It was all a bit Legend of Zelda
The opening hours of Darksiders II
relies on no such format. While Death does have the ability to assign a secondary weapon to the Y button, he doesn?t come across anything in terms of additional equipment until he?s completed several dungeons, where he is given a handgun. Instead, the emphasis in puzzle-solving here revolves around balls. Big, concrete, enchanted balls.
Many puzzle rooms will present you with a number of these spheres, and some holes for them to be rolled into. Rolling a ball into a hole - either by using Death to physically push it around or by chucking explosives on it to make it travel from a distance - will light up some panels on the ground and affect something nearby.
The complexity of this comes when you need to roll multiple balls into different holes in a specific order to unlock a nearby door. Later, Death will also have the ability to control Golem-like stone creatures to help solve dungeon puzzles. Many of these beings travel around on... you guessed it... a big, concrete, enchanted, ball.
Some of That RPG Flavour
Vigil has tighted up the combat controls and added a few new HUD details to Darksiders II
, but the big takeaway from these tweaks is just how much the game now feels like a full-blown action-RPG. Sure, you had unlockable weapons, hidden trinkets and character upgrades in the original Darksiders
, but the improvements made here really help to complete the experience.
Lock on to an enemy and you see its health bar whittle down as you smash your weapons into its face, with attack numbers rising from the top of its head. Death himself can now level up and earn Skill Points, which can be spent on a Skill Tree to earn and upgrade Wrath power ups.
Items and weapons can be dropped by fallen foes, each with their own stats to boost attack power and defence strength. And additional items can be equipped to improve your base attributes to make you an even more formidable force against the Corrupted evils of the Underworld.
But, if you?re not a numbers guy and don?t want to see all of these changes affect your classic Darksiders
experience, you have the option to turn it all off. Attack numbers will stop appearing, Death will be auto-equipped with the best gear available, and you can even set the game to automatically pick up loot dropped on the ground. Why you?d want to do that is anyone?s guess, but it?s nice to cater for everyone, I suppose.
Along with a vast number of primary and secondary weapons to choose from, Darksiders II
includes a variety of so-called Possessed Weapons. This is where things get interesting - Possessed Weapons can be upgraded by sacrificing other items in your inventory. Their sacrifice helps build up a progress bar, and when it is completely filled up the Possessed Weapon levels up.
Along with a number of improved base stats, levelling up a Possess Weapon also gives you the opportunity to select one of a number of stat enhancements that will further aid Death in his journey. Defence, Critical Damage, Arcane and Piercing Damage are some of the options on offer when considering an upgrade.
Business isn?t what it used to be. Death will have to barter with more than just Vulgrim in order to get an advantage of his enemies. In fact, although Vulgrim makes a charismatic return in Darksiders II
, he acts as nothing more than a Lucky Dip merchant - offering mystery item boxes in exchange for vast sums of gold coins.
While these items can be quite useful, it will be with the Underworld?s giant blacksmith race, the Makers (of which Ulthane from the original Darksiders
is one), where you can truly get a head start in becoming a real monster-slaying machine. They all reside in the world map?s safe haven, Tri-Stone.
Thane is proficient in most weapons, and will offer to teach you different moves to use in battle. These largely focus on Death?s Scythes, and allow you to pull off loads of flashy moves by tilting the left stick and whacking buttons. Alya spends a lot of time giving you quests, but she can also forge a number of powerful new primary weapons too. Finally, the Shaman of Tri-Stone can be used to sell and create different Talismans which can bolster Death?s stats.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to interact with in Tri-Stone is the Serpent Tome - a book that contains all kinds of messages that you might receive in-game from the NPCs that roam the Underworld. If you do a good job in a dungeon, you may get a message from Vulgrim with a special item attached, for example.
This will no doubt be used to communicate pre-order bonus items to players - and there?s an Online Inbox available too, which means that any items you have upgraded can also be sent directly to your friends. Nice.
Darksiders II is heading for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in August.