Darksiders II, as our recent preview attests, is looking pretty sweet at the moment. Death’s more nimble approach to open world action-adventure not only highlights a tightening of the game engine’s nuts and bolts by Vigil, but the new features also allows the sequel to look like a true step forward in the post-apocalyptic series.
The improvements are all things that lead designer Haydn Dalton and art director Han Randhawa wanted to include in War’s adventure, but just didn’t have time to implement. I speak to the two developers about dealing with Zelda
fanboys, ripping off series creator Joe Madureira and demons with Scottish accents.
SPOnG: One thing that’s bothered me. Why is it called Darksiders, and not something like ‘The Four Horsemen Avengers Unite’ or something?
[Laughs] Basically Joe (Madureira) came up with the idea for the Apocalypse, but we threw names at it that sounded cool and Darksiders
just stuck. At first we thought that this might be the collective name of the four Horsemen, as a force of nature. But we decided that it sounded cool as a project title instead. It fitted the mythos.
SPOnG: Death’s adventure takes place alongside War’s in Darksiders I. Can you tell us where Death is during his journey? It’s not the same world as War.
No, it’s a different place. War’s actually progressing through Earth, while Death is exploring the Underworld and parts of the Abyss. They’re two different dimensions, but obviously Death finds out what happens to his brother so has to try and do what he can to affect what happens on Earth to clear his name.
Death is one of the last of a race called the Nephilim, along with the rest of the Horsemen. They’re all about keeping the balance - so you can see why War apparently starting the Apocalypse is a bit of a bad situation. The key story going on is about Death is redeeming War’s name, but there’s also corruption afoot and he’s duty bound to find out what’s going on in the Underworld.
He’s running around with the souls of the slaughtered Nephilim in his chest. After the Horsemen killed their own race off, their souls were gathered in the Crowfather’s amulet to gain access to secrets and power. As Death travels around the world, you’ll hear their voices whisper to you saying that they want to be brought back from the dead. There’ll be a choice way down the line for Death and what he needs to do.
SPOnG: So does Death’s ending run parallel to War’s in Darksiders I, or will he get a slightly different one?
There’ll definitely be a different ending that speaks personally about Death, but there will be events that occur there that have an impact on what War’s been going through. There’s a lot of different strings and paths running throughout the Darksiders
universe - some that aren’t even in any of these two games. For us, it’s a case of revealing sections of it and building a bigger picture. There’s an immediate need to conclude some of these things quickly, but this is such a big franchise and a big world.
SPOnG: Is it difficult to drip-feed this information game by game?
Yeah, it’s always tricky to do things like that. We just need to make sure we’re selling the idea of Death and his story as well as the background plot, filling in questions that players need answering at same time. I think we managed to make a good compromise there to explain what needs to be said, whilst also setting things up for the next game.
SPOnG: Darksiders II seems more like an RPG, in terms of style and appearance. Was that a consideration for you? What was the thinking behind some of the new features?
I think a lot of it was down to the fact that we wanted to do all these things in the first game, to be honest. There are a lot of elements in this game which fulfil things that were left on the cutting room floor. I think the RPG element just adds more layers to the action and puzzle solving that you already have in there. The big thing now is that you can also customise Death.
One thing that I would say about Darksiders I
is that, because it was set at the end of an Apocalypse, it was all quite desolate. There weren’t many things left alive to speak to on Earth and the things that survived usually got killed by War. This time around, we wanted to give the impression that this world of Darksiders
is colossal. You come across people that have their own motives for doing what they’re doing, it gives them a sense of purpose.
We’ve also tried to make sure that we don’t go so far into the RPG side that we forget our console-type roots. You can turn off the numbers, there’s an option to do that. You can set an auto-pickup on the items, and you can also equip stuff straight away so you don’t have to spend so much time in your inventory. All these things are included to try and streamline the experience so the loot doesn’t completely overpower the game.
Generally, in terms of improving over the first game, we’ve definitely focused heavily on the width and breadth of the experience. Not just increasing physical space though - making a world bigger doesn’t automatically make your game better. It actually gives you more problems - you have to think about what the player will be doing in the larger space that makes the experience interesting. Just making it bigger certainly isn’t good enough. It’s what you can do with it that’s important.
SPOnG: With the puzzle-solving and dungeon-crawling present in Darksiders, there are obvious comparisons to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda. Particularly by fans of the adventure genre. Does it make you feel good that you’re compared to something like that?
Yeah, of course! I mean, it is Legendary, right? If anyone can do games, it’s [Shigeru] Miyamoto. Some of the early Zeldas
in particular are just fantastically designed games. I think that style of level design was the pinnacle of the franchise - what defined Zelda
That kind of level design isn’t easy to do - few other games have done it well. Castlevania
are slight offshoots of that level design philosophy, but they’re great games too. You can see it in the latest Metroid
, actually, but besides that there’s not a lot of other games doing that sort of thing.
Growing up and playing these games as kids, and a range of other kinds of games, have had an impact on the team at Vigil, so we definitely take a little bit of what inspires us and you can see the influences there from us. But with Darksiders II
, we definitely feel like the series is starting to feel like it’s own thing now.
We feel that... you might recognise elements from different areas and games, but you’re never going to get another product with an experience like Darksiders
. You can get a loot system somewhere else. You can get a combat system somewhere else. But I don’t know any other product where you can get all these things in one place. I think that’s what makes Darksiders
so unique. It’s a hybrid title but it has its own strong universe.
And we’ve really come to realise and convey that in Darksiders II
. I think the thing with Darksiders I
was that it was communicated to the public as more of an action-specific genre. Not a lot of people realised that it was more of an adventure game with puzzle-solving elements.
SPOnG: At the time, the first Darksiders game was released on the same day as SEGA’s Bayonetta. There were a lot of comparisons made between the two.
] is a very troubling game to package in a nutshell and describe to someone in a few sentences. When people saw lots of action-oriented videos of our game, and then saw what the Platinum guys were doing... to come out day-and-date with them forces a comparison, I think. If consumers are stood there and are given a choice between a game from Platinum and another that nobody’s heard of before, I could see why there would be a very specific choice for the action player.
I think most people got past that, though. At the start of Darksiders I
, there was quite a lot of action, and then it all started to filter out and we opened up the dungeon design. It was at that point that people realised what kind of game it was.
So we’re getting compared to Bayonetta
and we’re confused because we’re thinking, ‘Bayonetta’s
just about combat’. It does combat better than any other game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s level design and story is completely different to ours. We obviously heard about those comparisons when we get lambasted for such things [laughs]!
To receive criticism because one component of our huge game wasn’t as good as a game that specialises in that one thing. I just think... nobody judges games by that benchmark. Look at Grand Theft Auto
. Nobody looks at that and says, ‘Well, it’s nice but Gran Turismo’s
driving sections are better’.
We got into a situation where we felt like we were polarising people somewhat. Some people didn’t play the game all the way through. They probably played through the first hour, thought it was an action game and put it down. But the ones that stuck with the game, really became evangelists for the game. Which was fantastic for us. We’re looking at some of the reports and reviews, and there was definitely a higher feel for the game from the fans and critics who played the whole thing through.