The Darkside of the Balloon
There were two games to choose from last August; Sleeping Dogs or as I like to call it Napping Bitches, and Darksiders II. I think we all know the one I went with right? Yeah that’s right, not the one to have boasted a meld of Max Payne 3’s shooting mechanics and Batman: Arkham Asylum’s fighting mechanics but the one whose previous game seemed to have ripped off almost every notable platformer and hack-and-slash under the sun…unless you’re playing at night, then fuck the sun! (Poor sun)
Darksiders II is the second game developed by the company Vigil Games. Vigil’s ambitions with the first Darksiders was to seamlessly blend God of War’s combat with Zelda’s varying puzzle-based dungeons. It was Vigil’s intention to create a game that was inspired by these two god-like exclusives, be multi-platform and invariably allow everyone to enjoy these two games without having to buy specific consoles just to play them. The development of Darksiders also brought to light the fact that Vigil didn’t have any ideas of their own and instead of being inspired by these franchises blatantly ripped them off, save from having a fucking water temple.
Darksiders II was Vigil’s chance to break into their own medium and prove to everyone that the original Darksiders was just a stepping stone towards something that could be oh, so beautiful.
Did it turn out that way though?
We begin the game with a cut scene and some expository dialogue, you know, so we aren’t sitting there scratching our heads thinking “what the fuck, what is happening?” This monologue is preceded with a cut to some icy mountain peaks and the main character, Death, being introduced by one of the most kick arse medieval tracks I’ve ever heard. Although, that’s not a difficult feat considering there isn’t much to compare it to because they couldn’t record their music in the medieval times. Moving on!
You gain control of Death and begin galloping around on his mighty steed Despair. The introduction of Despair is deliberate to show that you can use the horse instantly instead of having to wait throughout the entire game to unlock him. This is to remedy having to unlock War’s horse ruin in the first game. Just in case you didn’t get that.
Despair is the first thing that struck me. You begin playing, and considering he is the biggest living thing on screen I’m sure he will be the first thing to get the attention of every one who plays the damn game. However his size isn’t what struck me (not that kind of size you perverts…although kudos to you Despair) instead it was a mixed bag of feelings, “Great I can free roam around with the ease of speed AND grace…uh but I don’t really have unlocking the horse to look forward to, aw man”.
I don’t know about everyone else but for me unlocking Epona in Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still to this day one of the most enjoyable things about that game. I guess I’m donning my nostalgia cap with that one but it’s something I felt immediately with Darksiders. It’s really a minor niggle, especially considering it’s the start of the fucking game!
You get to a point where you must dismount Despair and you gain control of Death. The great thing about Death apart from his skin pigmentation is that he is extremely nimble on the ground. The way he dashes, dodges and flips, it’s quite satisfying to know that the horse isn’t the only form of speedy travel.
The lightweight controls are not only a means of travel but also used for avoiding damage in combat and, due to the fact that Death cannot block, you will be using it a lot.
Let’s talk about the controls for a bit; I’m doing this because if a game controls badly then the game feels tedious. Luckily it has controls tighter than the butthole of a walrus in a bikini.
As I mentioned before Death is extremely nimble. He is able to almost dance around the battle field and he also has an intuitive way of vaulting his way up walls or across caverns. This Prince of Persia-esque style of traversal is streamlined quite well to the point where to run up a wall you jump and push your joystick in the direction you wish to go. It works quite well most of the time and even if you do fuck up and press the joy stick the wrong way the consequences are minor so the frustration is minimal.
For the most part the controls are quite responsive and intuitive if not a little button mashy. I found myself never really trying for the combos but instead just mashing square and triangle and hoping for the best.
The environments are a big part of Darksiders as they are not only the hub worlds which grant you access to side quests and side missions but are also the progression of the main story. As you gain access to the next chapter in the story you also gain access to a new hub world.
There are four different hubs in DS 2 and unfortunately as you progress they feel less and less alive to the point where the last hub world only has one person to actually converse with and gain missions from. You do have the vendor but it’s the same vendor they used in the second world who conveniently shows up to the places you also happen to be in. This does give some air of mystery to this merchant character but then again he is just a merchant, so you know there won’t be much development on the character front with him.
That being said the different locales are quite gorgeous, if a bit lacking in the texture department at times, and feel like they have been ripped straight from concept art.
This is another one of the games strong suites. They aren’t trying for a realistic look but instead made a world where their artistic freedom can run rampant.
The game managed to successfully immerse me into its world but unfortunately there are several issues that I came across during my adventures. Occasionally I would either clip through objects or would get stuck on invisible obstacles which would pull me right out of the immersion.
As I’m on the point of crappiness, let’s talk about some of the problems I had with the game.
There were a few things that I understand perhaps Vigil were spread thin on budget-wise but there are also a few game breaking glitches that I happened to stumble across that left me ejaculating puke out of my mouth…perhaps I should just say “vomiting” there.
Clipping as I said before is a problem with the game that happens not as often as I initially thought it would. I had these issues mostly when exploring the outside world and less so in dungeons and as you spend the majority of your time in dungeons this makes the issue not too daunting.
Another problem I had was with the facial animations, or lack thereof, when you enter a dialogue sequence with an NPC. Again not a big issue but for some reason I kept noticing it and it just really pulled me out of the experience. That being said the cut scenes alleviate this problem and appear to promise stunning visuals and action sequences.
Now it’s time to sink our teeth into the juicy major problems with the game. There were a few times where I had to reset my beloved PS3 because the game froze simply due to too much graphical flourishing on the screen. This glitch occurred mostly when I summoned Despair thus giving me the utmost fear of summoning the one thing that allows travel to destinations in a timely manner…Didn’t stop me from doing it though. This glitch also happened in DS I so it is much less forgivable then the other aforementioned problems with the game.
This freeze also occurred when I tried to gain access to the Soul Arbiter’s lair. For those of you that don’t know, the Soul Arbiter is a creature in the game that you must slay for the promise of glory, heroism and of course loot (no boobies included in the slaying of said monster).
The catch is that to actually be able to fight this guy you must endure his maze. Getting through his maze is no easy feat as you must find the clues to the proper exits of his grand labyrinth among the environments of the different worlds and dungeons that Death visits. Or you can look it up online. That being said, the task is no small feat and if you’re one of those guys who prefers finishing a game legitimately and not pussying out then getting there is all the more rewarding. That of course is until the game freezes when you choose to enter the last room of the maze.
I tried fucking everything, I restarted the PS3, I left the hub world and re-entered, I tried cleaning the game but nothing worked and I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I would have to start the game from the start again and redo the entire maze. “Bollocks that” I thought to myself in a witty moment of self-realisation. Luckily these problems didn’t occur too often which allowed me to roam the ethereal plane with ease and comfort, for the most part.
Now as we move closer to the inevitable ending of my fantastic review we come across two things which almost go hand in hand in 3rd person hack-and-slash type games, enemies and camera angles.
As you play the character of Death it would be ironic if he were to not come into contact with anything that he must kill. As such this game is littered with a plethora of enemies. You have the obvious types such as demons, which range from toothy beast on four legs who charge at you in a rage of bloodlust to the more sentient warriors of hell who wield large swords and who also charge at you in a rage of bloodlust; they too are also quite toothy.
You also have the angels whose armour is directly inspired by the space marines of Warhammer 40K. Lastly you have the corrupted which are beings that have, you guessed it, been tainted by a cosmic ooze which aims to destroy everything in the cosmos. Not unlike Lady Gaga.
A lot of the enemies have been recycled from the first game which I found kind of disappointing; I mean if you can create these fantastical worlds that lie within another plane of existence you could create some enemies that do that as well, but I digress, even though some of the enemies have been re-used there are quite a lot more new ones as well. That being said as you progress through the game rather than making new enemies you get re-skinned enemies from the beginning of the game with increased stats. Oh yeah, this also happens with bosses but I think I’ve made my point here.
The reason I’m bringing up camera angles alongside the baddies is because you only really ever have camera issues when engaged in combat. When backed up against a wall the camera seems to focus itself on the wall itself instead of the battle making for some frustrating deaths.
Now let’s move on to the story. I don’t want to talk about this too much as it will contain spoilers. During the course of Darksiders, you grow to understand that Death is an asshole. He’s just a jerk and yet manages to help everyone he comes across. The game doesn’t really do much to give Death any kind of character arc but he does have one complicated choice to make.
Also the story doesn’t do much in service of itself. It’s more just a series of things that happen. The side characters themselves are all stoic in the way they carry themselves and are all either strong and badass or dastardly and malicious. That being said, this type of character presentation works well for this universe.
The only problem I had with the story was the ending. I’ll be discussing key plot points from both Darksiders games here so if you don’t want to have anything spoiled then look away.
CLOSE EYES HERE!
You come up against a boss who is supposed to be a dark iteration of someone from Deaths’ past but you only see him one other time in the game so you really don’t feel any emotion towards him when fighting against him. He also happens to be really easy thus making this final boss fight very underwhelming.
So you beat the boss and Death has to finally choose who he must resurrect; either the humans or his own race the nephilim. Death makes his choice but to do so he must sacrifice himself. I thought to myself, wow, there are stakes here and the main character has to make a harsh decision. The camera cuts to a shot of Death standing over the well of life, the place he must cast his body into, and he removes his mask and after his final line of dialogue is uttered he throws himself in. I have to admit the nerd inside me found this scene pretty damn awesome. But then a cut scene plays basically explaining that Death comes back to life because War broke the last of the seven seals which summons the horsemen from wherever they are, even Death. This scene utterly removes all emotional attachment simply because it pulls a reference from the first game making Deaths’ sacrifice pointless.
OPEN YOUR EYES HERE!
There are many ups and downs of Darksiders II but for the most part I enjoyed it quite a bit. For a game that averages at around twenty hours of gameplay with a whole bunch of side quests and different leveling systems it pans itself out quite nicely. I would definitely recommend this game to any dungeon crawler or hack-and-slash fans but just don’t expect too much in the way of story.